Do you really need to produce a customer experience blueprint?

As a result of that which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School I have done some reflecting – on how the staff ‘showed up’ in the world, on my experience in management, and on customer experience.  In this post I wish to follow up on one or more of the themes I touched upon in the last post.

Reflections on Sandy Hook Elementary School

This is the question that keeps coming to the centre stage of my awareness: how is that the Sandy Hook staff did right?  What I notice is that an event occurred and each of the members of staff acted/reacted without central intervention.  Put differently, there was no boss in place to hand out orders and insist that the staff follow them. And as far as I can see their was no prescribed process to follow.

Is there any value in creating a blueprint for the process that needs to be followed by staff in the case of a gunmen turning up at the school?  And if such a process blueprint was produced would it advise the janitor to run around the school corridors letting people know that a gunmen was on the loose?  What would this process have advised the principal to do? What would it prescribed for the educational psychologist?  Would it have stated that the teachers had to shield the children in their care by using their bodies and putting their lives at risk?  Would a ‘blueprint’ dictating what the staff had to do (in the case of a gunman showing up) been useful or a hindrance to the Sandy Hook staff?  I say it would have been a hindrance – it would have stopped the staff doing what human beings are great at doing generating the right response to the unforeseen.

Some people have mentioned training.  That the staff had been trained in how to respond to such an event.  Really, the training trained the principal and the educational psychologist to master their fear – to leave safety and head towards the gunman?  And, the training trained the school janitor to master his fear and risk his life running along the school corridors as opposed to sneak off into a safe place?  I have seen people reluctant to get a move on and leave the building when the fire alarm goes off – contrary to the training they have received.  No, I do not buy that the training was the key factor in the way that the staff ‘showed up’ – did right and saved lives even to the cost of their lives.

Reflections on my corporate recovery days

I was 26 years old and I had never managed a business of any kind though I had led/managed teams doing audits of large companies.  It had been just two weeks that I had joined Price Waterhouse’s Corporate Recovery division and as yet I had received no training to outfit me for the job.  I did not even know what my job involved in concrete terms.  Yet, I got a call at 14:00 telling me that I had to be in Leeds at 20:00 to be briefed on my role in a big receivership (Chapter 11).  I turned up at Leeds along with lots of other people and we were briefed for two hours.   The next day, early in the morning, I made my way to Morecombe – on the other side of England.

At 9:00 am I turned up at the Paul Dixon motor dealership in Morecombe.  And I was nervous!  Why?  How was I going to manage this dealership when I knew nothing about motor dealerships? How was the General Manager of this dealership going to react?  How are the rest of the staff going to react?  What do I need to do to keep the staff onside and improve the performance of the dealership?

Out of necessity I decided the best approach was to act as if I was confident about myself, about them and about our ability to improve the performance of that dealership.  Operating from this context I approached the General Manager of the dealership and explained the situation. He offered to vacate his office and I declined the offer telling him that he and I had to work as a team to turn round the dealership.  He relaxed – he got that I was being genuine.  And once relaxed we spent on hour or so developing a game plan on how we could work together effectively including how to break the ‘bad news’ to the staff.

I ‘managed’ that dealership for several months.  I built great relationships with the staff despite their initial concerns.  And we did a great job of running the dealership – keeping it going and improving performance.  How?  I was clear on the outcomes we had to generate as a team and I made it my job to communicate those regularly.  And I was clear that we had to have a team spirit and I cultivated that by creating the context in which the 20+ staff worked together to come up with a game plan for generating the outcomes.  Then I left the people to work out how best to do their jobs and make the required contribution.

Actually, I did not just leave them to it.  I did hold weekly sessions where we reconvened and honestly shared what was and was not working.  And then we revised the play.  After two weeks I did have a straight conversation with one person and spelled out the implications for him of not honouring his word and letting the team down.  After that he behaved differently – he did what he promised as opposed to just promising. This experience was and has been the foundation of my management style to this day.

Reflections on Customer Experience – do you really need a CX blueprint?

It is fashionable for gurus and consultants to say the organisations need to put together detailed customer experience blueprints which clearly state the customer experience the organisations wishes to deliver and how exactly that will be delivered.  I ask, is this blueprint really necessary?  Put differently, is it possible to generate a great customer experience without such a detailed blueprint?  Let’s consider this through an example.

Imagine that we are dealing with the customer experience in a retail store.  Is it really necessary to produce a customer experience blueprint which sets out how specifically the customer is to be treated whilst she is in the store?  Is it necessary to spell out if and how the customer is greeted?  What to say to the customer as she leaves the store? And how the staff are to behave in between?

I say that a customer experience blueprint is not necessary.  I say that generating such a blueprint and insisting that your staff follow that script can be counterproductive.  Why?  Because it kills the human spirit, it kills spontaneity, it kills authenticity.  Put differently, making people do stuff that they do not want to do kills the magic that shows up when one person genuinely want to be of service to another.  And as human beings we notice when that magic is present and when it is absent – that is to say we pick up when someone is following a script / going through the motions.  Let me give you a personal example.

At an educational seminar I was told by my manager to stand at the door and greet the ‘guests’ as they arrived.  I did not want to do it yet I had to comply.  So I stood by the door and went through the motions of greeting the ‘guests’ and I am clear that a genuine greeting was absent.  And I am clear that the guests picked up on this: they faces did not lighten up, they did not smile, they did not engage in even a brief conversation. No, the interaction was superficial one – from both perspectives.

At another educational seminar I chose to greet the guests with the self generated mission of ‘being great with the guests and easing them into the seminar’.  In that instance, I was genuinely present, I had a sense of mission/purpose, I greeted each guest by tailoring my enthusiasm/tone with the way that the guest looked.  And I made myself useful by asking if they had any questions and then answering them.  I soon figured out a key question that was on many minds – in which direction should I head to get to the seminar – and I answered this question without being asked.  At the end of this session I had tired feet and a glad heart – I was delighted with myself as I had made a difference, I had enjoyed interacting with the guests and I had learnt some stuff about people/human behaviour.  And part of my job was noticing the impact that I had made on ‘my guests’ – the smiles I had engendered, the ‘thank you’s that I had received, the laughter that I had created.

Summing up

If you want to generate a great customer experience then learn from Sandy Hook.  Get that people can do the right thing without top down control whether in the form of a boss or a blueprint that they have to follow.

I say go further and get that the very act of top down control can and does kill the human spirit – the spirit that makes the difference between a great customer experience, a well functioning organisation and simply an average one. Which is my way of saying that top down systems of control are counter productive in situations where human authenticity, flexibility/adaptivity, and ingenuity are required.  And that is exactly what is often required when you and your customers interact!

I say listen to the wisdom of John Timpson.  What is this wisdom?  It starts with recruiting the right people and involves the following principles and practices:

  1. All colleagues have the freedom to do their jobs they way they choose;
  2. Every boss’s job it to help his or her team;
  3. No KPI’s, no boxes to tick;
  4. Bosses don’t issue orders;
  5. Head Office is a helpline – it does not run the day to day business.

If you want to learn more about John Timpson and how he has generated an organisational context that calls forth the best from his staff and in the process generates happy customers and a successful business then read the following post, Timpson – shifting/transforming the culture through language and practices.

Timpson: shifting/transforming culture through ‘language and practices’

Why did John Timpson commit to making this shift in culture?

This is what he says:

“I am embarrassed that it took me 22 years as a Chief Executive before I found the secret behind good personal customer service.  But i’s true.  I didn’t discover Upside Down Management until I met Ian Siddall at UBS……  I learned that we faced a new threat, a competitor with more money than I could possibly imagine, who was well placed to inflict major damage to our business.  He could have opened shops next door, bribed our best people to jump ship and undercut our prices.  To survive we had to be good at shoe repairing and key cutting, engraving and watch repairs and be great at looking after our customers.”

What are the  fundamental principles behind Upside Down Management?

There are five fundamental principles:

  1. All colleagues have the freedom to do their jobs they way they choose;
  2. Every boss’s job it to help his or her team;
  3. No KPI’s, no boxes to tick;
  4. Bosses don’t issue orders;
  5. Head Office is a helpline – it does not run the day to day business.

What does it take to make this shift in culture?

I suspect that some of you are confronted by this.  Upside Down Management is not just some change from ‘business as usual’ (command and control management), it is transformation – a genuine one akin to that of the caterpillar and the butterfly.  What does it take to make this shift?  Is it a question of technique or implementing a new information technology?  No, it requires an existential quality – courage.  Here is how John Timpson puts it:

Upside Down Management isn’t for wimps, it’s for managers with the courage to give people their freedom……….. It took me 10 years to ingrain this way of working into our culture.  My deepest thinking colleagues realise that this is never ending project…….’We always live on a tightrope – it wouldn’t take long for the magic dust to disappear‘”

How easy was it get the people in the organisation to step up, embrace, live into/from Upside Down Management? Here is what John Timpson says about that:

“I put an upside down chart on the front of our weekly newsletter and wrote a letter to everyone explaining my new philosophy, but nothing changed…..  What I proposed was so contrary to the way a normal business is managed that they simply didn’t trust me.  I discovered that lots of people like rules; they don’t want the freedom to make up their own mind.  The rules give a degree of comfort, providing something to complain about and something or someone else to blame.” 

And here is a revelation about the role of the middle managers in any culture shift:

One of our biggest challenges is to get area teams to treat their people the way we want………  It was only when I spent a day out with one of the most experienced that I understood why they seemed to be so uncooperative…… Then he revealed the real problem.  ‘Apart from anything else,’ he said, ‘if I let my assistants do my job, what will be left for me to do?’  That comment made me realise my mistake.  I had changed the job of an area manager but I hadn’t described what their new job was or how to do it.”

Shifting the culture through language and practices

I say that shifts in organisation culture occur through the heartfelt and persistent shift in the language and practices of the CEO and the Tops.  When I use the term ‘language’ I mean more than speech, with ‘language’ I am pointing at everything about the CEO that speaks to people who come into contact with the CEO.  If the CEO comes into meetings late that speaks to people.  If the CEO dominates talk and shoots down anyone that disagrees with him then that speaks to people.   Allow me to give you an example, back in the 90s Ernst&Young got a new ‘CEO’ and he asked partners to ‘give up their offices’ as they took up a lot of space and were rarely used.  Nothing changed.  Then the new ‘CEO’ gave up his office, this spoke to some partners and they followed in his tracks, and then more followed.

So what did John Timpson do to get the people in the Timpson shops to get that he was serious about Upside Down Management?  Through language that spoke powerfully to everyone – the customers, the staff in the shops, the area managers.  Here is how he puts it:

After a time I realised that just telling people that they’ve got the freedom to act was not good enough.  I had to give them examples of what that freedom meant, so I stuck a notice up in every branch:”

I want to draw your attention to a feature that is so important and you might miss.  John Timpson, the CEO, went in person to each of the retail shops and stuck that notice up in every one of them.  He did not delegate to anyone else.  He didn’t just visit one shop – he visited every single shop.  This is powerful language, I say the most powerful language.  It says this is mine, I own this, it matters to me, I mean it, I trust you, I take responsibility.   It occurs to me that here you have an act of leadership and an existential commitment that is in the same vein as the American Declaration of Independence signed by the founding fathers of the USA.

Now onto practices,  these are not exhaustive and yet should give you a good insight as to what I am pointing at when I say that the access for shifting culture is to shift ‘language and practices’:

Notice, the change in ‘language’ around the Head Office.  The most obvious example is the change in name from Head Office to Timpson House.  The less obvious is the fact that no-one is allowed to use the term Head Office.   And that is accompanied by practices that do genuinely take away Head Office.  Put differently, a Head Office that does not have the right/authority to issue edicts and expect compliance is no longer a Head Office.  Which is my way of saying that the ‘language’ and ‘practices’ have to complement one another to be effective in shifting culture.  Finally, notice how the practices tie up as a whole under an overarching philosophy around doing business.  The philosophy guides the language and practices and in turn the language and practices give life to the philosophy – a virtuous circle.

For those of you grappling with culture and culture change, you might want to read the two earlier posts I wrote on culture change:

Culture change: what does it take to change culture in business? In banking?

‘Collaborative customer-centric’ culture: what does it take to make the shift?

This post concludes this mini-series on culture and culture change.  I hope that you have found at least some of it disturbing / thought provoking.  Last tip/POV – most of the stuff out there on culture change is mistaken and not useful, it really isn’t because it works from a mistaken view of human beings. If you want a more useful access to people and culture then contact me I can point you in more useful directions.

‘Collaborative customer-centric’ culture: what does it take to make this shift?

With our style of management we rely on our people to run the business, but its our job to create the culture.” John Timpson, Chairman, Timpson

Who is the ‘we’ that John Timpson is pointing at? He is pointing at two people: himself (the Chairman) and his son (the CEO). And so the job of creating culture rests with the two most senior people in Timpson. It is not just that these two men get that the responsibility and the accountability for ‘culture’ belongs to them. It is deeper than that, these two men get that the culture of the business is shaped by/reflects the language and practices that they embody. Notice the word ’embody’, it is important. To ’embody’ something is to give life to it, it is to make it visible, it is to manifest it such that it shows up in the world. It is not what the belief in their minds, it is not even what they talk about, it is how they carry themselves: how they are being, what they are doing, how they are doing it, where they are doing it, whom they are doing it with, how often they do it and importantly how they are not being and what they are not doing.

Let me ask a question, which people are the obstacles to a customer-centred culture within the enterprise? Is it the Tops, the Middles or the Bottoms? If you read the stuff put out by many customer experience and change gurus and consultants you might just be left with the impression that the CEO and the other Tops get it. And the Bottoms and Middles are the obstacles to putting in place a new culture. If you read my last post you might just remember that I pointed out that language and practices are never neutral: they are shaped by the ‘worlds’ that we inhabit and in turn shape these worlds. Which is a roundabout way of me saying that these gurus and consultants are selling to the Tops and so their language is tailored to speak to the Tops: “Mr CEO, you are doing just fine, everything great about you/with you. It is everyone else that needs to change – the middle managers and the front line employees. And we have a ‘magic spell’ that will get everyone else to change.”

What am I pointing out to you? I am asserting that the Tops, in particular the CEO, is the owner, the primary player, influencer and usually the obstacle to culture change. How/why? Because of his/her clinging to inappropriate language and practices. Let me make this real for you. Let’s imagine that you want your organisation to adopt a collaborative culture and to help that along you have decided to implement collaborative technologies. Sounds great, right? What if the Tops go about this in a command and control fashion: they issue an edict; they issues policies/guidelines; they change KPIs; they foist the technology on the people. In comporting themselves this way have the Tops embodied collaboration? Or have they embodied a powerful example of command and control – the antithesis of collaboration? This kind of occurrence is frequent, I say it is the norm. Tops espouse one set of practices yet at the very same time they embody a very different set of practices. So whilst their content of their speaking is different, their language and practices continue to be the same. And so ‘inauthenticity and game playing’ shows up in the organisation – this is how the weak, the less powerful survive with conflicting demands from the more powerful.

Put bluntly, the implicit and explicit attention/focus on Bottoms being the obstacles to culture change is mistaken. The primary obstacle to switching to ‘customer-centric’ and ‘collaborative’ cultures is the CEO. If the CEO does not embody ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘collaboration’ then the rest of the organisation is highly unlikely to. If the Tops, the senior leadership team, does not embody ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘collaboration’ then the rest of the organisation is unlikely to. Only when the CEO and the Tops stand for / embody ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘collaboration’ is the necessary (yet not sufficient) foundation for the shift to a ‘collaborative and customer-centric’ culture in place. Once this in place then is the time to work on the Middles and Bottoms.

In my next post, I will share with you how John Timpon shifted Timpson from a ‘command and control’ culture to a Upside Down Management culture – a culture he put in place to improve customer service and leave customer feeling happy in their dealings with Timpson. Clue: John Timpson adopted the language of Upside Down Management and adopted a set of practices to give life, embody, that language.

And finally, if you are wondering what Upside Down Management is then it is akin to Servant Leadership.