On Tops And Their Struggle With Customer Experience and Employee Engagement
Have you noticed that the folks who occupy the seats of power (‘Tops’) in organisational life struggle with ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Employee Engagement’? By that I am not pointing at the talk. Nor am I pointing at conceptual-intellectual understanding. I am pointing at walking the path: ‘showing up and travelling in the world’ in a way that creates a context which calls forth the actions that cultivate meaningful relationships with customers and employees.
Why do Tops, in particular, struggle to embrace-embody that which it takes for an organisation to create-design-deliver the kind of experiences that call forth meaningful relationships with their customers, and their employees? In asking this question I wish to rule out the domains of psychology or morality. What interests me is structural factors: the underlying ‘structures’ that shape human behaviour pretty much irrespective of morality and personality.
What is your answer? Hold that answer. Let’s first turn our attention to considerateness – the quality/state of being considerate.
What Is It To Be Considerate?
Language always leaves clues. So what does the English language suggest? Let’s take a look at the definition:
careful not to inconvenience or harm others.
“she was unfailingly kind and considerate”
If you haven’t done so then I urge to look up each of the synonyms to get a rounded feel for the phenomena under discussion. Notice, what we are talking about here is a genuine concern for the wellbeing of others – our fellow human beings. A working alongside-with others as opposed to over-against others. Cooperation and accommodation and not domination or indifference. What is the basis of considerateness? Is it not fellow-feeling? That you are human just like me and are worth of the same kind of consideration that I ask for, demand, for myself?
Considerateness: The Glue Of Long Term Relationships?
It occurs to me that the way of showing up and travelling in the world that we have named considerate is the access to cultivating relationships. And, importantly, keeping these relationships in existence over the long-term. It also occurs to me that this way of being-in-the-world is central to human centred design. And that includes experience design: Customer Experience, and Employee Experience.
Now back to the Tops. If you are a Top then what kind of situation do you automatically find yourself in? Let’s ask this question differently: What is the privilege that goes with being at the top, a Top? Is it not that as a Top you fully expect others to be considerate to you and your needs? Others that surround you and serve you show up and travel in a manner that is considerate of your status-needs-wishes-preferences. Is it not true that you are accustomed to be treated with considerateness by just about everybody that you encounter?
As a Top how do you treat others? Is it not that the default way of showing up and travelling in the world, as a Top, is that of inconsiderateness towards others:
thoughtlessly causing hurt or inconvenience to others.
“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”Synonyms: thoughtless, unthinking, insensitive, selfish, self-centred, self-seeking, unsympathetic, uncaring, unthoughtful, unconcerned, heedless, unmindful,
What I’m pointing out here is structural-situational factor. One that calls forth a certain mode of being in the world. In no way am I making a moral-value judgement. Nor am I making reference to psychology or personality types. What happens when you are a Top for long enough? You lose touch with the anyone, the everyman. So your ability to listen to and respond with considerateness to the needs of others withers – even if it was there to start with. Yet this very considerateness is essential to being attuned to the needs-wishes-preferences of customers and employees. And responded sensitively and on a timely basis so as to generate gratitude, engagement, and loyalty.
Special Treatment: Words Of Wisdom From James A. Autry:
I wish to end this conversation by sharing words of wisdom with you
I think I started maturing as a manager when I discovered that one of the oldest principles of organisational management was hogwash. That principle is stated in many ways, but the military guys used to put it best: “Nobody gets special treatment around here.” …. In the military, they might also say, “If we do this for you, Lieutenant Autry, we’ll have to do it for everyone.” I used to want to say, “No, sir, you could do it just for me.”
What I realise now is that the professed aversion to special treatment was all delusion anyway; people in every organisation ….. get special treatment all the time…… much of it has tilted towards “in” groups…. that kind of “special treatment” is favouritism and discrimination.
But there’s another kind of special treatment …… a manager’s willingness to bend the rules to accommodate every person’s specialness…. Some people do good work but are slow; some do fast work but are sloppy. Some are morning people; some do better in the afternoon. Some have children that cause schedule problems; some have elderly parents. Some need a lot of attention and affirmation; some want to be left alone to do their work. Some respond more to money, less to praise; some thrive on praise…… some are very bright; some are slow….. Some are men; some are women.
Who in the world could believe that all those special needs could be accommodated without special treatment? But it takes a lot of management courage to provide that special treatment…..
I’ve made exceptions to corporate rules to help get an employee’s family through the nightmare of overwhelming financial and emotional distress. I’ve made similar exceptions for employees needing assistance to recover from substance abuse…..
The road of special treatment is not without peril, and it makes day-to-day management much trickier and more time consuming. You must consider the impact on the group, the legal risks, and the questions of equity and justice, in addition to the record and commitment of the person involved. Then if at all possible, decide in favour of special treatment…….
When someone complains, just say, “Everyone gets special treatment around here.”
– James Autry, Love and Profit, The Art of Caring Leadership
I leave you to ponder considerateness and special treatment. It occurs to me that they are intertwined: being considerate involves providing special treatment when special treatment is called for – by the customer, by the employee. What gets in the way of being considerate and providing special treatment? It makes the life of those in management harder. And ultimately, once you get beyond the rhetoric, the organisation is designed so as to be considerate to the needs of the Tops – not customers, not employees.
This conversation follows on from where the previous conversation left off. Specifically, I intend to share with you the theory behind the shaping the work context approach to changes organisational behaviour. And the limitations of using the traditional tools: hard and soft. Let’s begin.
It occurs to me that the fundamental assumption is that human behaviour is always functional. Which is to say that there is correlation between the human behaviour that occurs in a work context and how that work context shows up for the human beings who find themselves there in that context. Put differently, there is an ongoing dance between context and behaviour: each is influenced by the other on an ongoing basis. From this flows the following ‘advice’ from the authors of Six Simple Rules:
1. Human Beings As Purposeful Actors Making Use Of Resources And Dealing With Constraints
Human behaviour can be understood in terms of three elements. First, the goal/s, the towards-which the human being ‘moves’. Second, the resources-tools that are at hand to help ‘move’ towards the goal. Third, that which shows up as an obstacles-hindrance. Collectively, these three elements in their unity (as one) constitute the work context as lived-experienced. Here is what the authors say:
Understanding what people do and why they do what they do is so utterly fundamental that it is our simple rule. Before you, as a manager, do anything to solve a performance problem, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by first applying this rule.
2. Understand How The Organisational Elements Affect-Shape The Work Context
Do organisational structures, processes, procedures, and systems matter? Do they affect-shape human behaviour? Yes, they do affect behaviour and performance. But not in the simplistic way that most of us assume. According to the authors (bolding is my work):
Their impact depends on how they combine with each other to shape the goals, resources and constraints to which people adjust their behaviours.
If you do any cooking you will get that the impact that any one ingredient has depends on the other ingredients that constitute the recipe. If you manage stocks you will understand that it is not the risk of the individual stock that primarily matters – it is the impact of that stock on the risk profile of your portfolio. Hopefully you get the idea.
3. Be Wary of Taking The Hard (Scientific Management) And Soft (Human Relations) Approaches To Improving Organisational Performance
Let’s consider each of these approaches to understand why it is that the authors advise caution in automatically and mindlessly adopting one or both of these approaches as the silver bullet for dealing with organisational challenges.
The Hard Approach And Its Limitations
Why is there is much emphasis in the hard approach on clarity – clearly specifying the rules of the game, the roles and responsibilities of the actors, the boundaries, the rewards and punishments….? Is it because the hard approach takes it for granted that performance is a direct consequence of what people are instructed and rewarded-punished for doing? Let’s listen to the authors:
Structure defines the role, processes instruct how to perform it, and incentives motivate the right per on in the right role to do it. From this perspective, if there is a performance problem, then it must be because some key organisational element is missing or not detailed enough. So companies jump straight from identifying a performance problem to deploying new structures, processes or systems to resolve it. This error dumps a first layer of complicatedness into the organisation.
Let’s make this real by revisiting InterLodge. What did management do at the beginning? Did it not resort to restructuring and reengineering without actually looking into the work context that shaped behaviour? And when management did look at the front line what did it conclude?
Receptionists were not selling rooms to latecomers. They were not engaging the customers in a way that made customers satisfied. They were not charging the right room rate.
If you focus on what your people are not doing does this help you understand what it is that they are doing and what leads them to do what they do? Clearly not. So the authors advise the following (bolding is my work):
Performance is what it is, because people do what they do, not because of what they don’t do. People do what they do precisely because of the organisational elements already in place (not because of the ones that are missing)……
The authors go on to provide what I consider the most valuable and most neglected insight into human behaviour in organisational contexts (bolding is my work):
Organisational elements do not combine with each other in the abstract, based on their supposed intrinsic pros and cons.…. It is only by considering the work context, and their effect in this context, the organisational elements can be appropriately analysed and designed. The effect …….. depends on how people deal with these elements as resources or constraints.
What did the receptionists do with the “guest engagement” skills that they honed during the mandated training course? They used these skills as a resource. But a resource for what? A resource for their goal: avoiding stressful encounters with angry customers:
… they used their skills not to meet the target price point but to proactively offer rebates and refunds. What’s more, their new skills combined with their clarified roles in an unexpected way that also provided new resources to the receptionists……: some receptionists used their newfound interaction skills to explain clearly to guests that their responsibilities stopped at the front desk and did not include back-office activities…
Now you know why I am not a fan of worshipping at the altar of lean, six sigma, process and reengineering. And in the world of consulting, the anal retentive fixation on methodology. I learned the hard way: spending years doing it and seeing the meagre and often counterproductive results.
The Soft Approach And Its Limitations
As this post is already long I recommend that you get hold of a copy of the Six Rules for a fuller-deeper picture. For my part I leave you with the following:
…. the soft approach views performance as a by-product of good interpersonal relationships. But this view confuses people getting along with genuinely productive cooperation. Real cooperation is not fun and games….. it always involved adjustment costs.
Indeed, the better the feelings among individuals in a group, the more people are likely to avoid straining the relationship by bearing adjustments costs themselves or by imposing them on others …. So they will avoid cooperation and make third parties bear the consequences, or they will compensate with extra resources to remove interdependencies… the extra resources teak the form of …. excess inventory stocks, time delays, interfaces and committees, and customer requirements unmet….
Here I draw your attention to the never ending challenge that almost every large organisation has in getting just the folks in marketing (advertising, website, email, direct…) to work together – cooperate. Or the bigger challenge of getting the folks in marketing, sales and service to cooperate to generate a joined up and attractive customer experience.
If you wish to learn more but do not wish to read the book then I recommend the following TED Talk by one of the authors of the Six Simple Rules:
This post got published before I intended to publish it. Sorry for this oversight. I have now completed it as intended and am republishing it. I apologise for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.
What do B2B technology vendors sell?
No, it is not the technology. Think again, what do B2B technology vendors sell? They sell dreams that speak to a fundamental human need. What dreams? Dreams of control-mastery-domination over the ever flowing, every morphing, character of a process we turn into a noun: life.
What need do these dreams take root from and speak to? The need for safety and security. At some fundamental level we get that nature is indifferent to our survival and wellbeing. To deal with this anxiety we embrace anything that provides the illusion of safety-security. The Greeks embraced the Gods, we embrace technology and the latest technofix.
I notice that the big data and analytics space is hot right now. It is the latest technofix being pushed by the B2B technology vendors. It occurs to me that this technofix is designed to speak to those running large enterprises – especially those who are higher up and divorced from the lived experience of daily operational life at the coal face.
What I find astonishing is that so few actually ask the following two questions:
1. “What kind of a being is a human being?”
2. “What kind of a culture is human culture?”
What is the defining characteristic of human beings?
Allow me to illustrate by share a story I read many years ago:
Psychologist: John, you have been referred to me by the authorities. They tell me that you think that are dead. Is that right? Are you dead?
John: Absolutely, I died a little while back. I am dead.
Psychologist: How interesting! You died a little back. Yet here you are talking with me. And I am not dead. So how is it that you are dead and I am not dead, yet here we are talking?
John: Beats me how this works or why it is happening. I know that I am dead.
Psychologist: John, I have an idea. Do dead people bleed?
John: Don’t be ridiculous! Everyone knows that dead people don’t bleed!
The psychologist suddenly reaches over and cuts John’s hand with a knife. Both of them are looking at John’s hand. Blood, dark red blood, is seeping through the cut. The psychologist looks at John with the look of satisfaction, of victory. Let’s rejoin the conversation.
Psychologist: John, do you see that blood on your hand? How do you make sense of it? You say that you are dead. And earlier you told me that dead people don’t bleed.
John: F**k me, dead people do bleed!
This is not simply an amusing story. It is a story that captures the experience of a respected psychologist who has been dealing with many kinds of people, dealing with many kinds of problems, over a lifetime. This story capture a fundamental truth of the human condition.
It appears that to survive in the world as it is and as we have made it, we need to be deluded. We need to distort reality: to make life more predictable, to make our current situation lighter-better than it is, to see a future brighter than is merited by the facts, to see ourselves stronger, more capable, more influential than we are. Studies suggest that those of us who lack this ability to distort reality and delude ourselves end up depressing ourselves.
What Kind Of A Culture Is Human Culture?
Symbolic and ideological. Why? Because human beings just don’t cope well with the world as it is. So we get together into tribes. And the glue that keeps the tribe together is a particular way of constructing the world, a particular way of giving meaning to the world, and a particular way of interacting with the world. And when I speak world I include human being, and human beings; a human being is always a being-in-the-world as in always and forever an intrinsic thread in that which we call world.
The next question: which ideology do members of society espouse? The dominant public ideology. In the world of business this is that of scientific management and in particular reasoning and making decisions objectively – irrespective of the past, of tradition, of our personal interests and opinions.
A more interesting question is that about the actual behaviour of the elites, the Tops. What is it that the Tops actually do? They do that which protects and furthers their interests: their power, their status, their privileges, their wealth, their dominance. So insight and recommendations (whether from big data and analytics or through conventional methods) that are in line with these interests are heartily accepted and actioned swiftly and vigorously.
Any insights and recommendations that challenge the vested interests of the elite (Tops) are repressed at the individual level, belittled-disputed-ignored at the societal level. I invite you to read this article which can be summed up as the UK Government sacks the chair of the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Why? Because the chair was insisting on the reclassification of drugs. What happened?
- The Advisory Council looked at the data (of harm to the individual taking the drugs and others affected by his/her behaviour) on drugs at the request of the UK.
On the basis of the data, the Advisory Council came up with the conclusion that “if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine.”
The drug rankings, associated findings and recommendations were ignored by the UK government. Why? Because they went against the government’s stance on drugs.
The chair of the Advisory Council challenged the UK government’s refusal to act on the recommendations of the Advisory Council. So the appropriate UK Government minister sacked him.
What Does The Future Hold for Big Data & Analytics?
If past behaviour is an adequate guide to the future then it is safe to say that technology vendors will get rich. And the business folks will have another layer of technology that they have to manage. One or two organisations may reap substantial benefits, the rest will be disappointed. Yet, this disappointment will not last long. Why? By that time the technology folks will have come up with the latest technofix!
I leave you with the following thoughts:
1. There are no technofixes to the kinds of social issues-problems we continue to face;
2. Incremental improvements lie in the domain of big data and analytics;
3. Breakthroughs lie in our ability to see that which is with new eyes – a shift in dominant concepts, dominant paradigm, dominant ideology, dominant way of seeing that which is.
Put differently, big data & analytics is a red herring for those who aspire to lead: to cause-create that which does not exist today. Managers, those whose horizon extends to daily operations and the next twelve months, may find big data and analytics useful – as long as it does not threaten the sacred cows of the Tops-Middles and the corporate culture.
What Do You Make Of The Following?
Recently, Richard and I (along with another colleague) took part in a sales discovery workshop. This is the feedback our colleague (the ‘sales guy’) got from the ‘client':
Thank you for coming to …….. yesterday. I think we all agree that it was a very positive and useful workshop, which was run extremely well by Maz and Richard (Maz in particular is a very impressive facilitator – we could use him on other projects!)…….
What do you make of it? Did you attribute the success of this workshop to Richard? Did you attribute the success of this workshop to me – the “very impressive facilitator”? Did you attribute success both to Richard and me, yet put me at the front of the stage and Richard more towards the back of the stage? Allow me to share with you how almost all of us would interpret the situation:
Nice job all – particularly Maz Iqbal that is GREAT feedback!
Distinguishing Between A Statement-Description That Is Accurate And One Which Is True
Whilst the client’s statement is accurate it is not true. Why? Think of it this way, the client only got to see-experience the show. The client did not get to see-experience all that occurred. His position to some extent was that of a spectator in the stands watching the play occurring on the pitch. And as such he is not in a position to know-experience the play occurring on the pitch and all that it takes to generate a high performance play.
Why am I pointing this out to you? It occurs to me that there is a profound difference between observations and statements made by those in the stands (‘spectators’) and by those on the pitch (‘players’). Given that almost all that you/i hear-read is spoken-written about is written by spectators. So whilst what they speak may be accurate it is never true. Which means that almost all leadership-management-business advice that you/i are exposed to is misleading at best and damaging-destructive at worst. Why? It gives the illusion of answers whilst hiding that which is hidden in the background and which truly shapes that which occurs.
Who Creates-Shapes Performance?
Take a look at the following video:
I ask you, who-what created the context-space for the performance of the expert? Was it the expert – as an individual? Or was his performance shaped by the context-space created from him by the ‘sales guy’ and the project manager?
Now zoom out and look at the bigger picture: the bigger conversation that is occurring in the room and the performance of the whole group. Didn’t the client also play a crucial role in generating the kind of performance that occurred in that meeting?
Let’s switch back to my very impressive performance as a facilitator. What was my response to this feedback:
@…. It occurs to me that I showed up as an impressive facilitator because the space for me to show up that way was created by @RichardHornby and @……. and the client. The folks from [the client] were great. We were able to co-create a great meeting as there were no egos in the room…..
Am I being modest? No. It occurs to me that I am simply stating what is so: the truth of high (impressive) performance. The truth is this:
The ‘sales guy’ was big enough to let Richard and I shape-lead the workshop. At one point, I told the ‘sales guy’ that I was taking away his right to speak as his speaking, whilst necessary at some point, was inappropriate at that workshop given the challenge we were addressing and the time that we had. The ‘sales guy’ took it as it was meant and did what he was asked.
The ‘project manager’ Richard and I have shared history that goes back to the year 2000. Richard listens to me as a skilled facilitator. In his listening it is simply not possible for me not to show up as a skilled facilitator. He creates the context-space for me to show up that way AND his listening of me also ensures that it is simply not feasible for me to allow myself to let him down. Richard and I are friends! We designed the workshop together – collaboratively and iteratively.
By the time we got to the workshop Richard and I knew exactly who was doing what. And this is important: I got up to facilitate that workshop knowing in my very being that I was totally safe (Richard was holding the safety net) no matter what. And in that space I was prepared to shine.
Ultimately I showed up as a “very impressive facilitator” because all members of the client team sitting around the team allowed me to show up that way. How did they do that? They left their egos outside of the room, the workshop. And as such there was all the space to work collaboratively on the challenge at hand.
The Challenge of Leadership: Creating The Context-Space For Impressive Performance To Show Up
I say that:
- impressive performance shows up when you create the context-space for impressive performance AND only impressive performance to show up; and
leaders are those people who create the context-space for impressive performance and only impressive performance to show up at the individual and ‘team’ levels.
I dedicate this ‘conversation’ to my friend Richard Hornby. Richard shows up for me as a shining example of a servant leader. I owe him more than I can ever repay. And I am clear that this world is a richer-better place for Richard being in it.