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!

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.