Customer Experience Through The Eyes Of The Frontline Retail Employee

Perspective. If we are to improve the performance of human worlds (couple, family, neighbourhood, team, department, business, nation…) perspective taking is essential. It occurs to me that the simplest form of perspective taking is attentive-receptive listening to those who find themselves embedded in the human world that one is interested in.  The deepest from of perspective taking is to enter into the lives, and live the lives, of those whose perspective one wishes to become intimately familiar with.

What did I learn when listened to the perspective (lived experience) of frontline retail employees who work for one of the big UK retailers?

On many days the store is short-staffed. Those who are present and ready for work find themselves stressed. The standards are high – for merchandising, store cleanliness, customer service…  There is a lot to get done. The pressure is on. This calls people to take short-cuts (including putting their health & safety at risk), bypass policies and practices to do that which needs to be done.

The folks dealing with customers on the frontline are not adequately trained – as in training that comes through apprenticeship.  Why are they not adequately trained? Because the stores are short-staffed. Due to the short-staffing, the pressure is on to throw new frontline employees into the deep end. This places the new employees under stress: these employees face demanding customers, they are aware that their colleagues are counting on them, they know that their manager is judging them, and they are intimately aware that they lack the contextual understanding and experimental know-how to do things well.  They do their best. And their best is not enough. They are aware that their best is enough.

Folks distant and cut-off from the reality of the world of the store (that particular store) make decisions for that store. These decisions whilst sound in theory are impractical given the reality of that store.  Yet the folks in that store – including the manager of that store – have no power to affect or challenge these decisions. So there are substantial and frequent store refreshes and not enough staff to merely do the day to day tasks. The product range is expanded and there is not enough shelf space. Customers complain of products not being in stock yet the replenishment decisions are made by computers and remote others in charge of store replenishment. New machinery is introduced that does not fit well into the store and makes lives harder for the folks in the store ….  All of this increases the level of stress experienced by the folks working in the stores.

Customers are demanding at best, rude at their worst. They demand perfection: a seamless experience. They are encouraged in this demanding-ness by the folks higher up in the business who designate and promote services (and service standards) which are impractical given the reality of that store. Folks serving these customers want to provide a good service and experience a certain kind of human encounter with customers. Yet, they find themselves in a reality in which providing merely an average customer experience is all that can be reasonably provided.  They experience the withering look of many customers. And some customers, more and more these days, who are condescending, critical, and rude. All of this increases the level of stress experienced by these front line employees.

Their employer and their manager does not care for them. The folks experience themselves as not appreciated, not valued, not loved.  It is not just that these folks are paid the minimum wage. It is not just that if they arrive five minutes late for work then fifteen minutes of pay is docked. It is not that they are expected to stay up to half an hour later than their shift and they do not get paid for this half an hour. It is not that they are not adequately trained. It is not just that they are rarely given their allotted lunch break. It is more. It is the gap that they experience (on a daily basis) between the way the company expects them to treat customers and the way they are treated by the company. Is it then any surprise that the stores are regularly and frequently short-staffed – in numbers and in terms of experience/cable employees?  Who wants to work in such an environment? And even those who do work in such an environment quit as soon as the can quit.

If you are working in an organisation and concerned about improving the customer experience,  I end by posing the following questions:

  • Are the folks that work for us and with us less worthy of care, consideration, and respect than folks upon whom we change the label Customer?
  • What is the likelihood that at a distance voice of the customer surveys unconceal the kind of reality that I have shared with you here – the reality of the folks interacting directly with customers?
  • Do your customer journey maps give you an adequate feel for the lives of customers and the lives of the people on the front lines who interact with your customers on a daily basis?

If you are a customer then ask you to be mindful of human worth and dignity in your dealings with the folks that serve you – especially when things are not going right. I ask you to consider that the person is not merely an employee. S/he is a human being who is doing the best s/he can given the circumstances s/he finds herself in.  If you were in h/er position you would most likely do that which s/he is doing.  A kind word can light up the world.

I thank you for your listening it is that which continues to call me to share my speaking with you.  I leave you to grapple with what I have shared and make it mean that which you make it mean

How To Solve The Insoluble Problem Of Employee Engagement and Customer Loyalty?

It occurs to me that when the same ‘problem’ keeps coming up then it worth taking a deeper look at the ‘the way of showing up and travelling’ (some call this mindset  or worldview) that generates the methods-techniques-tools for addressing the problem.  So in this conversation I wish to grapple with the persistent problems of ’employee engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’. Let’s start by listening to one of my favourite stories (of wisdom):

Dividing Camels

There was once a Sufi who wanted to make sure his disciples would, after his death, find the right teacher of the Way for them. He, therefore …. left his disciples seventeen camels with this order: ‘You will divide the camels among the three of you in the following proportions: the oldest shall have half, the middle in age one third, and the youngest shall have one ninth.’

… the disciples were at first amazed at such an inefficient disposition of their Master’s assets. Some said, ‘Let us own the camels communally,’ others sought advice and then said, ‘We have been told to make the nearest possible division,’ others were told by a judge to sell the camels and divide the money; and yet others held that the will was null and void because its provisions could not be executed.

Then the fell to thinking that there might be some hidden wisdom to the Master’s bequest, so they made enquiries as to who could solve insoluble problems.

Everyone they tried failed, until they arrived at the door of … Hazrat Ali. He said: ‘This is your solution. I will add one camel to the number. Out of the eighteen camels you will give half – nine camels – to the oldest disciple. The second shall have a third of the total, which is six camels. The last disciple may have one-ninth, which is two camels. That makes seventeen. One, my camel, is left over to be returned to me.’

This is how the disciples found the teacher for them.

– Idries Shah, Thinkers Of The East

Have you watched The Matrix? It is movie that can be listened to at so many levels. I find the same to be the case for this story. For the sake of this conversation, let me highlight this:

1. The conventional ‘leaders’ had supplied conventional advice which was ok for conventional matters. But not for this unusual one;

2. It is what Hazrat Ali put into the game at hand (‘one camel’) that ended up solving the insoluble problem facing the disciples; and

3. The ‘one camel’ does not refer to a physical camel. The ‘one camel’ refers to wisdom, compassion, love, humanity – the essentials of human existence and authentic community. There can never be a human being only human beings; to be human is to be social.

What relevance does this have to the world of business and the two problems of ’employee engagement’ and ‘customer loyalty’? I say everything. Take a deep look at the methods-tools-techniques used to address these challenges. What do you notice? I notice that the ‘way of showing up and travelling’ (mindset/worldview if you prefer cognitivist rather than existential terms) is extractive: extracting more creativity, time, and effort from the employees and extracting more revenue and profits from customers? Where is the engagement, by the leaders/managers, in the lives (and existential projects) of the employees?  What loyalty is there to the customer?  Here I am pointing at practices and actions that ensure that the company is loyal to customers – not just words.

Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit by Robin P.

What ‘way of showing up and travelling’ in organisational life calls forth the kind of employee engagement that most organisations can only dream of?  I share with the following story as shared by Robin P of Zappos. I invite you to pay attention to that which I have put into bold:

My husband passed away under tragic circumstances …. I couldn’t being to think of what was going to happen for our children, our family, or for me.

When I first heard the news, I was numb, but I needed to make a call. Strangely enough, the call wasn’t to an immediate family member. It was to my employer, Zappos.com. That one action made me realize the strong connection I felt with my co-workers and the Zappos culture…

When my senior manager received by hysterical call, she showed great compassion and gave me sound advice to calm me. She assured me that I shouldn’t be concerned with anything else but to take care of myself and my family, and that – day or night – I should call if I needed anything. After that she gave me every single one of her phone numbers, I knew she meant it.

As much as Zappos meant to me before, the things they did after my husband passed amazed and humbled me. I was reassured that I shouldn’t feel pressure to return to work as soon as possible. They even volunteered to cater the reception for my husband’s service….

There was always someone there to listen, offer consoling words, sit with me as I released my tears, or just give a hug. Co-workers and managers alike allowed me time to heal and gave me strength I needed to continue as a contributing and functioning member of the team.

the most important contributions from my extended family at Zappos were support and friendship. Zappos was my refuge and healing place that gave me everything I needed to continue on with my life.

– Delivering Happiness, Tony Hsieh

What do you notice here? Are the folks at Zappos applying a particular set of techniques-tools dreamt up by social scientists, consultants, or recommended by HR? Or is it that the folks in Zappos, including her manager, putting their humanity into action: demonstrating care/concern for a human being in distress?  Do you/i/we need some kind of special training to do this?  Or is it merely a matter of creating an environment where we can put into play that which we know as well as we know how to breathe? Finally, I invite you to notice that domain of ‘care/concern’ for our fellow human beings (customers, employees…) involves action (doing stuff that makes a difference) not merely smooth talk.

Summing Up

It occurs to the that the worst thing that has happened to the world of business is the language of relationship: customer relationships, customer engagement, employee engagement, social.. Why? It masks the reality of the business world and organisational life. What reality? Business and organisational worlds are transactional. There is no genuine care for customers as human beings. There is no genuine care for employees as human beings. There is no genuine care for suppliers/partners as human beings. My lived experience (25+ years) is that those who occupy management and leadership positions are not in touch with their humanity. I doubt that most genuinely care even for themselves as human beings rather than human doings, human ‘achieve-ings’.

I invite you to listen to the following profound words:

To become a leader, first you must become a human being.

– Peter Senge

It occurs to me that all Customer and Employee efforts, like the advice-solutions offered by the conventional leaders to the disciples, are likely to fall short until the advice of Peter Senge is heeded. When it is heeded, and lived, like it is by Tony Hsieh (the CEO of Zappos) then the Tops and Middles will be able to call forth the best from the folks in the business to create meaningful-strong-loyal relationships with customers. With the folks working in the business and directly/indirectly serving customers. And suppliers/partners.

I thank you for listening and invite you to put your humanity into the game of living no matter where this living occurs: with customers, in the workplace, at home….

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published on CustomerThink.com last month.

Timpson: Business Success Through Humanistic Leadership

Allow me to introduce you to a little know business gem: Timpson. It is a family business operating 1000+ stores, annual turnover in the region of £200m, and annual profits of £10m+. Today, this organisation (and its leadership) is on my mind again. Why? Because of what I saw and read on LinkedIn.

This is the photo that captured my attention:

Timpson Free Outfit Cleaning

The last time I looked there were 240+ likes. Here are some of the comments that caught my attention:

  1. “Leadership at its best”;
  2. “Hats off to CEO James Timpson”;
  3. “Very thoughtful and caring”;
  4. “Pay it forward”;
  5. “Brilliant. More selfless acts needed”;
  6. “If another company did this it would probably seem like a publicity stunt, but Timson’s record speaks for itself..”; and
  7. “How many Advocates and how much good feeling does that create for Timpsons who are already an exceptionally socially responsible company…Great win win!”

Why did these comments catch my attention? Because these comments provider a pointer towards the following:

  1. The shape-look-feel-character of humanistic leadership: authentic as opposed to faking it in order to manipulate others (publicity stunt); thoughtful and caring as opposed to thoughtlessness and indifference to our shared humanity – where humanity is hidden under the labels of customer, employee, supplier; and selflessness leading to paying it forward as recognition of one’s good fortune and shared humanity as opposed to unlimited greed dressed up in fine sounding words like maximising revenues and profits.
  2. The impact human-centred leaders make on us: we tend to think of this kind of leadership as “leadership at its best”; and those who exercise this kind of leadership call forth respect – when we are authentic we take our hats off only to those whom we genuinely admire, esteem, respect in terms of their virtues and/or skills.

  3. The benefits that tend to show up as result of exercising humanistic leadership: the good feelingthat this kind of leadership calls forth in just about everyone except sociopaths and those professionally trained as economists and MBAs; and the advocacy-loyalty that is automatically brought into play as a result of evoking this good feeling.

I am clear that we (those of us living in the UK and USA) live in transactional, individualistic, non-humanistic, competitive cultures. So those of us, who are ‘smart’, are likely to be tempted to fake humanistic leadership to get the benefits (respect, status, increased profits, wealth) without paying the necessary ‘price’. So here’s the paradox. The exercise of humanistic leadership does generate advocacy, loyalty, revenues, and higher profits. However, this is not the case when humanistic leadership is exercised for the sake of harvesting these benefits. Why? Because, one can only fake it so long before true intentions leak out and are detected by those who are being manipulated.

Is Timpson faking it? Is this offer of free outfit cleaning for the unemployed merely a publicity stunt? This is what Justin Parkinson of the BBC says on this blogpost:

The problem is that getting suits dry cleaned usually costs in the vicinity of £10, which can be prohibitive for unemployed people looking to return to work.

The offer, in place since 1 January, has been taken up by hundreds of people, Timpson chief executive James Timpson says. “When people are going for interview it’s important to look and feel smart and getting their suit dry cleaned is part of that,” he adds. “It makes people more confident and gives them that 2% extra chance of getting a job. We just thought it was a really good idea.”

In my experience, one of the core challenges of taking a humanistic approach to doing business (including the exercise of human-centred leadership) is that we have a dim view of human nature. Our actions show that we are convinced that if we appear ‘soft’ then we will be taken. So how has this offer turned out for Timpson? Here is more from that BBC blog:

“We just trust customers,” says Timpson. “We had one lady who came in with a cocktail dress and we told her to hold on. But that’s the only instance of a customer taking advantage.”

What is going on here? How to make sense of this? It occurs to me that somewhere deep down in us, our human decency is intact. Put differently, for most of us, there is something deep in our being that makes us think twice and usually prevents us from taking advantage of those who show concern for us, our fellow human beings, and our shared humanity. Where we transgress and do take advantage of the kindness of others, guilt comes into play. That is the price we pay for not honouring the best of our humanity.

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with Customer. I say take a look at what has been done in the name of customer service. Take a look at CRM. Take a look at customer loyalty programmes. Take a look at Customer Experience. Take a look at all that has happened and all the money-effort that has been expended in the name of the Customer. Now ask yourself how it is that despite all of this customer loyalty and employee engagement are stagnant – at best. There is your answer: humanistic leadership (and management practices) are the access to calling forth the good feeling that in turn leads to engagement-loyalty-advocacy: from your people, from your suppliers/partners, and from your customers.

If you are interested in learning more about Timpson then check out this piece that I wrote some time ago as it continues to be relevant and instructive: Timpson: Shifting-Transforming Culture Through Language and Practices.

Note: At the invitation of Bob Thompson, I write the Human-Centred Leadership column on CustomerThink.com. This conversation was published there last month.

You may have noticed I have not been conversing much recently here on this Blog. I have been dealing with back pain for the last six weeks. This has limited by ability to do that which it takes to create-share conversations. I hope to back in action soon.  If you missed me then I thank you for your patience. If you didn’t, excellent: now you know that you are wasting your time-life listening to me, please go and do something that lights you up!

If You Are Struggling In Calculating ROI And Getting Buy-In To Your CX Initiative

I am in the process of reading Edward Slingerland’s book: Trying Not To Try. The following passage got my attention:

Now, imagine a person turning around and, all of a sudden, spotting a small child stumbling toward the opening of a deep well. There is no one who, in such a moment, would not experience a feeling of alarm and empathy. Their response would be motivated by this feeling alone – not because they want to save the child and thereby gain some merit with the parents, not because they want to gain a reputation for goodness among their neighbours and friends, and not because they want to avoid having to hear the child’s anguished cries. From this we can see that someone lacking this feeling of empathy cannot be called a proper human being.

– Mencius

Notice, really notice, what it is that Mencius (‘follower’ of Confucius) is getting at here.  Imagine the same scenario and two adults present. One spots the little child, without any calculating, is called into action. The other, spots the child and starts doing a ROI calculation: the cost of taking action v the payoff (return) in terms of what can be gotten from the child’s parents, neighbours, friends, the community at large.  Which of these two adults will spring into action and save the child? Which of these two adults when s/he acts will do so in the appropriate manner – one that leaves the child cared for / grateful?

If you are with me so far then it occurs to me that you have gotten insight into why it is that so few organisations cultivate genuine-meaningful-enduring loyalty between themselves and their customers and vice versa.  Look at it differently, when you are busy calculating ROI of Customer Experience / Customer Engagement / Customer Relationship / Customer Loyalty initiatives so that you can sell the Tops on your Customer initiative what is really going on? And what does this disclose?

To me it discloses that the Tops are either ‘takers’ or ‘matchers’ or a mixture of both.  Just examine that for a moment and ask yourself this, why would any sane human being (customer, employee, supplier, partner) feel any loyalty to a ‘taker’?  Then consider that when you are dealing with a ‘matcher’ then what is occurring is transaction: matching requires a calculating way of being-in-the-world. The same question: why would any sane person feel any loyalty towards a ‘matcher’?

To sum up, it occurs to me that:

  1. Only a handful or companies cultivate meaningful customer loyalty because only a handful of companies have Tops who are ‘proper human beings’: have-express the kind of empathy (that Mencius is pointing at) that resonates with the people who work in the organisation (employees) and the people who are served-impacted by these employees (prospects, customers, suppliers, partners).

  2. Any organisation whose Tops are not ‘proper human beings’ will not cultivate meaningful-loyal relationships (with employees, with suppliers/partner, with customers) no matter how much time-money-effort is spent on strategy, on process changes, on people changes, on the latest technology.

  3. If you are lower down the food chain, struggling with calculating the ROI of your customer experience / engagement / loyalty initiative and getting ‘buy-in’ from the Tops/Middles then I advise you to stop wasting your time – go find another line of work, or work for the Tops/Middles who are empathic towards the whole Customer thing.  Why suffer? Why seek to convert those whose very being is not in line with the Customer philosophy?

Customers-Employees-Leadership: Distinguishing Between ‘Caring About’ And ‘Caring For’- And Why It Matters

Given that I find myself in the week of Christmas, it occurs to me that today is a great time to diving into caring. And in particular, I wish to make/introduce a distinction. Which distinction? I wish to distinguish between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’. Let’s start with the realm of Customer.

Caring About Customers v Caring For The Customer

I am clear that folks in business care about customers. Specifically, they care about:

  1. Figuring out what makes customers tick – by ‘listening’ to customers through market research, social listening, ethnography, and voice of the customer surveying;
  2. Getting more customers – turning prospects into customers by pushing out the right message, right offer, at the right time and through the right communication channel;
  3. Keeping more of their existing customers buying from them for longer – through a range of techniques including making it easier for customers to do business with the organisation (reducing effort, improving access, improving the customer experience) and through targeted incentives (promotions, discounts, loyalty points);
  4. Selling a wider range of ‘products’ to existing customers – by turning customer data into insight through the use of data mining and predictive analytics or just plain collaborative filtering;
  5. Moving existing customers from lower margin ‘products’ to higher margin customers – through the use of range of techniques and tactics;
  6. Winning back folks that used to be customers – usually through some kind of enticing promotion, discount or, rarely, a new/compelling ‘product’; and
  7. Servicing customers in a smart manner – by using the right combination (digital, telephone) of customer service channels.

Now, let’s turn our attention to caring for the customer. Let’s start with the basic question, who (specifically) cares for the customer?  Let’s make this even more specific, who cares for me?  As a customer, I deal with many companies and I am clear that there is not one company/organisation that cares for me. Not one! I, as a flesh and blood human being, do not show up on the organisational radar. Does anyone in an organisation ever care for me in a business context? When I interact with the organisations that I interact with do I get left with the feeling-experience of being cared for by an organisation? The answer is: No!

Are there any occasions where I, as a customer, feel cared for? Yes. When do I experience this kind of experience? When I encounter a Welcomer. What is a Welcomer? For me a Welcomer is a human being who, in his being, welcomes me as a fellow human being. S/he going beyond the formalised rituals of business and organisational life, beyond the scripts, beyond the transaction, and reaches out to me as one human being to another. I know when this is going on because I notice and experience the English reserve breaking down. There is breaking down of boundaries, whilst still respecting boundary. There tends to be mutual disclosure of the human kind: sharing occurs. And there tends to be smiling, even laughter. As a result of these kind of encounters, I find myself uplifted, smiling, grateful and with a sense of pride in being a member of the human race.  These kind of encounters leave me with hope, with optimism in my footsteps.

I invite you to consider that there is a world of difference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer. Notice the difference: in the realm of ‘caring about’ we are dealing with customers whereas in the realm of ‘caring for’ we are in the realm of the individual customer – that one human being.  There is a vast difference. And it occurs to me that the folks who talk about, evangelise about, preach out all things Customer are not present to this critical distinction.

Does this indifference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer matter? I say it matters – it matters to each customer. You see this is the deepest and most radical meaning of personalisation – speaking to the person of that one person (the customer).  I invite you to listen to the following words:

The general obsession with observing only historical or sociological movements, and not a particular human being …. is as mistaken as a doctor who does not take an interest in a particular case. Every particular case is an experience that can be valuable to the understanding of the illness…….

….. this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

As soon as you speak in psychological terms ….. people act as if you had a lack of interest in the wider currents of the history of man. In other words, they feel able to study masses and consider this more virtuous, assign of a vaster concept than relating to one person. This makes them …. inadequate in relationships, in friendships, in psychological understanding.

– Anias Nin

I invite you to consider that the strongest bonds, usually called loyalty, occurs where one human being experiences himself cared for (as a unique human being) by another human being.  Is it then any surprise that despite the talk of customer loyalty, and all the customer loyalty programmes and tactics, there is so little loyalty between customers and brands.

Caring About Employees v Caring For The Employee

Sure, organisations ‘care about’ employees. It is the employees who do the work – the work that creates value for the the customer. The work that ends up generating revenue and profits. So I find that organisations care a great deal about their employees including but not limited to:

  1. Attracting the right people to become employees of the organisation;
  2. Keeping the most valuable employees;
  3. Getting more out of their existing employees (productivity, collaboration, teamwork, ideas..);
  4. Ranking employees for performance management purposes;
  5. Minimising the costs associated with recruiting, retaining, managing, controlling employees.

Now, who in your organisation actually cares for that individual flesh+blood human being to whom you have given the label employee, and, thus deprived him/her of personhood and turned him/her into a category? Let me ask this question differently, as an employee do I feel cared for? Who do I feel cares for me in this organisation in which I find myself employed?

I invite you to consider that there is world of difference between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person to whom you have given the label employee.  Does this difference matter?  Of course it matters!  Until this difference is recognised and acted up organisations will continue to grapple with the challenge of ’employee engagement’.  Why should I engage with you and your organisation when I do not feel myself cared for – as a unique human being?

What Has This To Do With Leadership?

I invite you to consider that this distinction between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person whether under the label ‘customer’ or the label ’employee’ can be used to distinguish between management and leadership.  Leaders must dwell in the human real, the personal realm: ‘caring for’ the person.  Here I share the following wise words with you:

My lack of faith in the men who lead us is that they do not recognize the irrational in men, they have no insight, and whoever does not recognize the personal, individual drama of man cannot lead them.

– Anais Nin

Something to Consider And Play For At Christmas?

As you head into Christmas and the festivities where hopefully you will be in amidst people who are family and friends, I invite you to be present to the distinction between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ the folks that you will be meeting up with and celebrating Christmas with.  It occurs to me that making the shift from ‘caring about’ the folks you find yourself with, to ‘caring for’ each person that is there will transform your (and their) experience of Christmas.

If you play this ‘game’ you might just find that ‘caring about’ is easy, ‘caring for’ is really difficult. This might just explain why it is that all the folks who speak Customer and Employee make ‘caring about’ masquerade as ‘caring for’.  The interesting thing is that whilst we can hoodwink ourselves in the management suite, our customers and our employees are not hoodwinked that easily: they experience and detect the difference between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ – which is why they are not loyal to us and rightly so.

What Way Of Being Creates Access To Effectiveness In The Exercise Of Change Leadership?

Looking back, I see that I have been involved in drama of organisational change since the days I did corporate recovery work as a part of Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Recovery division.  That must have been around 1990/91 – some 20+ years ago.  What is it that I have ‘learned’ about this domain: the domain of leading-facilitating organisational change?

After 20+ years, I find myself totally clear on the following: almost every Top and Middle I have come across, in just about every type of organisation, in just about every type of industry, sucks at leading-enabling-facilitating organisational change.  I found myself face to face with this truth, in a recent organisational context, where I find myself acting as  an outside advisor on a Customer project.

If you find yourself in this ‘place’ and are content with this then stop reading and go do something useful with your life.  On the other hand, if you find yourself in that ‘place’ and looking for an access to being effective in the exercise of change leadership then I invite you to listen – really listen and grapple with these words of wisdom:

Position is everything. Everything changes, even when the circumstances remain identical, when you shift your position. Try it sometime with someone who is your adversary. Shift your position. Be that person and the adversary disappears.

Shift positions with whatever barrier you are facing … in your life. Be the barrier, and it is no longer there. It is only there because we pull back, separate ourselves from it. The more we pull back, the bigger and more overwhelming it gets, and the angrier or the more frightened we become. If we really look at the anger that makes us crazy or the fear that stops us cold, we see that it develops step by step from our thought process. And starting point of that thought process is separation ……

When you really acknowledge that it is nothing but yourself, when you realise this fact, you cannot live your life in the old way. You’ve suddenly taken responsibility for it. Before, the problem was outside – your bad luck, what other did to you, the circumstances you could do nothing about… When you realise that the cause is you, you empower yourself. You suddenly become a ten thousand-foot-high buddha……. Nothing is outside of you.

– John Daido Loori, The Great Way, Best Buddhist Writing 2008

Just about every one of us (as a human being) sucks at relationship, at experience design, at calling forth engagement, at change, and at the exercise of leadership due to the neglect of this radical truth. Some of us are not aware of this. Many who us, who are aware of this truth, choose not to give life to this truth in our way of being (showing up and travelling) in life.

Is it then any surprise that just about every organisation sucks at cultivating relationships with customer, at designing-generating appropriate customer experiences, at calling forth the best of their people popularly labelled employee engagement, and the exercise of change leadership?

What hope is their for an organisation to make a shift to a customer-centric way of being-in-the-world and doing business with customers, when the Tops and Middles are not even effective in the exercise of change leadership in the context of designing-implementing a CRM system?

Can Human-Centred Leadership Provide An Access To Love And Profit?

The Human Something That Makes All The Difference In Human Relationships

“I remember how one day a foreman secretly gave me a piece of bread which I knew he must have saved from his breakfast ration. It was far more than a small piece of bread which moved me to tears at the time. It was the “human” something which this man gave me – the word and the look which accompanied the gift.

—Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Here is a man existing in a concentration camp. He is aware that he is being worked towards death. He finds himself starving – day after day. Yet, when he receives a small piece of bread what moves him is not the bread itself. What moves him, what leaves him grateful, is that “human” something which is brought forth and given life in the ‘word and the look’ which accompanies the gift of bread. The human something which transforms Viktor Frankl’s being from that of a thing to that of a human being.

Have we created a space for this human something to show up and dwell in the world of business?

You may be tempted to think so given all the talk of relationship, of service, of engagement, of collaboration, of partnering, of loyalty. And I am confident that many in the business world actually believe so. Yet, Look beyond this veil and you are likely to see a desert of genuine-meaningful-cooperative relating: within the organisation, and between the organisation and its customers, suppliers and partners. Behind the veil of words lies a transactional context where just about everybody finds that the most functional behaviour is to look after oneself. Where does the problem lie? Who is responsible for not putting this human something into the game of business?

Let’s listen to what Susan Scott says on the matter (bolding mine):

“The problem isn’t out there. It’s in here. We want employees to be engaged and feel included, while we ourselves are detached, distracted, disengaged, focused on our to-do-lists. We want others to bring that elusive, coveted “discretionary effort” in the door with them every day, but we don’t have the time to engage in conversations that enrich our relationships with them. We are busy, not to be found. And even when we are willing to spend more time with people, we don’t want to get to close to them. After all, there’s professional distance to maintain. Conversations and meetings that create actual intimacy make us nervous and uncomfortable. Besides, intimacy requires too much upkeep on an emotional level, and conversations and meetings that really engage and include take too much time…. When you disengage from the world, fail to include it, the world disengages too, in equal measure. It’s a two-step process, you and the world, you and your organisation. Your colleagues, associates, employees lost interest in you because you’ve lost interest in them. Calling them associates isn’t enough. If you want to engage and include the people who surround you at work, then gain the capacity to connect with them at a deep level – or lower your aim.

– Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership

What Can We Learn From the Events That Occurred At Market Basket?

It occurs to me that when it comes to the human something and the exercise of human-centred leadership (which embodies that human something) we can learn something from the events that have occurred at Market Basket. What happened? According to the Boston Globe (27th August article):

“For six weeks, we were mesmerized by the sight of thousands of grocery clerks, cashiers, and other workers protesting at stores, on Facebook, and on the front pages of this paper. They did so at great risk, without the protection of a union, not because they wanted higher wages, but merely the return of their beloved boss, Arthur T. Demoulas.”

The CEO of Tesco was ousted in July 2014 due to poor performance. Not a single employee turned up at company headquarters to demand his return to the CEO role. So why is it that thousands of employees did turn up at headquarters and demand Arthur T’s return? What makes him beloved – so highly loved? I share with you some quotes that I have come across on the net, from the likes of the Boston Globe and the LA Times (bolding mine):

“He’s a tremendous human being that puts people above profits. He can walk through a store, and if he’s met you once, he knows your name, he knows your wife, your husband, your kids, where they are going to school.

– Tom Trainor, District Supervisor

“He’ll walk into a warehouse and will stop and talk to everyone because he’s genuinely concerned about them. He cares about families, he asks about your career goals, he will walk up to part-timers and ask about them about themselves. To him, that cashier and that bagger are just as important as the supervisors and the store management team.”

– Joe Schmidt, Store Operation Supervisor

“Artie is a people person, who places people before profits; he cares about you as an individual. There’s good pay, good working conditions, good benefits. That’s why people people don’t leave.

– Joe Garon, Buyer

Leading From Any Chair: Acknowledging The Acknowledged Leaders

One can ‘lead from any chair’ according to Benjamin Zander the conductor.  Put differently, any one of us can exercise leadership no matter which position (chair) we occupy in the organisation.  That is what the folks at Market Basket have shown.  I wish to acknowledge those who show up for me as the unacknowledged leaders. The supervisors who took a stand and risked all to getting “Artie” reinstated, knowing that they were likely to be dismissed. And found themselves dismissed:

  • Tom Gordon, grocery supervisor;
  • Jim Lacourse, buyer;
  • Joe Garon, buyer;
  • Steve Paulenka, facilities and operation supervisor;
  • Tom Trainor, distribution supervisor;
  • Joe Schmidt, operations supervisor; and
  • Dean Joyce, warehouse supervisor.

How to end this conversation?

What is a fitting end to this conversation? I share these quotes with you:

Every man has to obey the voice of his own conscience, and be his own master and seek the Kingdom of God from within. For him there is no government that can control him …”

– Gandhi

“This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

– Jesus (John 15:12-13)

The voice of my conscience calls me to work with you to co-create a world that works for all, none excluded. My conscience calls me to show up and travel in a manner that elevates my fellow human beings: to put into the game of life that “human” something that left Viktor Frankl touched, elevated.  It occurs to me that this is the true meaning of Social not the watered down selfish twittering that passes for social.

What about you? What does the voice of your conscience call you to? What is the possibility that it speaks and are you listening to it?

Please note that a somewhat modified version of this conversation was first published on CustomerThink in  October 2014.