Unlocking Organisational Magic Through Humanistic Leadership

Let’s imagine that you want to play the sales effectiveness game. What does it take to play this game well – effectively? At a minimum it takes folks in marketing and the folks in sales to play well together – as one team. Take a broader look, play with the time horizon, and you are likely to find that it takes folks in product development, engineering, strategy/finance, marketing, and sales to work well together.

What does it take for an organisation to excel at the customer-centricity / customer experience / customer loyalty game? One way of answering this question is to take a look at what folks nominate as the biggest obstacles in playing this game. Do the following sound familiar: lack of executive sponsorship/leadership, competition (rewards and resources) between folks in different silos, and the lack of employee engagement – ‘us versus them’ even within the folks in each silo, especially between folks in management positions and those who work at the coal face.

When I look at what is so, I do not find a process challenge here. Nor do I find a technology challenge. And I certainly do not see a strategy challenge. I see a people challenge. In particular I see the challenge of creating a context which calls forth organisational magic.

What is the source of organisational magic? Allow me to put that question different: who/what is the source of greatness in organisations – greatness as in generating breakthrough performance-results? Go beyond the dominant ideology of Anglo-Saxon individualism, beyond the Steve Jobs type myth, and you are likely to find that the source of organisational magic is teamwork: genuine teamwork. What calls forth teamwork? Is it technology, for example the latest collaboration technologies? Is it specific teamwork processes, methods, techniques? Or does the access to genuine teamwork lie in the human realm – how we relate to one another? 

It occurs to me that envisaging and articulating a future/possibility that leaves the folks in your organisation inspired-uplifted-elevated is necessary but not sufficient. The leader who is effective must also cultivate a context that calls the folks in the organisation to work well with one another in the pursuit-fulfillment of that future/possibility. Put differently, the effective human-centred leader must call forth, forge, genuine teamwork. 

How do you, as a leader, call forth organisational magic: genuine teamwork over a prolonged period of time and across many different types of people (personalities) in different roles, functions, and business units?

I invite you to listen to the following words of wisdom (bolding mine) from a master of insight into the ‘human condition’ (bolding mine):

I could always tell when an organization was in good shape. I could tell because the manager of the organization would always be talking about how great the people in the organization were. If the manager was talking about anything other than how great people in the organization were, I knew that the organization was in bad shape. The way to manage an organization successfully is to manage it in such a way that you can be proud of the people with whom you are working. You have to find a way to interact with the people with whom you are working in a way that makes you proud of them.”

– Werner Erhard

As one who is in a leadership position are you proud of the people who you find yourself working with? Be honest. Now ask yourself how likely it is that you will call forth the best from folks who, at least at a subconscious level, get that you are not proud of them – that you see them broken-faulty-lacking in some manner.

I say that if you are playing the customer-centricity / customer experience / customer loyalty game then you are, whether you realise it or not, looking to find ways to interact with your customers which leaves them feeling good about doing business with your organisation. 

Given that your organisation is the folks that collectively constitute your organisation the pressing challenge, for you as the leader, is to find ways to interact with these folks in your organisation such that you are left feeling proud of them. And they are left feeling appreciated and proud to be working in an organisation led by you. 

What way of interacting with folks is likely to leave you feeling proud of them, and them proud of you? A great place to start is with the practice of granting an A.

I invite you to consider that you, as the leader, are responsible for each and every person who you find yourself not proud of. How so? Either you failed to put in place the right recruitment practices and people. And/or you have created a context where people you are proud to hire into your organisation end up being turned into people you are not proud of. I am not saying this is the truth. What I am saying is that this is a great (as an powerful, effective) place to stand and operate from. Why? Those who play victim do not make great leaders; great leaders take responsibility for that which is so, and not so. Enough for today, thank for listening.

Note: this conversation was originally published here on the CustomerThink site.

Leadership / Performance: Are You Committed To Something Bigger Than Yourself?

Is There Anything Bigger Than The Maximisation Of Shareholder Value?

According to Roger Martin, the third most influential business thinker in the world according to Thinkers50, the shareholder value maximisation revolution was triggered in 1976 by Michael Jensen and William Meckling.  How? These economists published, what has turned out as the most cited article ever:  “Theory of the Firm: Managerial Behaviour, Agency Costs and Ownership Structure”.

In this article, Jensen and Meckling argued that the professional managers (running businesses) were looking after their interests at the expense of the shareholders.  Thus began the  shareholder maximisation movement that has since then taken over the business world. And in so doing, all other stakeholders (customers, employees, suppliers, partners, society at large ..) have been viewed-treated as mere resources and/or means of creating-maximising shareholder value.

Are You Committed To Something Bigger Than Yourself? 

What does Michael Jensen say on the matter today?  Let’s listen:

“I have a bad rep on this kind of thing. Because people think that all I want companies to do is to maximise the value of the stock. First of all that is false, it’s not what I ever said. But I guarantee you if you are talking about maximising the right value, which is the total value of the firm, if that is all you’re doing you won’t maximise value! 

You’ve got to be committed, the company has to be, the firm has to be, committed to something bigger than itself. That will light people up. And cause them to be attracted to your organisation. Passionate about it! They’ll find something in what you’re committed to, the company is committed to, that satisfies them, lights them up and excites them. And that’s a HUGE missing component of what’s going on out there in the world ….”

– Michael C. Jensen talking on leadership at the Simon School (talk published on Mar 17, 2014)

If you are interested in listening to Michael Jensen and Werner Erhard share their ontological-phenomenological model of leadership at the Simon School then here is the associated YouTube video:

Empowerment: asking and facing the deeper questions

It occurs to me that empowerment matters. It matters enough for me to think about this deeply and search out those who have thought about this deeply.  If it matters deeply enough to you then continue reading. If it does not really matter to you then I advise you to go and do something that you care deeply about.  With that said, lets start.

What difference does empowerment make?

It really matters if the people in your organisation show up empowered. Empowered to do great work, to create products which show up as ‘magic’, to touch customers in a way that leaves those customers feeling welcomed-understood-validated-helped, to generate an end to end customer experience that simplifies-enriches the lives of your customers.

It really matters, if you, show up as empowered and create a context that allows the people in your business to show up empowered. And allows your customers to show up and experience themselves as empowered.  And creates a space for your suppliers to show up empowered – empowered to share their knowledge and expertise in contributing to the performance of your organisation.

It really matters, if as customers, we show up empowered. Empowered to do business with organisations that stand for purposes-values-behaviours that speak to us. And not do business with organisations that do not stand for and embody that which matters to us. Empowered to get together and apply pressure on regulators and those in government to put in place legislation that protects our interests as customers and to enforce the existing legislation.  We are also empowered to do nothing.  That is our choice; choice is that which comes with empowerment.

In short, empowerment or the lack of it matters.  It occurs to me that empowerment is rather like sunshine in the western world (in the depths of winter) or rain in a region of cursed with drought.  Empowerment creates possibilities which simply are not open-present without the existence-presence of empowerment.

Perhaps because I am so vividly present to the significance and possibility that inheres in empowerment, I chose to put my children in Montessori School.  It occurs to me that it is also the reason that so much of what is written on empowerment (employees, customers) strikes me as shallow and leaves me feeling disappointed-cheated.

Why all the bleating about the lack of empowerment? 

There are two particular aspects of the empowerment conversation that I particularly wish to highlight.  First, there is the assumption that empowerment is a thing to be gifted from the Tops to the Middles and Bottoms.  And from the Middles to the Bottoms. And from the company to customers. Second, is the assumption that empowerment is a blessing and people are yearning to be empowered.

It occurs to me that by virtue of being human you and I are always empowered. You and I are empowered because you and I are free – free to choose. It occurs to me that Sartre spelled this out rather pithily:

Man is condemned to be free: condemned, because he did not create himself, yet nonetheless free, because once cast into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

What shows up for me as being a more interested enquiry is this one, given that you and I are empowered why is it that you and I evade this empowerment?  Why all the bleating about empowerment – more precisely the lack of empowerment?  What is it that we are evading through this bleating on the lack of empowerment? Why this supplication at the feet of ‘leaders’?  And why is it that so few ‘leaders’ actually show us as being empowered to chart their own course, and thus lead?

Werner Erhard’s profound insight on empowerment

I share with you the profound insight and wisdom of Werner Erhard. And I encourage you (and I) to listen, really listen to his speaking:

If you are empowered, you suddenly have a lot of work to do because you have the power to do it.

If you are unempowered, you are less dominated by the opportunities in front of you. In other words, you have an excuse to not do the work. You have a way out. You have the security of being able to do what you have always done and get away.

If you are empowered, suddenly you must step out, innovate and create.

The cost, however, of being unempowered is people’s self-expression. They always have the feeling that they have something in them that they never really gave, never really expressed.

By simply revealing the payoffs and costs of being unempowered, people have a choice. They can begin to see that it is possible to make the choice to be empowered rather than to function without awareness.

Empowerment requires a breakthrough and in part that breakthrough is a kind of shift from looking for a leader to a sense of personal responsibility.

The problems we now have in communities and societies are going to be resolved only when we are brought together by a common sense that each of us is visionary. Each of us must come to the realization that we can function and live at the level of vision rather than following some great leader’s vision.

Instead of looking for a great leader, we are in an era where each of us needs to find the great leader in ourselves.”

— Werner Erhard

So what does it take for empowerment to show up?

It occurs to me that it takes the following for empowerment to show up in our way of being-in-the-world:

a) Getting that we are always-already empowered as spelled out by Sartre and so vividly illustrated by Viktor Frankl in his recounting of his concentration camp experiences (Man in Search of Meaning);

b) Caring deeply enough about our being-in-the-world to see-invent possibilities. Possibilities for putting our own ‘dent in the universe’.

c) Courage to put ourselves at risk and act – to live from and into the possibilities that speak to us, to give up comfort and embrace work, to let go of our existing identity and invent-create-embrace the identity that is needed to fulfil on the possibility that we have invented.

What do you say?

Without Integrity, Is Talk of Customer Focus Just Cheap Talk?

Integrity is a choice – one that we fail to choose

Let me make clear that when I speak integrity I am not talking about morality nor virtue.  I am talking about integrity as honouring one’s word.

Integrity, as honouring one’s word, is a choice. It is a choice that almost all of us choose not to make. And those of us who do choose integrity, as way of being and showing up in the world, get that ‘Integrity is mountain with no top’ – that is to say that one never arrives. Put differently, integrity is always flowing out. Therefore, the challenge is to be present to this flowing out and make the necessary corrections ongoingly – this applies to individuals, teams, organisations.

It occurs to me that we live in an age given by cultural practices which allow and encourage us to have a cheap-weak relationship to our word. In our societies one expects people not to talk straight. One expects people not to mean what they say. Nor to say what they mean. It is perfectly ok to make promises and break them if it is convenient to do so. And when we do this the challenge is to find convenient reasons and excuses that allows us to ‘save face’.

What place is there for integrity when the measure is ROI?

Consider the world of business. What drives decisions and actions? If you look at it theoretically, every significant decision should be based on ROI. If honouring your promise, your word, delivers ROI then the smart course of action is to honour your word. If honouring your word does not deliver ROI then the smart course of action is not to honour your word. Doesn’t the ROI argument, in one shape or another, show up at each level of the organisation: Tops, Middles, Bottoms?

Without integrity promises to customers are just cheap talk

Why am I drawing our attention to integrity and the importance of fierce resolve to honouring one’s word? I say that work on harnessing digital technologies is useful. I say that work on changing policies and processes is necessary and useful. I say that harnessing data and using it to generate insight is useful. And I say that all of this makes no difference if fierce resolve is missing. What kind of fierce resolve? The fierce resolve to create superior value for a core set of customers. The fierce resolve to honour the organisations implicit and explicit promises to the customer. The fierce resolve to honour one’s word to colleagues within the bigger context of honouring the organisation’s word to customers.

Let me put it bluntly, the companies that excel at generating strong profitable relationships with customers create and show up from a fierce resolve to create superior value for their customers. Companies like Amazon, John Lewis, SouthWest Airlines, USAA, Zappos… Then are the rest – those that talk the talk and lack the fierce resolve to honour their word. Their words, our words, are cheap.

The real test of integrity is?

The real test of integrity, honouring one’s word, comes when the ROI of keeping one’s word is negative. For an organisation the real test of integrity shows up when the cost of honouring one’s word directly and negatively impacts the short term numbers: revenues and profits. And when the cost is a loss of face even ridicule. I think back to Warren Buffet sticking to his way of investing-doing business during the tech-internet boom.

Here’s the core point when it comes to integrity and honouring one’s word. Those who recognise the critical importance of integrity (as a positive phenomenon) would never do an ROI calculation once they have given their word.  For these people honour one’s word is  matter of principle not expediency. People with such deep relatedness to their word get that integrity is not a nice to have. No, they get that integrity is basis of workability and performance – of our lives, our relationships, our communities, our organisations, our societies, our world.

What is possible when cultural practices encourage and call forth integrity?

Enough said, now I want to share with you this article that I read  and which got me present to what is possible when cultural practices encourage and call forth a strong relationship to our word.  Here is what struck me about this real life WWI story:

  • Capt Robert Campbell had been languising in Magdeburg prisoner of war camp for two years;
  • He received word that his mother was dying of cancer;
  • He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II, begging to be allowed home to visit her one final time;
  • The Kaiser granted his request, allowing him two weeks leave, and did so on Capt. Campbell’s word as an Army officer;
  • Capt. Campbell returned to Kent (England) in December 1916, spent time with his mother and returned to the prison camp (keeping his word to the Kaiser), and was held there until the end of the war (1918).

I say that this is possible only in an age where cultural practices call us to be our word. When we are called to be our word, our enemy can grant us leave trusting that we will honour our word. We in return are called upon to honour our word. As the author of the article says:

“Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners. What I think is more amazing is that the British Army let him go back to Germany. The British could have said to him ‘you’re not going back, you’re going to stay here’.”

Imagine what level of performance would be possible if the people in your organisation were committed to honouring their word. Imagine what kind of relationships would be possible with customers if the people in your organisation – Tops, Middles, Bottoms – were committed to honouring the organisation’s word to customers.

If you want to explore integrity at a deeper level

If you find yourself drawn to this conversation on integrity then I encourage you to listen to this 2 hour talk on integrity by Professor Michael Jensen

What Are the 4 Factors That Constitute The Foundation for Being a Leader?

“We argue here that the four factors we identify as constituting the foundation for being a leader and the effective exercise of leadership can also be seen as the foundations not only for great leadership, but also for a high quality personal life and an extraordinary organization. One can see this as a “value free” approach to values because:

1) integrity as we define it (being whole and complete) is a purely positive proposition;

2) authenticity is also a purely positive proposition (being and acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others and who you hold yourself to be for yourself),;

3) being committed to something bigger than oneself is also a purely positive proposition (that says nothing about what that commitment should be other than it be bigger than oneself); and

4) being cause in the matter as a declaration of the stand you take for yourself regarding everything in your life is also a purely positive proposition”

– Werner Erhard and Michael C. Jensen

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

Does a promising future await Service Design and Customer Experience?

Are Service Design and Customer Experience in the same boat?

This week I was talking to a fellow professional who is passionate about service design.  What showed up in our conversation was his recognition and disappointment between the talk and the reality of service design. Yes, there is a small community of theorists, ‘gurus’, and practitioners in service design. And in the bigger world of business the landscape is not friendly to service design. First, most business folks do not understand what service design is.  Actually, it is worse than this. Most business folks do not accurately what makes up a ‘service’.  As such, the world of business is mostly a barren place when it comes to opportunities for service design. And yes, there are a small number of small organisations doing great work on service design.  Why are these organisations small?  Could it be due to the lack of listening for, receptivity towards, service design?

In the course of our conversation I shared my experience. And it occurred to me that the same applies to the field of Customer Experience.  First, it is not well understood.  Second, where business folks do talk about customer experience they are pointing at that which occurs in the Customer Services function.  Third, the majority of talk on customer experience takes place via a relatively small community of people who are passionate about customer-centric business and the critical role of customer experience.  Where, perhaps, there is a difference it is that the IT vendors are looking to make hay in the customer experience space.  They are not doing the same in the service design space.

What does the Michael Lowenstein say?

Sitting in this place I came across this recent post by Michael Lowenstein. In this piece Michael is reflecting upon the findings of the recent Oracle study.  I want to draw your attention to the following paragraphs:

… over 90% of executives said that improving customer experience is a top priority over the next two years …. and a similar percent said that their companies want to be customer experience leaders. However, just over one third were only now beginning with formal customer experience initiatives, and only one-fifth considered their customer experience program advanced.

In the Oracle study, fewer than half of all executives surveyed thought that customers would defect due to negative experiences, nor did they think that customers would pay for great experiences. That finding is yet another huge divide between ‘conventional wisdom’ of executives and the realities of customer behavior.

Reasons identified for not moving forward on these initiatives include inflexible technology, siloed organizational structures and systems, low investment, and inability to measure initiative results. This slow adoption, or non-adoption, seems to be not so much a reflection of stagnant international economy as it is of significant, historic corporate conservatism and risk aversion.

Is there hope for Service Design and Customer Experience?

It occurs to me that Service Design fits under the umbrella of Customer Experience. And as such it is not a surprise that they are facing similar issues. By now you should also know that I am passionate about the need for and value of taking a customer-centric orientation in doing business. And customer experience has a huge role to play in a customer-centric orientation.  So how am I left being?  Yes, a part of me does from time to time become downhearted with what is so in the business world.  And there is another part of me that gets me present to the wise words of Werner Erhard:

Life never needs to turn out predictably. Human beings have the capacity to intervene in the orderly unfolding of circumstances, to produce an outcome which is basically unpredictable given those circumstances. Most of us don’t know that…..

Clearly,  Vernon Hill, the Chairman of Metro Bank in London, and the retail-oriented entrepreneurial executive who made Commerce Bank a regional marketing force in U.S. banking for several decades get this.  Why do I say that?  This is what Michael Lowenstein writes in his post:

In his recent book, “Fans! Not Customers” (Profile Books, London, 2012), Hill stated: “We want our customers to be passionate about doing business with Metro Bank, to become Metro fans. Our philosophy is more than just a corporate mission statement: it’s a way of life. Our corporate spirit – something we’ve made a unique part of our social fabric – enables us to succeed. We are fanatically focused on delivering a unique customer experience. Over-investment in facilities, training and people, a focused geographic management, and countless mystery shops a year ensure that we always exceed our customer’s expectations”.

As Hill observed, “You don’t have to be 100 percent better than the competition in order to beat them. You have to be 15 percent better, and you have to get better all the time. It’s all about standing out from the competition…..”