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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!

How To Think Productively About Customer Experience?

A little while back Bob Thompson asked this question on the CustomerThink.com site.  Thereafter, this question called forth 60 or so comments from a range of folks including Customer Experience gurus, thought leaders, experts, practitioners etc.  I found this conversational thread interesting.  Why?  The lack of shared understanding and agreement as to what constitutes Customer Experience / Customer Experience Management. In this conversation I wish to consider how one can think productively (usefully) about Customer Experience.

What Is Customer Experience?

It occurs to me that many think of Customer Experience as a bucket/container.  And so get busy thinking about (arguing about) what does and does not go in to this container.  So some folks put a lot of stuff into this bucket including product and pricing.  Other folks, like Bob Thomspon, would like this bucket to be more restrictive: to contain only customer interaction with the organisation through the established channels.   Let’s take a step back and ask this question: Is Customer Experience a bucket (container)?

Many years ago one of my children came up home upset. Why? Someone had called him stupid!  After giving him a hug, I played an instructive game with my son. I asked him to think of what he could buy with £100.  I listened to his excitement. Then I told him that I would give him £1 if he could show me a chair. Without hesitation he walked over to a chair and pointed at it. I gave him a £1. Then I told him that I’d happily give him £1,000 if he could show me stupid.  It took about ten minutes (of ‘to and fro’) but he got it. What did he get?  He got that stupid is an idea, a concept, a label that folks apply.

I say to you that Customer Experience is not a thing. Customer Experience is not a function like Marketing, Sales, Service…. Customer Experiences is not a process like say ‘Enquiry to Proposal’ or ‘Order to Cash’. Customer Experience is not a technology nor a set of technologies.

I invite you to consider that Customer Experience is a concept (idea).  Please remember that idea comes from idein (to see) and such is simply a way of seeing.  What does it allow you to see?  That everything that your organisation does or does not do has an impact on the customer’s experience of you.

What Is The Value of The Concept: Customer Experience ?

I say that the value of the Customer Experience concept lies in the following:

First, it helps us remember that a customer experiences your organisation/brand: your stores, your products, your pricing, your branding, your website, your sales people, your delivery people, your service people, your communications.  I invite you to consider that a customer (or potential customer) can and does experience your brand without interacting directly with your brand. How so?  By reading about your organisation. By listening to others talk about your organisation….

Second, it opens up the possibility of competing at the level of the Customer Experience (how the Customer experiences your organisation/brand as a whole) rather than at the level of product, or solution, or service; one can create-deliver a ‘product-service-solution’ in a manner that leaves the Customer cold, indifferent, or deeply moved-touched-inspired-uplifted.  One can provide exactly the same product-service-solution yet show up and travel as a good citizen – one who genuinely cares about the wellbeing of other citizens.

What Is The Challenge That Goes With Customer Experience? 

The challenge of Customer Experience is not that of carving out Customer Experience as container and then determining what does and does not go into this bucket.  The challenge of Customer Experience is not setting up a Voice of the Customer Experience program.  The challenge of Customer Experience is not creating a Chief Customer Officer position / CX team and charging this person/team with putting in new touchpoints / channels or redesigning business processes ….

If you choose to compete on the basis of the Customer Experience then it is not enough to get a team of folks together and decide how wide-long-deep the Customer Experience container is, what goes in it, and who owns it.  Then set aside a budget and get busy with creating new interactions channels, improving existing channels….. Why? This is not a productive way of looking at Customer Experience. Disagree?  How many organisations have taken or are taking their route – first with CRM and now with CXM?  Of these how many have become the beloved of their customers?

I say that the challenge of Customer Experience, to use a computer analogy, is like the challenge of erasing the existing operating system and replacing it with a new operating system.  What do I mean by ‘operating system’?  I mean a new way of ‘showing up and travelling’ for everyone in the organisation.  So that when someone in procurement is faced with the task of choosing one product supplier or another s/he considers the impact on the Customer Experience. Or when someone in IT is choosing between system A or system B, he considers not only the cost and fit with IT standards but also the usability and usefulness to the users who are either dealing with customers or supporting those who are dealing with customers.  Finally, it means moving power from those who sit in HQ to those who are on the front lines in direct touch with customers.  It means that the folks in HQ are there to support those interacting with and serving customers.

Summing Up: Customer Experience As A Way Of Showing Up And Travelling

I invite you to consider that there is not much power in choosing to see Customer Experience as a bucket with certain functions, people, processes, channels, technologies inside it and others outside it.  I invite you to consider that a productive (transformative) way of thinking about and orienting oneself towards Customer Experience is to see it as a way of life: It is way of ‘showing up and travelling’ that is mindful of how one’s decisions, actions, inactions, impact the Customer Experience: how the customer experiences you.  This way of life has to be embraced by everyone.  And the biggest barriers to this change are not the folks on the front line interacting with-serving customers. No, it is the folks sitting in HQ.

 

 

Strategy And Purpose: Is It Really What You Say It Is?

Let’s say that you want to grasp an organisation’s strategy – say customer strategy or customer experience strategy. By strategy I mean the organisation’s manner of ‘showing up and travelling’. How would you go about determining that?

Who would you go and ask? How many people would you ask? Would you seek out the Board? The CEO? The Marketing Director? The Sales Director? The Customer Services Director? The Operations Director? The Chief Customer Officer? The Chief Digital Officer?

What would you look at/for? Would you seek out and review the latest published accounts?  The strategic plan?  Mission and values statements? The brand values and guidelines? The marketing strategy? The statements that the CEO / Finance Director has made to the financial press?

You’d be wasting your time. Just like I did in my early days in consulting. Nowadays, I pay little attention to any of these aspects. What do I direct my attention towards?  That which really matters. That which truly speaks without speaking. That which does not lie. What am I pointing at?  I invite you to listen to a man that knows – really knows:

A strategy – whether in companies or in life – is created through hundreds of everyday decisions about how you spend your time, energy, and money. With every moment of your time, every decision about how you spend your time, and your money, you are making a statement about what really matters to you. You can talk all you want about having a clear strategy and purpose for your life, but ultimately this means nothing if you are not investing the resources you have in a way that is consistent with your strategy. In the end, a strategy is nothing but good intentions unless it’s effectively implemented.

How do you make sure that you are implementing the strategy you truly want to implement? Watch where your resources flow – the resource allocation process…… You might think you are a charitable person, but how often do you really give your time or money to a cause … that you care about?  If you family matters most to you, when you think about all the choices you have made with your time in a week, does your family seem to come out on top? Because if the decisions you make about where to invest your blood, sweat, and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.

– Clayton M. Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life?

Bringing about this consistency is not easy. It is not easy at the individual level. It is not easy at the family level. It is not easy at the team level. It is not easy at the department level. It is not easy at the company level.  Which is why so few of us are in a state of integrity: between what we say, what we believe/value, and how we actually show up and operate in life.  This means that the world is for the taking by the bold: those who are investing their blood, sweat, and tears consistent with the persons/organisation they aspire to be. And a future they aspire to create.

It occurs to me that the core challenge of leadership is not that of vision creation. Nor that of communicating vision. I say it is the political challenge that goes with changing the allocation of resources – and dealing with the blowback from the folks impacted by the changes.

And finally, I dedicate this conversation to a friend. He knows who he is.  I wish him the very best with the game that he his playing this year!

What Is The Access To And The Source Of Mastery In The Exercise Of Leadership

2014 is behind us in a manner of speaking and we are in the first month of 2015. Listen to the news and you are likely to find plenty of challenges: stuff that we, individually and collectively, have to deal with.  If you/i are to show up as human-centred leaders then what is the way to go about being-dealing with these challenges.  This question is the subject of this conversation.

What Is The Access To And The Source Of Mastery In The Exercise Of Human Centred Leadership?

What is the material that a carpenter works with? Wood. What is the material a painter works with? Paint. What is the material that a farmer works with? The land that is farmed. What is the material that a leader works with? Human beings.

What makes a carpenter a great carpenter? Mastery? Yes, I say it takes a mastery of wood (in its many forms) and the tools+techniques that are used to work with-on the wood. Love? I ask you, can a carpenter became a great carpenter without a love of working with-on wood? It occurs to me that the answer is NO!

You may be asking yourself, what has this got to do with human-centred leadership? Everything. I say that a human-centred leader has to love working with-on human beings. I say that a human-centred leader has to attain a mastery over his own being (that which shapes how s/he shows up and travels in life) and the human-condition. What am I getting at? I invite you to listen, really listen, to the following words of profound wisdom into the human-condition (bolding is my work):

Optimism gives a hopeful attitude to life, while with pessimism one sees darkness on one’s path. No doubt sometimes pessimism shows conscientiousness and cleverness, and it may also show experience. But conscientiousness alone will never be enough to overcome the difficulties one meets in one’s life, it is trust that solves life problems.

The psychological effect of optimism is such that it helps to bring success, for it is by the spirit of optimism that God has created the world. Optimism comes from God, and pessimism is born from the heart of man. By what little experience of life he has, man learns, “This will not succeed, that will not do, this will not come right.” For the one who is optimistic it does not matter if it does not come right in the end, he will take his chance. For what is life? Life is an opportunity, and to the optimistic person this opportunity is a promise, while for the pessimistic person this opportunity is lost….

Man’s life depends on the object of his concentration, so if he concentrates upon misery, he must be miserable. A person who has a certain habit of which he does not approve often thinks he is helpless before is as it is his nature. But nothing is man’s nature except what he makes of himself. As the whole of nature is is made by God, so the nature of each individual is made by himself; and as the Almighty has the power to change His nature, so the individual is capable of changing his nature. Among all the creatures of this world, man has the most right to be optimistic, for man represents God on earth, God as Judge, God as Creator ….

A man with optimism will help another who is drowning in the sea of fear and disappointment; while on the contrary, if someone who is ill or downhearted comes to a pessimistic person, the pessimist will pull him down and make him sink to the depths along with himself. On the side of the one is life; on the side of the other is death……. It is no exaggeration to say that the very spirit of God comes to man’s rescue in the form of the optimistic spirit.…..

It does not matter how hard a situation in life may be: however great the difficulties, they can all be surmounted…… the greatest greatest reward there can be in life is the spirit of optimism, while the greatest punishment that can be given to man for his worst sin is pessimism. Verily, the one who is hopeful in life will succeed.

There are two attitudes that divide people into two sections. The one is an ever-complaining attitude and the other an ever-smiling attitude. Life is the same: call it good, call it bad, call it right, call it wrong, it is what it is; it cannot be otherwise…. The person with the right attitude of mind tries to make even wrong right, but the one with the wrong attitude of mind will turn even right into wrong. Besides, magnetism is the the need of every soul; the lack of it makes life burdensome. The tendency of seeing wrong in everything robs one to a great extent of that magnetism which is needed very much in life….. the world is place you cannot enter with a pass of admission, and that pass of admission is magnetism; the one who does not possess it will be refused everywhere.

The attitude of looking at everything with a smile is the sign of the saintly soul. A smile given to a friend or even to an enemy will win him over in the end; for this is the key to the heart of man. As the sunshine from without lights the whole world, so the sunshine from within, it it were raised up, would illuminate the whole life, in spite of all the seeming wrongs and in spite of all limitations…. looking at life with a hopeful attitude of mind, with an optimistic view, it is this that will give one power of turning wrong into right and bringing light into the place where all is darkness. Cheerfulness is life; sulkiness is death. Life attracts, death repulses. The sunshine that comes from the soul, rises through the heart, and manifests itself in man’s smile is indeed the light from the heavens. In that light many flowers grow and many fruits become ripe.”

– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art Of Being And Becoming

Summing Up

I say the very being of a human-centred leader is is that of possibility (hope), enthusiasm borne of a deep connection with this possibility (of a better world), and optimism no matter what the circumstance. What kind of optimism matters most in a leader? The optimism in mankind and in particular the optimism in the human-beings s/he is involved with, counting on, responsible, and leading.

I leave you with the following thoughts:

– The price of admission to effective human-centred leadership is magnetism – enrolling people in the possibility of a better world awaiting to be ‘birthed-caused-created';
– The source of this magnetism is deep seated love of and faith in one’s fellow human beings; and
– This optimism cannot be faked – the seeds of it must lie in your very being, and if they are there then this optimism can be cultivated until it blossoms to a fully grown tree.

Want to get a better handle on what it is that I am getting at? I invite you to watch this 5 minute clip of Viktor Frankl:

I invite you to consider that if any human being has attained a profound lived grasp-understanding of human nature it is Viktor Frankl. Why? He is a Jew. He lost everyone during WWII. He found himself in the worst concentration camps. He experienced that which few of us will ever experience. He did not merely survive the concentration camp existence. He came out with a profound optimism in mankind. His book Man’s Search For Meaning, written shortly after his liberation from the concentration camp, is one that I invite you read if you wish to show up and travel as a human-centred leader. Thank you for listening, I wish you an optimistic existence!

Please note that a slightly modified version of this conversation was first published here in December 2014.

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