What is the connection between happiness, leadership and customer-centricity?
A lot has been written about happiness. Not much of it speaks to me. And there are some speakers whose speaking resonates with me. Let’s start by listening to a wisdom master:
Happiness is almost not worth talking about because the instant you turn happiness into a goal it isn’t attainable any more. In other words, happiness isn’t something you can work towards.
- Werner Erhard
Let’s follow this up with the following quote which is in alignment with that which Werner Erhard is pointing at:
Happiness is not a station you arrive at, but a manner of travelling.
- Margaret Lee Runbeck
Many want what are presented as the trappings of leadership. Few get the reality, lived experience, of being a leader and the exercise of leadership. What is the reality? I’d say it something like the following:
Being a leader and the exercise of leadership is not a destination you aim for or arrive at. Nor is it the path that you take. It is a manner of being-showing up in the world and travelling.
If that sounds a little philosophical for you. Then I share the following with you, courtesy of Shane Parrish at Farnham Street:
.. actually leading is different. A leader decides to accept responsibility for others in a way that assumes stewardship of their hopes, their dreams, and sometimes their very lives.….
It is mostly just hard work. More than anything else it requires self-discipline. Colorful, charismatic characters often fascinate people, even soldiers. But over time, effectiveness is what counts. Those who lead most successfully do so while looking out for their followers’ welfare. Self-discipline manifests itself in countless ways. In a leader I see it as doing those things that should be done, even when they are unpleasant, inconvenient, or dangerous; and refraining from those that shouldn’t, even when they are pleasant, easy, or safe.
- General Stanley McChrystal
I’ll leave you with my take on customer-centricity which is manifested in many ways including creating-generating customer experiences that leave customers feeling happy, even delighted, in doing business with you:
Customer-centricity is not a station you arrive at. Nor is it the path that you travel. Customer-centricity is the manner of your showing up (in the world) and travelling.
I wish you a great day. And on this first day of a new year of living for me, I thank you for listening to my speaking. Your existence makes a contribution to my existence. Let’s work together to co-create a world that works for all.
Some work environments are characterised by that which is called psychological safety: a shared belief, by the people who work in the environment, that it is safe to experiment, to give voice to one’s voice, to take risks.
A Thought Experiment On Psychological Safety and Performance
A researcher is researching the link between psychological safety and the number of medication errors made in hospitals. She studies eight hospital units and finds that the hospital units characterised by psychological safety have the highest medication error rates. She reports these ‘findings’ to you.
Imagine that you are the manager responsible for reducing the number of medication errors in these hospital units. How will you determine what course of action you will take given what the researcher has ‘found’? Will your action not be determined by how you make sense of the phenomena at hand: the higher the reported psychological safety the higher the reported medication errors?
Given your management training, you say something like this to yourself: “No surprise here. Where you create an environment for people to make mistakes without fear of punishment, people make more mistakes!”
Given this ‘explanation’ what will be your course of action? Isn’t the course of action shaped, even dictated, by your explanation? Will you not reduce the psychological safety? Of course you will. You will put fear into the hospital units characterised by psychological safety. Imagine you take that course. You track medication errors by person and hospital unit. You name-shame by putting together and making visible a ‘leaderboard’ of those making the most errors. And apply sanctions to those who exceed a certain error rate.
What turns out to be the impact? You find that after a little while there is significant drop in the number of medication errors that end up on your weekly management report. You congratulate yourself: you figured out what was going on, you acted, and you generated your desired outcome.
Let’s Reconsider The Phenomena AND The Explanation
Whilst you, the manager, have been ripping out psychological safety and replacing it by fear, the researcher has been doing some more digging. She had a brain wave and decided to look at independent data.
By looking at this data, she ‘found’:
- The psychologically safe hospital units did not make more medication errors. In fact, the data showed that the higher the psychological safety within a hospital unit, the fewer the medication errors made by the people in that unit.
- The folks working within units lacking psychological safety hid their medication errors, out of fear of punishment. And as a result no learning took place regarding the causes of medication errors and thus no reduction in medication errors.
With this phenomena-explanation (the explanation and the phenomena have been merged into one here) what course of action do you the manager take? Isn’t the sound course of action dictated by the phenomena-explanation? Isn’t the sound course of action to increase psychological safety in those hospital units (under your management) where fear of retribution-punishment pervades?
Your Actions Are Shaped By The ‘Story You Construct’ To Explain The Phenomena
I draw your attention to the fact that action is the access to influencing the world and generating change-outcomes: only actions cause-shape outcomes. If you think otherwise then don’t breathe and see what shows up!
Notice that your actions are NEVER given by the phenomena itself. That which is, simply is. And is discarded by most of us if we cannot make sense of it. Why? If we cannot make sense of it then we cannot orient ourselves in relation to that which is: the phenomena.
Further, notice that your actions are ALWAYS given by the ‘story you make’, the explanation you construct, about the phenomena.
What does this mean? It means that all the power-possibility lies in the ‘story you make’, the explanation you construct. Why? Your actions are influenced-shaped, even dictated, by the explanation you construct.
What Is The Access To Generating Breakthroughs In Effectiveness-Performance?
The access to generating breakthroughs in effectiveness-performance lies in the domain of explanation: the ‘story that we construct’ around the phenomena at hand.
If we are to construct more insightful stories/explanations (on the phenomena that concern us) then we have to escape the pull of the existing ‘net of understanding’ – the paradigm that gives us being and from which we operate. Listen to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
Every nation and every man instantly surround themselves with a material apparatus which exactly corresponds to … their state of thought. Observe how every truth and every error, each a thought of some man’s mind, clothes itself with societies, houses, cities, language, ceremonies, newspapers. Observe the ideas of the present day ….. see how timber, brick, lime and stone have flown into convenient shape, obedient to the master idea reigning in the minds of many persons ….. It follows, of course, that the least enlargement of ideas …. would cause the most striking changes of external things.
I say that the job of leaders is to generate that ‘least enlargement of ideas’ that Ralph Waldo Emerson is talking about. That is to say make a shift in the dominant paradigm that shapes organisational sense making of phenomena. And thus shapes-dictates their courses of action.
If you are lamenting the state of the Customer Experience like Colin Shaw is then it is worth listening to the following words by Donella H. Meadows:
There are no cheap tickets to mastery. You have to work hard at it, whether that means rigorously analysing a system or rigorously casting off your own paradigms and throwing yourself into the humility of not knowing….
The reason that organisations have not made a success of Customer Experience. And are in the process of killing it, is that the Tops in these organisations have not made the requisite ‘least enlargement of ideas The have not put aside their existing ‘net of understanding’ and so are go about the new in the same old way. Thus, I say that many, if not almost all, Customer Experience initiatives start stillborn.
To conclude: the challenge of leadership is to cast off the already existing ‘net of understanding’ and thus creating a space from which to construct more insightful stories-explanations of phenomena. And thus opening up new courses of action. Course of action that carry risk and also the promise of breakthroughs in effectiveness-performance.
If you found this ‘conversation’ one that resonates with you then I invite you to watch the following video:
Based on recent experiences I find myself moved to create a ‘Hall of Fame’. And a ‘Hall of Shame’ for well known brands based on how these businesses treat their customers. My commitment is to share the great practices of the ‘givers’ as well as the deceitful-manipulative practices of the ‘takers’.
Let’s start the ‘Hall of Fame’ with Waitrose. Why Waitrose? Yes, the stores are clean, spacious, well presented, well stocked. And our local store even has a cafe-restaurant and ample parking. Yes, the staff in the store are helpful. Yet, these are not the reason that I am choosing to place Waitrose, as the first entrant, into the ‘Hall of Fame’.
Recently, I found wife telling me that she was surprised about the quality of the tangerines: some of the tangerines were hard (too hard) and others were soft (too soft). Now, I found this interesting. Why? It was the way she talked about it. I think it fair to say she was shocked. What this suggest to me is that Waitrose, in her experience, delivers great quality products consistently.
Despite the relatively small price and the hassle involved, she decided to take them back. Why? This is not the kind of product quality she expects from Waitrose. And she was wondering how she would be treated.
Later that day, my wife couldn’t wait to tell me her experience. I was clear by the way she had a huge smile on her face that the experience was positive. What did she say? Something along these lines: “The staff at Waitrose were great. They apologised, I could tell they were also surprised and genuinely sorry about my experience. And they refunded twice the price. Not just the price of the tangerines, twice the price.”
Waitrose enters my ‘Hall of Fame’ because of the following:
Reputation for product quality – I cannot imagine my wife giving up half an hour of her time to take back a product that only cost her £3 to the likes of Tesco;
Great customer service – the staff in the store have always been friendly and helpful;
Design and condition of the stores – the Waitrose stores are clean, white, spacious, inviting, natural and for some even uplifting; and
An equitable-fair-collaborative-generous business philosophy – Waitrose lives-exhibits a philosophy of generosity and in so doing shows up as a ‘giver’. A ‘matcher’ would simply have refunded the purchase price. And a ‘taker’ would have put all kinds of hurdles in her way so that it was not worth her while even thinking of asking for a refund.
Most of all, Waitrose enters my ‘Hall of Fame’ because my wife told me she “can’t see herself not being a Waitrose customer”.
In the next post, I will kick-off the ‘Hall of Shame’ with anti-virus vendor BitDefender.
Is There Anything Bigger Than The Maximisation Of Shareholder Value?
According to Roger Martin, the third most influential business thinker in the world according to Thinkers50, the shareholder value maximisation revolution was triggered in 1976 by Michael Jensen and William Meckling. How? These economists published, what has turned out as the most cited article ever: “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behaviour, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure”.
In this article, Jensen and Meckling argued that the professional managers (running businesses) were looking after their interests at the expense of the shareholders. Thus began the shareholder maximisation movement that has since then taken over the business world. And in so doing, all other stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, partners, society at large ..) have been viewed-treated as mere resources and/or means of creating-maximising shareholder value.
Are You Committed To Something Bigger Than Yourself?
What does Michael Jensen say on the matter today? Let’s listen:
“I have a bad rep on this kind of thing. Because people think that all I want companies to do is to maximise the value of the stock. First of all that is false, it’s not what I ever said. But I guarantee you if you are talking about maximising the right value, which is the total value of the firm, if that is all you’re doing you won’t maximise value!
You’ve got to be committed, the company has to be, the firm has to be, committed to something bigger than itself. That will light people up. And cause them to be attracted to your organisation. Passionate about it! They’ll find something in what you’re committed to, the company is committed to, that satisfies them, lights them up and excites them. And that’s a HUGE missing component of what’s going on out there in the world ….”
- Michael C. Jensen talking on leadership at the Simon School (talk published on Mar 17, 2014)
If you are interested in listening to Michael Jensen and Werner Erhard share their ontological-phenomenological model of leadership at the Simon School then here is the associated YouTube video:
It occurs to me that customer-centricity has become a religion in many ways. And as such is characterised by a particular philosophy-ideology, rituals and practices. We have many books-articles published on customer-centricity, customer experience, CRM, customer service etc. We have many gurus expounding their particular philosophy of customer-centricity. We have many consultancies pushing their flavour of customer-centricity and associated paths to customer-centric nirvana. We have the IT industry pushing an array of systems under the customer-centricity and customer experience banners. And, we have many conferences centred on the topic of customer-centricity in one or more of its flavours.
What difference does all this make when it comes to lived experience – the real world of business? I say that customer-centricity has become the new game to play: a charade. And in this sense, customer-centricity shows up for me as a Sunday morning religion. This was brought home to me, recently, when listening to the advice given by an engagement manager to a project manager. It went along the following lines:
“Looks like you have a happy customer. Ring up the customer and ask if he would be willing to give us a 10. If he is willing to give us a 9 or a 10 then send him the NPS survey.”
Am I faulting the engagement manager? Not at all. The engagement manager through his instruction has simply made visible the game that has become the norm under the religion of customer-centricity. How many Christian’s who turn up on Sunday morning are actually Christians? By that I mean how many embody-live the principles-values-practices embodied by Jesus Christ? Please note, I am not attacking Christianity. I find that the same has occurred as regards Islam: rare is the person I encounter who calls himself a muslim and shows up for me as being as such.
I ask you consider, be with, reflect on the following sage speaking by a sage:
The intricate maze of philosophy of different schools claims to clarify matters and reveal the Truth, but in fact they create confusion where no confusion need exist. To understand anything there must needs be the understanding being. Why worry about his bodies, his ahankar, his buddhi, creation, God, Mahatmas, world – the not-Self – at all? Why not remain yourself and be in peace? Take Vedanta, for instance: it speaks of the fifteen pranas, the names and functions of which the student is asked to commit to memory. Will it not be sufficient if he is taught that only one prana does the whole work of maintaining life in the body? Again, the antahkarana is said to think, to desire, to will, to reason, etc. Why all these details? Has anyone seen the antahkarana, or all these pranas? Do they really exist? They are all conceptual divisions invented by teachers of philosophy by their excessive analysis. Where do all these concepts end? Why should confusion be created and then explained away? Fortunate is the man [person] who does not lose himself in the labyrinths of philosophy, but goes straight to the Source from which they all rise.
- Ramana Marashi
I say put aside customer lifetime value. I say put aside share of customer wallet. I say put aside big data. I say put aside data mining and predictive analytics. I say put aside CRM and CRM systems. I say put aside Voice of the Customer and Customer Experience. I say put aside customer loyalty programs….
Now ask yourself some really hard questions and answer truthfully:
am I/we willing to put the needs-concerns-wellbeing of the customer at least on par with our needs-concerns-wellbeing?
am I/we willing to sacrifice revenues and profits (‘bad profits’) that I/we are making from taking advantage of our customers?
am I/we hungry (passionate) about coming up with products-services-solutions-experiences that simplify and enrich the lives of our customers?