Customer: Is the difference between 99% and 100% everything?

Where does reasonableness tend to lead to?

I say that the issue with most organisations is that they are reasonable.  These organisations and the people in them – from the ivory tower to the coal face – are, on the whole, being reasonable.  Reasonable executives focus exclusively on optimising for the short-term. Why? Because it is reasonable – that is what the stock market analysts expect.  Reasonable managers treat their employees reasonably.  Reasonable employees put reasonable effort into their work.  Reasonable people make reasonable products. Reasonable people provide reasonable service.  Reasonable people build reasonable websites.  Reasonable people stick to what is known. Reasonable people aspire to go after best practice.  Reasonable people don’t do innovation – it is too risky.  Reasonable people stick with the herd and don’t stick their necks out.  What do you get when you have an organisation which is run and staffed by reasonable people being reasonable?  Average, at best.  Mediocrity is not uncommon.

Can you take the road of reasonableness to arrive at customer-centricity?

Now let’s turn to the subject of customer-centricity and the customer experience.   You get that your organisation is not customer-centric and you want to make it customer-centric.  You get that your products are not good enough and you want to come up with better products.  You get that your service is not good enough and you want to improve your service.  Or you get your entire end to end customer experience is not good enough and you are up for coming up with a good/great customer experience.  So my question is this: will you reach your goal simply by being reasonable?

When I look at what is so on the ground, the answer to my question is YES.  Being reasonableness must be the way to be.  Why do I say that?  Because what I see is reasonableness in many forms.  Reasonable people taking the reasonable course of action using reasonable tools and aiming for reasonable goals.  In short, when I strip away the bold talk of customer-centricity or even customer obsession I see simply the aspiration to be somewhat better than we are today – to suck less.

Be unreasonable if you want to excel at and win the game of customer-centricity?

I say that if you want to excel at the game of customer-centricity, the game of customer experience, then you have to be unreasonable.  You have to be unreasonable in your commitment to creating value for your customer.  An unreasonable commitment to understanding your customers and what matters to them. An unreasonable commitment to coming up with value propositions (product, offer, promise) that meet customer needs. An unreasonable commitment to speaking with your customers so that they get your value proposition. An unreasonble commitment to designing/delivering a customer experience (end to end) that delivers the promises made in the value proposition and communications. And that means an unreasonable commitment to creating a context where the people in your organisation are called to be unreasonable in the their commitment to creating value for their customers. 

When I speak ‘unreasonable’ what am I calling attention to?  What am I pointing at?  I am pointing at a kind of stand that you take.  A way that you show up in the world.  It is best exemplified as the difference between 99% and 100% is everything!  Allow me to make this clearer by sharing the word of Mark Spiritos, a Landmark Forum Leader:

“If in the making of a computer chip or a bicycle wheel some small part were left out, neither would be able to function as intended. Any disruption in the integrity of something’s design, however small, impacts its workability and function. When something is whole and complete, it is not good per se, it just works.

The same holds true in being human. When the wholeness and completeness of who we are is jeopardized in some way, however small, that begins to alter our life, even if at first it’s imperceptible. We might experience a sense of discomfort; spend time defending, explaining, or pointing fingers; find ourselves tolerating a level of unworkability that we might not normally put up with. And because this happens in small increments, we don’t fully get the kind of impact it has on things not working in our lives…..

A baseline that was once at 100% now is at 99 or 98 or 70%. But it’s that difference between 99 and 100% that’s everything—it’s in that 1% that the quality of our life gets altered. Our sense of ourselves becomes more and more obscured, making it harder and harder over time to return to who we are. In being true to ourselves, being authentic, we tip the scales. Integrity and living a life of power and effectiveness are inseparable.”

And finally

It occurs to me that the difference between 100% and 99% is a difference that makes a huge difference.  You either are 100% committed to providing great products or you are not.  You either are 100% committed to making it easy for customers to do business with you or not.  You either are 100% committed to providing great customer service or not.  You either are 100% committed to designing/delivering a great end to end customer experience or you are not. You are 100% commitment to ongoingly create value for customers – simplifying, enriching, transforming their lives – or you are not.  If you do not recognise the difference between 99% and 100% then you are fooling yourself.  You are vulnerable to someone, some organisation, that does recognise the difference and is 100% committed.

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part V – the ‘dark side’ of the being of human beings)

We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.”  Pascal

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is still greater evil to be full of them and be unwilling to recognise them, since that is to add the further fault of voluntary illusions”  Pascal

I have a confession to make.  So far (part Ipart IIpart IIIpart IV) I have deliberately given you a one sided – positive – picture of the being of human beings and thus your employees.  If you have read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novels (especially The Brothers Karamazov) you will get the true richness of the being of human beings.  And that includes the dark side – a side that the enlightenment and the humanistic philosophers and psychologists do not address adequately if at all.   In this post I want to address this darker side of being human in our age, in our organisations.

Why is it so hard to call forth ’employee engagement’?

To create a contexts which calls forth ’employee engagement’ is one of the hardest feats in traditional organisations.  Why?  There are two key reasons.

First, people – leaders, managers, employees – who have worked for more than a couple of years in command & control organisation have accepted and habituated in a particular mode of being and behaviour.  And it is difficult for them to change.  Why?  Because, contrary to accepted wisdom, human beings don’t have behaviours; behaviours have them!  When I write this I am thinking of both categories of people in organisations:  the managers and those who are managed and have come to expect to be managed – one category cannot exist without the other as they co-create one another.

The headmistress of the local Montessori children never takes on teachers that have gone through the traditional system and taught in traditional schools. Why?  Because she has found from experience that it is too hard to arrive at a place where these teachers embody the Montessori philosophy in their way of being in the classroom and the world.  After teachers have been teaching for some time in the traditional system it is practically impossible to get them to leave behind their way of being and making the shift to the Montessori way of being.  In a lots of ways these long timers experience the same kind of experience and success rates of feral children.

The second reason that it is so hard to get ’employee engagement’ to show up is to do with the ‘dark side’ of being human that is always present and which we, with our obsession with the rational image of man, fail to acknowledge, accept and work with.  Let’s take a look at this ‘dark side’  – the shadow that is always with each of us.

The dark side: is this what really drives how human beings show up in the workplace, in the world? 

Peel back the onion to examine human behaviour and you might just find that the ‘machinery of being human’ seems to work to the following ‘four prime directives’ when it comes to dwelling with fellow human beings:

  1. Look good, avoid looking bad;
  2. Be right, avoid being wrong;
  3. Strive for control and dominate, avoid losing control and being dominated;
  4. Justify self, invalidate others.

It is worth pointing out that these four prime directives work at the level of the individual and the level of the tribe.   It is also worth pointing out that the root driver of these prime directives is most likely to be fear.  Fear of being excluded/ostracised like the lepers were.  Fear of being ridiculed.  Fear of being victimized/oppressed…..

How the drive for ’employee engagement’ tends to play out

If these ‘four prime directives’ are not acknowledged and dealt with then the drive for ’employee engagement’ tends to be a wasted effort at best and most often just a sham.  Why?  Because just about everyone in the organisation is first and foremost protecting himself.  That means those in manager roles don’t really let go of control – if they do then things might not work out and this will reflect badly on the manager and put his reputation/future at stake.  On the other hand those in the role of taking orders (including managers – junior managers take order from middle managers…) do not rise up and take responsibility for the fear of being setup to fail, being ridiculed…..  Now this dynamic does not just work at the individual level it also applies at the team level: marketing, sales, customer service, logistics…..  And it applies at the business unit level.  If you want a detailed understanding of the mechanics of this mutually reinforcing behaviour works then I recommend reading Power Up by Bradford & Cohen or The Responsibility Virus by Roger Martin.

In the next post I will share with you an effective process for generating employee engagement that has been used successfully by the corporate arm of Landmark Education.  It has a lot to do with ‘truth telling’ in the context of ‘creating a future that works for all parties at the table, none excluded’.

And finally

It is worth remembering that customers are human beings.  And as such they are also subject to these ‘four prime directives’.  Once you get this, really get it, then you have an access to all the stuff that you are doing as a corporation that is driving your customers nuts.  And how/why they are responding as they are responding.