Blog Archives

Leadership: The Practice Of Granting an A

What way of showing up and travelling (being) lies at the heart of human-centred leadership?

This is the question that I have been pondering over the last month. It occurs to me that it comes down to one’s embodied stance towards one’s fellow human beings and in particular the human being one seeks to lead or is leading.

As a leader what is your stance towards your people? How do you relate to and treat your people? Do you see your people as defective – lacking something is some or other domain? Or do you see your people as whole, complete, and perfect? Do you treat some of your people as A’s, others B’s, many as C’s and some as D’s? Or do you grant each and every person in your organisation as an A and treat him/her accordingly?

What is it that I am getting at here? I invite you to listen to and reflecting on the following (bolding mine):

“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept …… it would be pointless to compare one … to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of …. developing skills, mastery and self-expression.

We call this practice giving an A. It is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them ….

An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life …. When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect ….. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.

This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art Of Possibility

Allow me to make this real for you. In a recent Customer project, the folks in head office were doing all the decision making and not involving anyone from the branches where customer interactions took place. As I probed and listened I found that the head office folks listened to the people in the branches as being unskilled, lazy, selfish, resistant to change. That is to say that they had granted these folks C’s and Ds. And treated them accordingly – excluded them.

I had never met any of the folks in the branches. Yet, I granted them A’s just as I granted the head office folks A’s. After several weeks of encouragement, the head office folks invited several people from the branches into the discussion – to review the prototype that had been built and provide feedback. What was the outcome?

The folks from the branches were delighted to be asked for their point of view. The came to head office, they worked with the prototype, they provided useful insights into the way that work occurred in the branches and suggested a number a tweaks that would make the prototype useful and thus increase adoption. In the process respect and relationship were cultivated between all and a bigger team was created. The leader of the head office team became enthusiastic about my suggestion: involving the folks at the customer coalface early and deep in the analysis and design of any and all changes to the ‘way we do things around here’.

Listen To These Words of Wisdom: Transformative Wisdom

I wish to end this conversation by leaving you with the following words of wisdom (bolding mine):

The freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork and relationship. It is for wholeness and functionality, in the awareness that for each of us, excess stone may still hide the graceful form within…

The practice of giving an A both invents and recognises a universal desire in people to contribute to others , no matter how many barriers there are to its expression. We can choose to validate the apathy of a boss, a player, or a high school student and become resigned ourselves, or we can choose to honor in them the unfulfilled yearning to make a difference ….

When we give an A we can be open to a perspective different from our own. For after all,  it is only to a person to whom you have granted an A that you will really listen …

In the measured context of our everyday lives, the grades we hand out often rise and fall with our moods and opinions. We may disagree with someone on one issue, lower their grade, and never quite hear what they have to say again.  Each time the grade is altered, the new assessment, like a box, defines the limits of what is possible between us.”

– Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility

Summing Up

It occurs to me that a human-centred leader calls forth the very best from us through the ‘granting of an A’.  Through focus-alignment s/he amplifies the power of this ‘very best of us’ in the service of a possibility that leaves us (human beings) elevated: moved, touch, and inspired.  And thus creates a context that call forth the extraordinary accomplishment from a team of ordinary human-beings.

I thank you for listening to my speaking and wish you a great day.  If you find yourself inspired to show up and travel as human-centred leader then I encourage you to get hold of a copy of The Art of Possibility.  And learn-embody the practices that are outlined in this delightful-transformative book.

Please note: an earlier version of this conversation was published in November 2014 at CustomerThink.

Most Important Post I Have Written This Year: What Does It Really Take To Know Your Customers?

This is long conversation and likely to be of interest to those of you who have experienced the limitations of knowledge as it is commonly understood. It may also be of interest to you if you glimpsed the radical difference between knowing and knowing about. If this is not you, then please go do something else.

How Useful Is The Knowledge Gained Through Market Research?

There is a huge industry that caters to the needs of business folks (often those in the marketing function) to know their customers or their target audience/market. I am speaking of the market research industry: qualitative (focus groups etc), quantitative (surveys), and a mix of each. In recent years, a new breed of player has entered this industry: the Voice of the Customer industry with its many technology solutions providers focussed almost exclusively on feedback through surveys. How useful is this research? What are its limits? What can you really know about your customer/s through this kind of knowing?

What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Short Answer

There is one well know market research organisation that sells and ‘supplies’ market research to many big brands who are keen to know their customers. This organisation knows it stuff: market research. Given this one would assume that the folks in this organisation would know all they need to know about their customers – those who commission the research (on their customers and target markets). What is actually the case?

One of the growth challenges, of this marketing research organisation, is a lack of understanding, knowledge, of its customers. How can this be?  This organisation has an army of professional market researchers, an array of market research technologies, a broad range of tools that it uses every day; and history/track record of conducting all kinds of research.

Clearly, market research, that this organisations does and sells, does not provide the kind of knowing that it is seeking of its own customers. So the short answer is it takes more than market research whether through focus groups or surveys. Whilst this kind of knowledge may be interesting, even somewhat useful, it is not sufficient.

What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Long Answer

To answer this question it is necessary to clearly understand-distinguish between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing about’.  Once you get this distinction you get why it is that the market research companies has no real understanding of its customers. You will also get why it is that most advice given by sales gurus to sales reps is useless.

Should you use your valuable time to master this distinction?  Let me put it this way, I say, mastering this distinction is one of the most important distinctions, if not the most important, distinction to master for effective living.  Once you master this distinction you can focus on what really generates knowledge. And you will no longer need to be bewitched and misled by the many academic articles, business books, guru, advisors and consultant. You may even see that this stuff is worse than useless, it is dangerous!

What distinguishes ‘knowing’ from ‘knowing about’?

I invite you to read the following passage with someone who has grappled with this question not theoretically but through lived experience:

When I was working on the Meaning of Anxiety, I spent a year and a half in bed in a tuberculosis sanatorium. I had a great deal of time to ponder the meaning of anxiety – and plenty of first hand data on myself and my fellow anxious patients. In the course of time I studied two books ….: one by Freud, The Problem of Anxiety, and the other by Kierkegaard, TheConcept of Anxiety.

I valued highly Freud’s formulations …… But these were still theories.  Kierkegaard, on the other hand, described anxiety as the struggle as the living being with nonbeing which I could immediately experience in my struggle with death or the prospect of being a lifelong invalid……

What powerfully struck me then was that Kierkegaard was writing about exactly what my fellow patients and I were going through. Freud was not..… Kierkegaard was portraying what is immediately experienced by human beings in crisis….. Freud was writing on the technical level, where his genius was supreme ….. he knew about anxiety. Kierkegaard, a genius of a different order, was writing on the existential, ontological level; he knew anxiety.

- Rollo May, The Discovery Of Being

Have you gotten the distinction? Kierkegaard knew anxiety in the only way that generates knowing: through experiencing it, living it, being anxious.  Freud, knew about anxiety.

Failing to distinguish ‘knowing about’ from ‘knowing’ compromises effective action and generates unintended outcomes

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that I can get a bunch of data about you: name, address, age, marital status, number of children, job, income, what you spend your money on, where you spend your time, your height, your weight, colour of your eyes……  Clearly I know about you. And I might get to thinking that I know you. Do I? Do I really know you as a living-breathing human being?

Before you answer that question, I ask you read and truly get present to the profound insight that is being communicated in the following passage:

The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus 9 spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being – an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.

The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected by this second relational reality is to sit in a laboratory, open an evil smelling jar, remove a still colourless fish from the formalin solution, count the spines, and write the truth…… There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed – probably the least important reality concerning the fish or yourself.

It is good to know what you are doing. The man with his pickled fish has set down one truth and recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that colour, that texture, that dead, nor does he smell that way

- Steinbeck and Ricketts, 1971, pp 3-3

Summing Up

Life occurs in the arena, is dynamic, is ALWAYS relational, and every observation and ‘lesson’ is context specific.  Knowing occurs in the arenaGenuine, deep, insightful knowing occurs in and amongst those who spend sufficient time playing full out in the arena to transcend discrete objects-events and experience-see relationships, patterns and the deeper structures that generate the patterns and thus the events.

Most of what is spoken, written about and passes for knowledge in Western society is that which can be observed, relatively painlessly, by sitting in the stands observing what appears to be going on (as viewed by the observer with his particular ‘line of sight’) in the arena: knowing about. It is ok for non-relational objects. It is ok for abstract concepts. It is ok for that which is static. It is totally insufficient when it comes to the living: the individual, the social system, life in its fullest expression.

You can never know a human being (customer, employee) through focus groups or surveys. To know a human being you/i must walk in the shoes of that human being and experience situations, people, encounters as s/he experiences them. And this is not as easy as it sounds. Even when you walk in someone’s shoes it is useful to be aware that it is your feet doing the walking. Which means that to get an appreciation for how the other experiences ‘walking in his/her shoes’ you need to have the genuine openness-willingness-curiousity-patience to walk with the other for long enough to get a feel for the others feet such that you arrive at a place where you can walk in the others shoes.

I leave you with the following quotes:

There are certain things you can only know by creating them for yourself

- Werner Erhard

That which really matters in human life can only be known through lived experience; this knowing can rarely be communicated to those who have not created this knowing for themselves through lived experience.

- maz iqbal

Make it a great week. For my part, I find it a joy to be sharing that which I share with you especially after a wonderful experiential vacation in beautiful Dubrovnik.

 

Does Love Lie At The Heart of Service & Loyalty?

I was introduced into the ethos of service around the age of 6.  I would arrive back from school in the afternoon and be welcomed back by my mother.  She would ask me about my day whilst offering me tea and sandwiches. Once fed, she would hand me a box of sandwiches. She would tell me to go and feed our elderly neighbours and help them with their chores.  And this is what I did every day. I visited my neighbours, I talked with them, I moved things around for them, I cleaned up a little, I went shopping for them.  My initial reluctance and shyness gave way to relationship – I looked forward to visiting my neighbours and helping them out.

Why did my mother make sandwiches every day for our neighbours?  Why did my mother insist that I take the sandwiches to our neighbours and help them with their chores?  Whenever, I asked these questions my mother simply said something along these lines: they are our neighbours, they are old, they need our help, it is our duty to help our neighbours, that is what human beings do for one another, we care for one another, we help each other out.

It occurs to me that my mother would find most of the talk on customer service, customer engagement, customer loyalty, and customer-centricity empty.  Empty of what? Empty of a genuine empathy. Empty of genuine of compassion. Empty of wholehearted care for our customers and our fellow human beings.  Empty of love.

It occurs to me that love lies at the heart of great service – the kind of service that generates empathic connections, heartfelt gratitude, and loyalty on both sides. Love of working for an organisation that pursues a life affirming purpose. Love of one’s role in that organisational purpose. Love of one’s colleagues. Love of the customer as a fellow human being.  It occurs to me that love is the difference that makes a difference.

I leave you with the following passage from Miguel De Unamuno, it is my gift of love to you on this beautiful day:

Here you have a shoemaker who lives by making shoes, and makes them with just enough care and attention to keep his clientele together without losing custom.

Another shoemaker lives on a somewhat higher spiritual plane, for he has a proper love for his work, and out of pride or a sense of honor strives for the reputation of being the best shoemaker in the town or in the kingdom, even though this reputation brings him no increase of custom or profit, but only renown and prestige.

But there is a still higher degree of moral perfection in this business of shoemaking, and that is for the shoemaker to aspire to become for his fellow-townsmen the one and only shoemaker, indispensable and irreplaceable, the shoemaker who looks after their footgear so well that they will feel a definite loss when he dies—when he is “dead to them” not merely “dead”—and they will feel that he ought not to have died. And this will result from the fact that in working for them he was anxious to spare them any discomfort and to make sure that it should not be any preoccupation with their feet that should prevent them from being at leisure to contemplate the higher truths; he shod them for the love of them and for the love of God in them—he shod them religiously.

 

Is this the most important question to live and operate from?

What is the most important question that one needs to grapple with when it comes to customers and the customer-centric orientation?  Is it:

  • how do we calculate customer lifetime value?
  • how do we get the right offer out to the right customer at the right time?
  • do we get just the basics right or do we deliver a wow experience?
  • should we be using social channels to message or provide customer service?
  • do we need a Chief Customer Officer to own the customer and advocate on his behalf?
  • how do reduce/manage the costs of customer service through channel shift?
  • how do we show an ROI from Customer Experience?
  • how do we make the omnichannel stuff work?
  • how do we get customers to stick around and do business with us longer?
  • should we focus on taking care of customers or our shareholders?

I say that it is none of these.  It occurs to me that the most important question is radically different. If you want to know what that question is then I urge you to watch the following video:

It occurs that if we all lived this question, then collectively we would build amazing relationships, amazing products, amazing organisations. And we would transform the quality of our lives and the world that we live in.

What is the question?  It is the question that is fundamental to generating relationships, loyalty, and joy in the world.  It is the question, if lived by us, generates a wonderful world for all of us.  It is first and foremost a social question.  What is that question?  It is so simple that it took a 12 year old to pose and live even in her dying days:

How can we help them?

- Jessie Joy Rees

The vital importance of empathy and kindness to customer experience design and employee engagement

How far can you get in cultivating enduring customer relationships, delightful customer experiences, and ‘employee engagement’ without empathy?

What kind of world shows up when we put aside empathy?  What kind of world shows up when we put aside kindness?  The kind of world that arose as a direct result of the ‘age of machines’ – of the Industrial Revolution.  When our way of life is centred on and around machines, we worship machines, and we go about life asking and expecting one another to be-act like machines.  We have become great at showing up in the world as machines. And as result we have lost sight of kindness, generosity, empathy.

Why do I bring this up?  Because it occurs to me that our age is calling out for empathy, for kindness, for the injection of the human back into business and our way of life.  Also because, you cannot get far in cultivating meaningful relationships with customers nor designing customer experiences that delight customers, nor generating ‘employee engagement’ without grappling with these topics. Look you and I can make the world accessible, convenient, hassle free and fast.  And, if such a world is missing kindness, generosity, empathy, friendship and love then it is a world that is not fit for human beings.

Empathy is central to customer experience, customer-centricity, and employee engagement

With this context I share with you the following video that was brought to my attention by LinkedIn where Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO shared it:

If this video speaks to you, if it stimulates your interest in empathy then I invite you to take a look at the following posts:

What Does It Take To Generate Deep Contextual Customer Insight?

Customer Loyalty and Advocacy: what can we learn from Jonathan Ive and Zappos?

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part IV)

Is this the access to profitable revenues, loyal customers and enduring success? (Part I)

Is kindness born of empathy fundamental to cultivating customer loyalty and employee engagement?

I say it is. What kind of kindness am I speaking about?  I am speaking what Werner Erhard refers to as “ruthless compassion”.  If you want to dig into this a little more then check out this talk.

I want to leave you with a quote of a hero of mine, Albert Schweitzer:

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

A Final Word

I am putting together a course on communication-empathy-relationship. And there is one slide that I wish to share with you:

Being Empathic Listening.jpg

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