There is a pervasive assumption that management (managers and the control oriented practices that they put in place) – is useful and necessary. And that the issues to do with the customer experience and organisational effectiveness centre in the people who work in the organisation – the employees. The specific issue being that these ‘lowly employees’ have to ‘whipped into shape’ and once they are then all will be fine. That is the assumption that I challenge in this post. I say management is the true root cause of poor customer experience and organisational ineffectiveness. If that interests you then read on, if it doesn’t then go and do something that does – life is too short to do that which does not inspire you.
Why am I delighted to be in possession of my Honda Accord?
This week I drove up to Preston (in a Jaguar) to take possession of this beauty. It is a Honda Accord, it is 12 years old, it has done over 172,000 miles. And it works marvellously; my latest annual service/MOT/repair bill came to £250. OK, my brother is rather generous to me, so I’ll double it to £500.
Why is it that I love this car? Because it works consistently. Because it is easy to fix – just about any mechanic can fix it without specialist tools or diagnostic computers. Because, my annual service/repair bill is around £250.
Put differently, in building this car Honda has put in technology that works. And this is not the only car for which this applies. I also drive a 1995 Honda Accord Estate which works perfectly, consistently! And is easy/cheap to service.
Why is it that these ‘old’ Honda Accords work so well? The simple answer is that Honda designed/built these Accords such that they work and as such are reliable. Dive into it deeper and you will find that Honda put their time and effort in the technology and functioning of the car and not the look & feel. Put differently, Honda put workability and performance before looks. I find it interesting that Honda prides itself on its technology and that is what it emphasizes. I also find it interesting that Honda cars are consistently at the top of reliability tables.
To sum up, I love this Honda Accord because it shows up as a trusted friend. It does the job that I hire it to do: get me from A to B, reliably and with no fuss. And, like a good friend it is low maintenance – it is easy/cheap to keep in good shape. Which is why I have stuck with it for such a long time. It also happens that this Honda Accord has a bigger-older-more powerful brother that shows up in exactly the same way. And that is why I like the Honda brand: in my world Honda shows up as a company that makes cars that work, reliably and relatively cheaply. True, driving a Honda does not confer status. And that suits me just fine as I am not that into status.
Why was I happy to hand the Jaguar back?
For a little while I was driving a Jaguar. At the start I loved driving it: it was more spacious, the driver’s seat showed up more comfortable, I could adjust the steering while such as to get a more comfortable driving position, my kids loved the look/feel of the car and truth be told it did grow on me… Then this great customer experience fell off a cliff: from great to poor. How/why?
I had just parked the Jaguar and switched off the engine whilst I waited for my son to return from the shops. When he did, the Jaguar would not start. Listening to the noise I was clear that there was nothing wrong with the battery. And I knew that there could not be anything wrong with the spark plugs etc – because my brother had serviced it a week or so before. I tried again, then again, then again. The engine management light was on and the car just would not start! So I called the AA out. Half an hour later, I tried again and the Jaguar started perfectly. And I cancelled the AA patrol.
Next day, it is the morning and I have somewhere to get to. What happened? The Jaguar didn’t start. I waited a little while and tried again – no luck. Forty minutes Vince from the AA turned up. What happened? He sat in the driver’s seat, turned the key and viola – the Jaguar started perfectly. So Vince plugged in the diagnostics (as the engine management light was on) and there were some 7 faults. He cleared 5 of them easily – something to do with some “software” in the engine management system being out of date. That left two faults, which turned out to be the same fault – an O2 sensor playing up. And Vince advised me to take the car in and get it sorted out. Which is exactly what I did.
A day or so later I took possession of the ‘sorted out’ Jaguar – one without the engine management light on. And the car started straight away and continue to work fine for several days. It was the evening, I had to take my son to his Karate, and once again the Jaguar didn’t start. The issue? the engine management light!
The customer experience lesson is straight forward and I fear not sufficiently understood/grasped. ‘Design’, as in the look and feel is great as long as it compliments the proper functioning of the ‘product’. Why? Because customers hire ‘products’ to do jobs. Put differently, you don’t look cool nor have high status in a Jaguar if the damn thing does not start. You show up as a fool – for yourself and for others! Which is my way of saying that designing the customer experience starts with being clear about the core job/s that customers hire your product to do. And ensuring that your product does those jobs. That is the core of the customer experience. That is the customer experience that drives advocacy and loyalty. Everything else is a making it easy/fun for your customers to get to, learn about, experience and buy your ‘product’. That matters but only as long as you have put forth a product that is worth getting to, learning about, experiencing and buying!
Lets, turn our attention to management, control and effectiveness
What can we learn about management from my experience with the Honda’s and the Jaguar?
Getting present to my experience it occurred to me that the Honda Accords I drive do not have sophisticated engine management systems (and the associated sensors) to monitor and control the functioning of the car. What there is, is the ‘car itself’. And Honda designed the ‘car itself’ to work by paying attention to the ‘technology’ that gives being to that car. This attention is in the form of: using the right technology – that is robust/reliable over the longer term; and taking pains to ensure that the various technologies work together in harmony. Given that, Honda did not need to put in place a sophisticated engine management system. Put differently, and this is the key point: the Honda cars have less management. They have (and need) less management because the ‘car itself’ was designed right – to work, to be reliable – to not need management!
Now compare that with Jaguar. What is stopping the car from starting consistently? Management in the form of the engine management system. Look, there is not an issue in the ‘car itself’: when the engine management system lets the Jaguar start, the Jaguar starts and works perfectly – short and long distances. My brother has confirmed that the ‘car itself’ is fine, it is the O2 sensor that is playing up and needs to be replaced. Put differently, it is management itself (the engine management system) that is degrading workability and performance of the Jaguar. I say that if Jaguar had focussed on the ‘car itself – designing it to be robust and reliable – then Jaguar would not have needed to put in such a sophisticated engine management system. Which is my way of saying that Jaguar have taken the traditional short cut: too much reliance on control because of lack of ‘quality’ built into the design of the ‘car itself’.
Which brings me to the central point: stop focussing exclusively on the employees (‘the car itself’) and focus also on managers and management. Put bluntly, the root cause of poor customer experience and poor organisational functioning is often the managers and the management practices that they enact. Managers whose ‘map of the territory’ is mismatched with the territory that they put in place and enact practices that degrade the workability and performance of the organisation. In the same way that the O2 sensor in the Jaguar provided a distorted ‘map of the territory’ to the engine management system which enacted a fault practice ‘stop the engine starting’. I believe my thinking here is in alignment with Gary Hamel – the management ‘guru’ who says the biggest issues in organisations is management.
My next big point is this – and this goes with the former point as they complement/work together – design your organisation so that it works without management control and oversight! That is right. Put in place a context that draws the right people to show up in your organisation and behave in the right way by themselves, of their own accord. That is to say that the purpose and values are the music that call forth the right type of dance. And signal to all when one or more people are dancing the wrong dance – a dance that does not fit the music. If you have doubts I ask you this: does the CEO, the management team, have a more intimate understanding of the customer or the people who interact daily with customers – speaking to them, listening to them, selling to the, serving them? And who has the best grasp of what really does and does not work within the organisation: management who are divorced from actual work or the people who do the work? Finally, who has the best insight into what they could accomplish if they put their hearts into it: the people who do the work or the managers?
Create a context and design an organisation that does not require managers and management. Instead create a context and design an organsiation that works by itself – because that is simply what goes with the design. And from time to time ‘service/repair’ the organisational context and design to ensure that all is in alignment with the mission and values. Robert Greenleaf coined the term ‘servant leadership’- itt is not quite what I am pointing at and yet it is pointing towards the right direction.
What do you say?