We are not here merely to earn a living and to create value for our shareholders. We are here to enrich the world and make it a finer place to live. We will impoverish ourselves if we fail to do so.
- Woodrow Wilson
I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating customers right are based on revenue and profits. I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating employees right are based ultimately on revenue and profits. I cannot help noticing that the arguments for treating suppliers right are either missing or when present are also justified on the basis of the impact on revenues and profits.
If we justify action on the basis of revenue and profit then surely it is OK to treat:
- customers badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
- employees badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
- suppliers badly if that will lead to higher revenues, profits or cash-flow?
- the wider community badly if that will lead to higher revenues and profits?
If you are a customer how much trust do you put in a company if it treating you well as a means of harvesting high profits? As an employee how much trust do you put in a company that treats you well only because it expects to maximise profits? You get the idea.
One more point to consider, what was the source of the corporate scandals and the financial crisis of 2008? Was it not the pursuit of revenue, profit and bonus maximisation irrespective of the consequences falling on others?
Is there any other basis, other than revenue and profit maximisation, for treating our fellow human beings well? I say let’s stop for a moment and listen to the words of Srikumar S. Rao in his book Are You Ready to Succeed?
What a sorry pass we have come to when simple decent behaviour has to be “justified” in terms of some other benefit. What happens if behaving without integrity can get you growth and unparalleled profit?
… you treat the customer right because that is how you like to be treated. You treat your employees well because that is the proper thing to do. You behave with integrity because that is an expression of who and what you are. These are the givens. You DO NOT have to justify or explain or rationalise any of it.
…. if you attempt to link your values with external measures like profit, you cheapen them and you discredit your actions.
As I look around, I cannot help but notice that that the companies which are heralded as exemplars of customer-centricity and employee engagement are not pursuing revenue and profit maximisation. Instead they are pursuing a purpose that calls to their customer and employees, treating people right, and harvesting the benefits in terms of productivity, innovation, engagement, loyalty and advocacy.
What do you say?
Leadership matters. Whilst there are many ways of grappling with leadership, I value the ontological lens and in particular the ontological model of leadership that has been developed and is being taught by Werner Erhard et al. In this post I continue the conversation on being a leader (and leadership) that I started in the last post.
Warning: authenticity is not an easy conversation
Today, I wish to grapple with authenticity. To grapple with and get authenticity one needs to grapple with human existence (being and doing). And in particular one needs to suspend one’s existing listening (how one thinks of, relates to) of authenticity. Furthermore, it takes courage as the conversation of authenticity/inauthenticity unconceals that which we are committed to keeping hidden. If you are not up for this today then I suggest that you go and do something else. If you are up for the conversation then let’s begin.
What constitutes authenticity in this ontological model of leadership?
At a superficial level being authentic is being genuine, being real -”the real thing”. Dive into this, grapple with this, and you are likely to find yourself grappling with the question “How does a human being determine when he/she is being genuine, being real?” Put differently, “Genuine/real with regards to what exactly?” Think of it this way, determining whether this iPad before me is a genuine Apple iPad is a different realm of enquiry to determining if I/you are being genuine/real/authentic in the way that I/you show up in the world. Yet we need to ring-fence it if we are to grapple with it.
In the ontological model of leadership, Werner Erhard et al are clear on what constitutes authenticity. They define authenticity as:
“being and acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others, and who you hold yourself out to be for yourself”.
Notice that central to this definition is ‘who you hold yourself out to be’: not your personality, not your thoughts, not your feelings, not social convention…… How to make sense of ‘who you hold yourself to be’? Think of it as a declaration that you make, a stand that you take on yourself, a commitment to a set of values and/or specific future.
Authenticity is central to leadership and being a leader
How to position the importance of authenticity to leadership? Perhaps it is best to share the words of Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership, and best-selling author:
“After years of studying leaders and their traits, I believe that leadership begins and ends with authenticity.”
I find myself to be in agreement with Bill George, which is why I have put authenticity at the centre:
Werner Erhard et al write:
“Being a leader requires that you are absolutely authentic, and true authenticity begins with being authentic about your inauthenticities, and almost no one does this.”
Did you get that? The access to authenticity is being authentic (confronting the truth) about where/how you are being inauthentic (not being/acting in accordance with ‘who you hold yourself out to be’). Yet, almost no one does this. Do your remember how the business world reacted to Domino’s Pizza decision to come out in 2010 and tell the truth about their pizzas? Surprise, bafflement, astonishment: What, you are going to own up to the fact that your pizzas taste like cardboard!
Inauthenticity is ubiquitous
Inauthenticity is the default setting and state of human existence. You, I and just about everyone is being inauthentic – at the very least in some ways, at certain times, with certain people and in certain situations. To date I have distinguished two kinds of inauthenticity.
First, there is the kind where I, you, sacrifice our personality, character, spirit, stand in response to external pressures: the pressure to appear to be a certain kind of person, the pressure to adopt a particular mode of living, the pressure to ignore one’s own moral and aesthetic objections in order to have a more comfortable existence. If you take the time to reflect and are willing to be open to that which shows up then you will see where and how often you have trodden this path. Else read Sartre’s novels – they provide a great access to the inauthentic mode of being/living.
The second kind of inauthenticity is of the kind which is normally hidden from us. This kind of inauthenticity lies in the realm of what we don’t know that we don’t know: we do not have access to our real reasons for being the way that we are being, acting the way that we are acting, and we ignore crucial facts about own lives (and the world we find ourselves in) in order to avoid facing up to and confronting uncomfortable truths. Spend some time in the counselling room and you will see this vividly: you cannot help seeing how the human being is blind to certain aspects of him/herself. Or just watch the TV series “The Office”.
Heart of the matter: we refuse to confront our inauthenticities
Imagine that you are driving a car and you find that you have a flat tyre. Having a flat tyre is not an issue provided you are willing to acknowledge and confront the fact that you are driving a car with a flat tyre. Acknowledging and confronting the fact creates an opening for you to take effective action: to replace or repair the flat tyre. It is the same with inauthenticity: inauthenticity is not an issue if you and I are willing to confront where/how we are being inauthentic.
Yet inauthenticity is an issue. It is an issue because you and I are not willing to confront our inauthenticities. Here is what Werner Erhard et al have to say on the matter:
“..because we avoid at all costs confronting our inauthenticities, we are consistently inauthentic about being inauthentic – not only with others, but with ourselves as well.”
If you find this assertion hard to stomach then allow me to share with you the conclusion that Harvard Professor Chris Argyris came to after spending 40 years studying human beings and organisations:
“Put simply, people consistently act inconsistently, unaware of the contradiction between their espoused theory and their theory-in-use, between the way they think they are acting, and they way they really act.”
Want to be a leader? Generate the courage to be authentic about your inauthenticities
By now it should be clear that being authentic is absolutely essential to being a leader and the exercise of leadership. It should also be clear that the default setting of human existence is inauthenticity and as such inauthenticity is ubiquitous. So one critical challenge of being a leader is to life oneself up from this fallen state of inauthenticity. This is how Werner Erhard et al put it:
“If you cannot find the courage to be authentic about your inauthenticities, you can forget about being a leader……..The actionable access to authenticity is being authentic about your inauthenticities..”
As a pragmatic course of action it means that you must:
Be willing (and proactive) in discovering and confronting your inauthenticities – where in our lives you are not being and/or acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others AND who you hold yourself out to be for yourself; AND
Tell the truth (to yourself and the appropriate people) about where you are not being genuine, real, authentic – the appropriate people tend to be the one’s that you are most likely to resist telling the truth to.
If you are willing to take this on then take a look at these areas
By virtue of human there are certain domains of life that suck us towards/into a state of being inauthentic. So if you are up for being a leader (or simply up for a life of freedom, self-esteem, courage and peace of mind) then take a look at the following:
Most of us are driven to look good and avoid looking bad. Werner Erhard et al put it this way “.. most of us have a pathetic need for looking good, and almost none of us is willing to confront just how much we care about looking good..” Look, how many of us are afraid to ask a question or voice our opinion for the fear of looking stupid, the only one who does not get it? I say the reason so many of us insist on being right (rather than admit we are/were wrong) is to look good and avoid looking bad. Where are you sacrificing your authenticity simply to look good and avoid looking bad? If you do the work you will find a gold mine of inauthenticity here; it would not be going to far to say that wanting to look good and avoid looking bad runs us!
Every single one of us wants to be admired (to be recognised as a person of worth/significance/importance/high status), and yet almost none of us is willing to be with and confront how desperately we want to be admired. And how readily we will give up our authentic voice, our stand, in a situation where we perceive that being straightforward, honest, genuine threatens us with a loss of admiration.
In many situations, many of us want to be seen as being loyal members of the group even when we are not. How many of us are playing at being loyal simply to avoid the consequences (loss of admiration, looking bad, being made out to be wrong, being punished) of being perceived as being not loyal, not a team player. Have you noticed how easily you will sacrifice ‘who you hold yourself out to be’ for the sake of fitting in, being admired and rewarded? This is how you get ‘groupthink’ and the ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco and many others like it in organisations.
The good news if you are up for being a leader
So far this post might just show up in your listening as ‘bad news’ and leave you deflated/resigned/cynical. So I want to share another quote from Werner Erhard et al:
“We are all guilty of being small in these ways – it comes with being human. Great leaders are noteworthy in having come to grips with these foibles of being human – not eliminating them, but being the masters of these weaknesses when they are leading.”
If you wish to get a taste of authenticity/inauthenticity (and its importance to the human condition) then I recommend reading Book VI:The Russian Monk, Chapter 1:The Elder Zosima and His Visitors, Section (d) The Mysterious Stranger, from Fydor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece: The Brothers Karamazov. If you have the hardback edition by Pevear and Volokhonsky then the page number is 301.
In the next post in this series I will take a look at the third foundational strand of the ontological leadership model: being committed to something bigger than oneself.
For those of you who have made it this far, I thank you for putting into this conversation that which it takes to be in this conversation. I am grateful that you exist and that I have the privilege of being in this conversation with you. I look forward to listening to your perspective, your experience on authenticity.
This post completes the conversation that I started in Part I of this post which you can find here.
11 lessons for crafting a perfect service experience
1: make it easy for your customers to get access to your contact details so that it occurs (to your customers) as no effort at all. Yes, you can put the number on all of your existing interaction channels. Can you go further and issue a membership card like the AA does and give the key details including the contact number on that one card? Why not build an app for that? Yes so that the smartphone user just hits the app and the app does all the work?
2: make it easy for customers to get through to a friendly human voice. First and foremost it means having the right number of people available to take calls. And instead of unhelpful messages like “we are experiencing high call volumes”, “check out our website”, “your call is important to us” do something useful. For example, let the customer know where he is in the queue and how long he is likely to have to wait. Better still use technology to ring the customer back – when his turn comes up – so that he can do something useful with his time. My colleagues in the customer management community tell me that the technology to do this exists. What is missing is the will to do it.
3: use the information that is available to you to make the customer’s life easier. For example, the AA have clearly sourced vehicle data from the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority) and so I simply had to provide the registration number rather than spell out the details of the car. This saved us both time and the AA probably had better data on the vehicle than I would have been able to provide. Incidentally, most organisations can a lot better in this area.
4: make specific, measurable, commitments like the AA lady did when she said that someone will be with you within 1 hour. When you make nice sounding vague statements I, the customer, simply do not believe you. When you make specific commitments – especially in a measured, confident tone – then you inspire my confidence in you. What is more, you reduce my uncertainty, I know what to expect and when and so I can better manage my time, myself. Specific commitments reduce uncertainty (and risk) in the customer’s mind replacing it with a certain piece of mind – a highly desired state.
5: conduct a human conversation and look for opportunities to acknowledge and validate your customer. Let’s face it most of us (if not all of us) experience a surge of joy and affinity when someone who matters to us acknowledges and validates us. Plenty of people turn to counsellors to experience that feeling. So imagine the emotional connection you build with your customers when you treat them that way. Incidentally, that way of treating customers is the ultimately way of letting your customers know that you respect them. The AA lady excelled when she thanked me for offering to take a back seat if someone needed the AA more than me. It is not just what she said it was the way that she said – genuine surprise and delight. Incidentally, you cannot conduct a human conversation if you are keen to get them off the phone. That has the same effect as talking with someone and noticing that he keeps looking at his watch and over your shoulder towards someone else.
6: honour your word. No doubt you are familiar with “under promise, over deliver” – that is great if your promise is acceptable to the customer. Yet many times it is not like the companies that quote 2 days to respond to your email when we expect a response in several hours. The other aspect is that you can honor your word even when you cannot keep your promise. How? As soon as you figure out that you are not in a position to keep your word then contact your customer, explain the situation and sort out the mess. You can only sort out the mess by asking the customer “How can I make this right by you so that we can move beyond this with no hard feelings?” Incidentally the best way of you losing my respect is for you to repeatedly break your word – to me or to my fellows (think social media and social networks). Incidentally, honouring your word is all or nothing affair rather like being pregnant – you cannot be half pregnant.
7: do the job that the customer has hired you to do – deliver the desired outcome. Did I value Andy’s friendly manner? Yes. Did I value Andy’ s knowledge of cars? Yes. Yet neither of those attributes would have had made up for my car being stuck on the drive. The fact is that this was a great experience because Andy got the job done. He (and so the AA) delivered the outcome that I had hired the AA for when I had joined as a member: my car was working and I was mobile once more.
8: take the opportunity to educate your customers. If the customer turns to you to get a job done then it is likely that you have some knowledge that you can share that will leave the customer better off. For example, if you are selling shoes then you can suggest tips on how the customer can best take care of those shoes. In my case Andy told me that my car, an old Mercedes, is prone to the kind of problem I encountered if it is started and then not drive for some 10 minutes or so. So his tip if you start the engine then leave it running for 10 minutes or so. This is another major failing and an area in which organisations can easily improve if they put their heart into it (I will be writing on this later).
9: no matter what technical job you are doing remember that there is always a human job – to make sure that your customer feels great about doing business with you. Too often we get wrapped up in the technical task and forget about our flesh and blood human beings. Andy (and the AA) did not make that mistake. Andy was wearing the right clothes, he was clean, he smiled and talked with me. Specifically, he used my language and asked me simple questions that I could answer. He told me what he was doing. And most importantly he did not do anything to make me feel foolish. Even when I felt foolish and apologised Andy reassured me and by doing so he helped shore up my self-esteem rather than diminish it. If the “experience” bit means anything it means pay attention to the human being and his subjective experience throughout the encounter
10: there is no substitute for genuinely caring about your customers (and your role). When you genuinely care about your customers then that becomes part of your DNA and manifests itself in everything that you do. In every single interaction that I have had with the AA I have been left with the experience that the AA folks care about me (their customer) and the job that they are doing. The ultimate act of caring was the way that Andy ended the encounter: “We’re here to help you!” I took that to mean “Don’t feel bad about calling me out over a flooded engine that I fixed in two minutes. My job, our job, is to help you – whatever help you need big or small!” He didn’t say that in words because he did not have to – he said it in his whole being from the moment that I met him at the door to the time that he left. You can’t fake Being. Yet too many companies that are embarked on the customer bandwagon are doing their best to fake it.
11: the customer facing staff can put on a beautiful show and deliver a great experience to the extent that the backstage people do their work. One of my sons loves to sing and is in a choir that sang at the Proms (this is a major annual event in the UK) recently. I can tell you that it took a lot of planning and practice to plan and pull of that event. It requires a dedication to the cause such that all the details are taken care of. Too many customer experience folks are focussing on the performers on the stage (and the play) and yet not paying the right level of attention to the backstage: the people, the propos…….As the AA has the Which? award for two years running that suggests that it has taken care of the whole package – the performers on the stage and the stuff backstage. Who are the most important backstage people? The people at the top (The Tops) who ultimately set direction, shape culture and management style, make investment decisions, set up KPI’s……….