Leadership Involves Mastery of Initiative Conversations

Effective Leaders Excel At Initiative Conversations

I say that a leader is s/he who brings about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. I also say that human beings are beings who live in-through language. This leads me to conclude that a leader is s/he who is a master of using language to bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway. This begs the question, what kind of language? To bring about a future that wasn’t going to happen anyway a leader has to take the initiative and effect change in the present. This means that a leader has to excel in the art of Initiative Conversations.

An Enquiry Into Initiative Conversations

At this point you are likely to want me to define an ‘Initiative Conversation’. Here’s the definition:

An Initiative Conversation is a proposal to create a new future, with the intention of making the future a reality. What makes an Initiative Conversation unique is not that it is a way of talking about starting something. It actually does start something.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

I am aware of the limitation of definitions, so allow me to bring this definition to life by giving you an example of an Initiative Conversation:

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space, and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. Let it be clear … that I am asking Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgement it would be better not to go at all.

President John R. Kennedy speaking to joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961

What Makes Initiative Conversations Necessary?

In my conversations with my children I often say “The being of man, your being, my being, is not the being of this table right in front of us!” What do I mean by that? Allow me to shed light on that by sharing the following with you (bolding mine):

The twig has no relationship to it’s future, drifting passively in the wind.

People are not twigs: we can create a future by design. We have desires or intentions, goals or plans, and can have an active relationship to the future….. When we become active and intentional about our future, we can deliberately choose to make something happen… The desire for something better is characteristic of human beings. 

To make your goals a reality, begin by having Initiative Conversations: announce the future you want to achieve, and invite other people to join you in making it happen

Initiative Conversations are proposals that share an idea for an attractive and worthwhile future, and show people the possibility and the value in fulfilling it…. In many cases, the Initiative Conversation goes beyond informing people, and begins to engage them and excite them about being part of making something happen….

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How can you tell whether you have held an effective Initiative Conversation or not? Simple. An effective Initiative Conversation does more than inform or provide direction. An effective Initiative Conversation moves the people taking part in that conversation! The people are moved as in excited by the new future and being so excited they are moved to enter into the ‘arena’ where work has to happen to bring about the new future. At a very human level, you/i feel it: there is a certain energy, a certain buzz.

What Are The Constituents of An Initiative Conversation?

1. What-When-Why

The following three elements make up the heart of an Initiative Conversation:

1. What is to be accomplished (the desired outcome);
2. When (date-time) are we committed to accomplish the desired outcome; and
3. Why does it matter that we generated the desired outcome by such a date-time?

Regarding these elements I share the following advice with you:

The What element …. needs to be brief and compelling to attract the intended audience.

Every goal needs a timeline – that is what makes the new future a specific event instead of an abstract idea.

The value of an initiative needs to be spelled out clearly for everyone, especially when it requires financial or material resources, or causes people inconvenience or extra work. Why is a value statement that provides the context for the change and allows people to choose to spend their time, money, and effort to reach the goal.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

2. Who-Where-How

Let’s imagine that you have thought through your What-When-Why. Are you now in a position to out into the world and hold Initiative Conversations? No. You need to think through the Who-Where-How:

Before taking your initiative on the road, consider Who needs to hear the message, Where the resources are, and How the work might get done.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

How much work do you need to do in this domain? Do you need to have fully fleshed out stakeholder management plan? Do you need a fully fleshed out business case and inventory of resources required? Do you need a detailed MS Project Plan running into hundreds, even thousands of tasks, that will send just about everybody to sleep? No. Just need to do enough to show that you have thought through what it will take to bring about the desired future:

Who Needs to Participate?

Identify all the different individuals and groups you believe will be needed to accomplish the initiative. Who could do the work? Who could provide the resources? Who will receive the benefits? Who needs to authorise, approve, or regulate some aspect of the initiative? This is your first guess, which you will probably continue to revise as you go forward….

Where Will The Resources Come From? 

The process of taking an idea through an implementation process to its fulfilment requires resources….. consider what resources are likely to be required and where they might come from. Where could you get the money, the people, and the tools?

How Might The Work Get Done?

Even though you do not need a fully detailed work plan at the initiative stage, it is helpful to think through what might be involved in accomplishing what you are proposing…. The objective is to begin sketching out what you think will be required… suggestive rather than definitive. The prime benefit of doing this task now is that it lets you see where you need input and ideas from others …..

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

3. Hold The Initiative Conversations And Keep Holding Them

When you have both the What-When-Why and the Who-Where-How then you are in a good place to hold Initiative Conversations through a variety of communication methods. When you hold these Initiative Conversations I counsel you to heed these wise words (bolding mine):

The important thing is to include everyone who might have a direct or an indirect contribution to make to the fulfilment of the vision. You want to give people an opportunity to learn about the initiative and think about how their own activities and environment will change. Your goal for Initiative Conversations is to get people talking….

You will probably say this same initiative statement (What-When-Why) many times. One important job for the leader is to keep the big-picture goals alive for people by repeating them as the initiative progresses towards completion. Initiative Conversations tend to have short lives. Even when things are going well, people get caught up in their local details, and the big picture fades from view, so they need frequent reminders about the purpose of their labors.

– Jeffery and Laurie Ford, The Four Conversations

What Does This Have To Do With Customer Experience Transformation?

I invite you to consider that most organisations doing Customer stuff (CX, CRM) fail because the folks in leadership positions fail to plan for and hold effective Initiative Conversations. These ‘leaders’ fail to move the folks through communicating a compelling-energizing-uplifting What-When-Why.

I also find that many ‘leaders’ fail to do a good enough job of the Who-Where-How. Consider the Who. Is it not the case that when it comes to organisational change only the favoured circle are included, really included, in the Initiative Conversations; most of the folks who will do the work and whose lives will change (usually dramatically) are treated as pawns to be moved around the organisational chess board.  Consider the questions of resources (Where) by using an airline analogy. In the airline business one does not have folks flying planes with say 90 units of fuel if 100 are needed to get to the destination. In organisational worlds that I have witnessed, I have found it is common for those charged with implementation to be given only 80 units when 100 are needed, and then for these folks to be punished when they ‘resist change’ or do not bring about the desired outcomes. Consider the How: how often is it that folks that dream up visions, develop strategies, and mandate change do not adequately grapple with  how the work of change will occur  thus storing up trouble during the implementation phase.

And Finally

I thank you for your listening to my speaking. I look forward to listening to your speaking if you choose to speak by commenting.  I wish you a great day and ask that you cause this weekend to be a great weekend for you and all whom you touch. Why not hold Initiative Conversations about what really matters to you, with the folks that matter?  Initiative Conversations are just as relevant in the personal domain as they are in the business/organisational domain.

Please note an earlier slightly modified version of this conversation was published in May 2015 at CustomerThink.com as part of the  monthly Human-Centred Leadership column.

Are There Are Any Flaws In Today’s Hot Theories on Leadership?

What does it take to cultivate strong relationships with the folks that you find yourself leading or managing?

As I listen to the folks in HR, and those that talk leadership, it occurs to me that a specific style/approach is being advocated: be nice to folks, listen to them, don’t lose your calm, delegate/share power, make them feel they matter…  If this is the case then how is it that Steve Jobs is held up as one of the most effective business leaders of all time? Steve Jobs, at least what I know of him, was not the exemplar of this approach.

We can ignore anomalies, breakdowns/holes in our existing take on reality, or look into them, explore and learn. Today, lets take this breakdown to see what it might conceal. As it happens this was a matter that I was grappling with whilst I found myself incapacitated for 4-5 weeks. I’d like to share with you what showed up for me. I invite you to listen to the words of Douglas McGregor as spoken in his book The Human Side of Enterprise (bolding mine):

Many subtle behavioral manifestations of managerial attitude create what is often referred to as the psychological “climate” of the relationship. During childhood ….. each of us acquired a high level of skill in perceiving aspects of parental behavior which told us whether everything was “all right with the relationship. Even very small children are amazingly sensitive to quite unconscious manifestations of parental attitudes of acceptance or rejection...

Granted that the subordinate’s dependency is far less in the employment relationship, it remains materially true that his ability to achieve his goals is materially affected by the attitudes of his superiors….. The climate is more significant than the type of leadership or personal “style” of the superior. The boss can be autocratic or democratic, warm and outgoing or remote and introverted, easy or tough, but these personal characteristics are of less significance then the deeper attitudes to which his subordinates respond. 

What Do You Get When You Swear At, Drive, Discipline, Dictate At Those You Lead?

Let’s continue this conversation by listening to Douglas McGregor share an anomaly that he encountered at a manufacturing company (bolding mine):

The mechanical superintendent in a small manufacturing company was the prototype of the “bull in the woods” manager. He swore at his men, drove them, disciplined them, behaved superficially like a Napoleon. He was the despair of the staff group who were carrying on a program of supervisory training in human relations. Yet, oddly, his subordinates appeared to have high regard to him. They said, “Oh is bark is worse than his bite.” Morale and productivity in his department were both high.

Let’s stop here for a moment and reflect. Here we have a real life example that goes against the conventional wisdom of human-relations – at least the wisdom advocated by leadership gurus, and HR advisors/practitioners. What is going on? How is it that someone who swears, drives, acts like Napoleon calls forth high regard, morale and productivity from the very folks he is swearing at, driving and disciplining? I say we are back to Steve Jobs and the question that I posed at the start of this conversation.

Is Effective Leadership Limited to Creating a Deep and Satisfying Emotional Certainty of Free Treatment?

I invite you to listen some more to the words of Douglas McGregor (bolding mine):

Probing revealed some significant facts. He was known as a “square shooter” who dealt with his men with scrupulous fairness. Despite his superficial toughness he was sincerely and warmly interested in his subordinatesWhen they were in trouble – whether it was a simple matter of a few dollars to tide a man over until payday, or a family crisis – he helped out in matter-of-fact way that left no uncomfortable feeling of being patronised.

Most important of all, he was known to be ready to go to bat for his men on any occasion when he felt they had not been accorded a fair break by higher management. The men spoke with awe of two occasions during a ten-year period when he had stormed into the office of the big boss to demand that a decision be altered because it was unfair to “his boys.” When he was refused in one of these instances, he resigned on the spot, put on his hat, and left. His superior actually followed him out to the gate and capitulated.

Douglas McGregor concludes his take on this superintendent and his leadership/management style with the following words of wisdom:

His managerial attitude cuts across authoritarianism, permissiveness, paternalism, firmness and fairness, and all the other “styles” of management to create a deep and satisfying emotional certainty of fair treatment.

It occurs to me that Douglas McGregor’s take on leadership/management accounts may just account for the success of Steve Jobs as a leader/manager. From what I have read, Steve Jobs surrounded himself with A players: those that showed up as A’s were treated as As, those who did not were pushed out.

I Find Myself Disagreeing With Douglas McGregor. Why?

How is it that I find myself left uncomfortable and in disagreement with Douglas McGregor? I say that the ground upon which the exercise of human-centred leadership occurs is ‘care’: genuine care for the wellbeing of one’s ‘boys and girls’. Care is more than fair treatment. And is illustrated by this superintendent in two ways. First, when “his boys” were in troubles he helped out “in a matter of fact way that left no uncomfortable feelings”. Fair treatment in the workplace does not require one to lend money to the folks you are leading or help them out with family crises. Second, he resigned. Fair treatment would require that the superintendent go to bat for his boys – to make the case. It does not require one to resign. So how does this resignation show ‘care’? It occurs to me that it shows the other (usually hidden side) of care: care for one’s stand in relationship to what will and will not stand for. In his case, the Superintendent was not willing to stand for anything less than fair treatment for “his boys”. I bet that “his boys” were proud to be called “his boys”.

Note: this conversation is a modified version of the conversation published earlier at CustomerThink.com

Competency: The Untapped Lever For Improving the Customer Experience And Cultivating Loyalty?

It took me over nine months to get my eldest son to consult Sandra about his shoulder/back pain. It took only one consultation for him to book another four sessions with Sandra. Why? Because Sandra is excellent at what she does.

How does Sandra demonstrate her excellence? In her greeting. In how quickly-easily she spots what the underlying causes are. In how effortlessly she causes the necessary adjustments. In how keen and effective she is to communicate with, inform, and educate the folks that go and see her.  In short Sandra is competent in that which matters.

What are the sources of her competence? This is what I have distinguished. One, she has been doing what she has been doing for forty years. In her early years. Two, she is really into her chosen field and so keeps up to date with the latest research. Three, she is open to learning  – including learning from the folks who are her clients.

I say competency matters. I say that competency can provide powerful access to improving the customer’s experience of you and your organisation, and cultivating meaningful-enduring relationships. And I say that competency is neglected. Why? It occurs to me that the assumption is that folks / processes / technology are competent. Is this assumption valid?

Allow me to give you examples of incompetency that I have come across myself:

Many if not most marketers are incompetent. Some are not adequately skilled in the creative side. Many are not skilled in the data/analytical/digital side of marketing….

Most sales folks are not competent in the craft of selling.  Some lack commercial acumen. Others lack an adequate grasp of their customer’s industry/business. Some lack a through grapes of the product/solution that they are selling. Others lack the ability to focus on the clients/deals that matter. Some suffer from all of these handicaps.

Most of the folks that I have found to be in retail stores are incompetent. Some are not skilled in greeting / welcoming customers. Others simply do not have the requisite product knowledge to answer the customers’ questions. Some cannot work the technology that they need to be able to work quickly-easily to serve customers promptly….

Most of the folks in call-centres are incompetent. Some simply do not have the requisite listening and speaking skills. Others do not have the knowledge-understanding to provide the right answers to customer queries. Some are not adept at working the range of systems that they need to interact with to deal with customer queries. Others lack a sound understanding of the company’s processes.

Most managers are incompetent. Some are incompetent in the task dimension. Most are incompetent when it comes to working effectively with people and calling forth the best from their people.

Many of the IT folks are incompetent. Some do not understand the technologies that they are dealing with. Far more and most are unskilled in dealing effectively with human beings or simply bearing in mind that they IT systems must serve the needs of people if these systems are going to be adopted and used effectively….

Most business processes are incompetent – they are not fit for purpose.  Some are simply out of date. Many are too restrictive – they do not allow folks to respond flexibly to the demands of the situation.  So the folks who find themselves amidst these processes have to find creative ways around these processes. Or stick to the script and leave customers with the experience of dealing with robots.  That is is the biggest incompetency of business process fixation: turning resourceful, creative, flexible beings (human beings) into mindless morons.

Most IT systems are incompetent. Some are simply not useful – they do not help the folks to get the job done better, quicker, easier. Others are not usable – they take to long to learn, finding one’s way around the system is not intuitive, they are not accessible when they need to be accessible, or they are not adequately responsive… Most are simply not for human beings with soul. And of course often there are simply too many of these systems and these systems do not talk to one another – thus creating extra work for the human beings.

I say that when you choose to really look at the world of business through the lens of competency you may just be amazed on how incompetency is ubiquitous. I say that the organisational world is wide open for those who wish to make a name for themselves (and/or their organisations) by rising above the general level of incompetency and committing to excellence.  I say that one critical role of effective leaders is to set and live high standards – standards which define competence as being no less than excellence as defined by the ‘customer’ of the product, the process, the system…

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!