Social Customer / Social CRM / Social Business: snake oil or great medicine? (Part III)

This post is the third post of this series.  In the first post I explored ‘the social customer’ and provided my point of view.  In the second post I explored social CRM to make sense of what it is.  In this third post I take a similar look at ‘social business’.  This is a long post and if you have the patience then you will get value out of reading the entire post.  If you are in a hurry and just want the nugget then the first section of this post is all you need to read.

Social business: the nugget to chew on

If you believe that implementing a bunch of social media and collaboration tools into your business is going to make you a social business then you are deluded.  You are making the same kind of mistake that people just like you made when they invested millions into CRM systems in the mistaken belief that implementing these systems would transform relationships with customers and lead to the ‘milk and honey’ of customer loyalty.  If you load a donkey with all the books of wisdom does that make the donkey wise?  No.  And you would never do that, you would laugh at anybody did do that.  Then why do so many tech oriented people think that implementing social tools (collaboration, social media) will make a business a ‘social businesses’?

Why am I so confident?  Because ‘social business’ requires us (our culture, our organisations, our businesses, us) to get present to and live out of / from a social ontology.   Right now our Western culture, our institutions, our businesses and our behaviour (in the public and private domains) are shaped by / arise out of an atomist ontology.  What is required is a transformation. A transformation that requires a shift from the “I-it” mode of relating to people (employees, customers, suppliers, partners….) to the “I-Thou” mode.   I’ll let RD Laing spell it out for us:

“Persons are distinguishable from things in that persons experience the world, whereas things behave in the world.  Thing-events do not experience. Personal events are experiential….

The error fundamentally is the failure to recognise that there is an ontological discontinuity between human beings and it-beings.

Human beings relate to each other not simply externally, like two billiard balls, but by the relations of the two worlds of experience that come into play when two people meet.”

Put simply it says that when you and I treat a fellow human being as an object (an It) then we are doing violence to his (and our) humanity.  Do you acknowledge her  existence by saying hello or shaking hands?  Do you provide the right work environment, a human one?  Do you allow her to voice her authentic voice? Do you involve her in the decisions that affect her?  Do you use words that acknowledge, teach, inspire or do you use words that criticise, condemn, humiliate?  Is the whole person welcome in the workplace or just that part that is useful for work?  And so forth.

If we get that a human being is an organism that is continually experiencing then everything that we do or do not do matters.  We cannot escape our responsibility to one another. Each of us is like a wave continually interacting with other who are also ‘waving’ and thus affecting us. That is what ‘social’ means in its fullest sense and that is what we expect when we are being ‘social’ and socialising.

So that is the challenge: a transformation in our world view, in our society, in our organisations, in our businesses and in our behaviour. We are speaking about a transformation in how we look at “what it means to be human” – form atomicity and instrumentality (“I-It”) to social and experiencing (“I-Thou”).  Looking for good examples of companies that treat human beings with dignity and built great relationships withe employees who go on to create great value for customers and the company then look no further than SAS (more on SAS later in this post).

First, lets address this question:  how easy is that likely to be for those of us who get what ‘social business’ is really about to bring about the kind of transformation that I am talking about here?

Morpheus speaks wisely when he says

“The Matrix is a system, Neo.  That system is our enemy.  But when you are inside you look around, what do you see?  Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save.  But until we do, these people are still a part of the system and that makes them our enemy.  You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”  Morpheus, in The Matrix, 1999

What does the latest Deloitte Research tell us?

I came across this piece today which talks about a new global report by Deloitte Research provides guidance organisations should consider on how they can significantly improve bottom-line results by fostering and promoting connections in the workplace.  Here are some of the key points that got my attention and are relevant to the whole notion of a ‘social business‘:

“We are more technologically connected than ever before, being addicted to our computers, cell phones, and PDAs. Ironically, today’s technology-saturated environment can actually weaken the quality of people’s connections that enhance performance.

“…people’s jobs are much more complex, technology can be both a distraction and an asset, and workforces are increasingly more diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generational differences. The report concludes that these changes have made it very difficult for today’s workforce to make quality, value-adding connections.”

Employers need to become connected to their employees to deliver on what they need and want in the workplace, such as interesting work, career development, and flexibility in exchange for their highly sought-after capabilities.

“…it’s critical for employees and employers to foster three primary types of connections:

  • Connecting people to people to help promote personal and professional growth; 
  • Connecting people to a sense of purpose to help build and sustain a sense of organisational and individual mission; and
  • Connecting people to the resources they need to work effectively, such as managing knowledge, technology, tools, capital, time, and physical space.

In my view this research validates my point of view:  tech tools are not enough, we have to work on building the connections between us and our fellow human beings.   Lets take a look at a master at this game: SAS.

What can we learn from SAS?

The Deloitte Report (Connecting People to What Matters) illustrates its reasoning through case studies.  Of particular note to me is SAS (the business intelligence software company which which has experienced 29 years of continued revenue growth and was recently named in FORTUNE magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the tenth year in a row. What makes it so special, what can we learn from SAS?

Our corporate culture is based on trust between employees, customers, and the company,” said Jeff Chambers, Vice President of Human Resources for US-based SAS. “We care about employees’ personal and professional growth, which inspires them to do great work. Employees who solve our clients’ biggest problems yield happy, committed customers. It isn’t altruism. It’s good business.”

I don’t buy that at all.  Looking into the company and its founder, I am clear that it happens to be both altruism AND good business.  The altruism came first and was the direct result of Jim Goodnights personal experience – how he was treated (an object, an “It”) when he was employed.  Here is what the net throws up:

“When Goodnight founded SAS, he already knew that work environments affect employee productivity and retention. He has also stated that he believes the work culture is key to the creativity inherent in knowledge work. Earlier in his career when he worked for a NASA subcontractor on the Apollo program, he observed the dismal environment of employees working in cubicle farms and how it contributed to annual employee turnover of around 50 percent. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the negative effect that work environment had on organisational performance”

This point of view is corroborated by this article in Inc, the key points that speak to me are:

“The fact that we’re private means that we can make long-range decisions,” says Goodnight. “We don’t have to be worried about quarterly profits or about pleasing Wall Street. We just please our employees and our customers………..  So when the economy forced most other companies to lay off employees in 2001 and 2002, Goodnight took a contrarian’s approach. “We decided there were so many people looking for jobs that we should take the opportunity to bring in some really first-class people,”……

“Those new employees landed more than just jobs. They gained entry into one of the most progressive corporate cultures in the country. SAS’s headquarters in Cary, N.C., looks more like a college campus than most college campuses do. There’s a 77,000-square-foot health and fitness center, playing fields for soccer and softball, an on-site medical clinic, a dining hall with live piano music, two daycare centers, an eldercare referral service, unlimited sick days, and a masseuse who makes the rounds several times a week. Goodnight’s explanation for this largesse is fairly simple: “If we keep our employees happy, they do a good job of keeping our customers happy.”

Final words

The challenge of ‘social business’ is not one of technology.  It is one of creating a culture, a work environment, like SAS has done where people matter and they know they matter – where they feel trusted and valued as human beings not just interchangeable cogs who fulfil roles and execute specific tasks.  Companies like this address the fundamental question (coming from employees) for a ‘social business’: why should I participate in all this social stuff?  Once again, lets listen to profoundly wise words:

“Why Mr Anderson?  Why do you do it?  Why do you get up? Why keep fighting?  Do you believe you are fighting for something?  For more than your survival?  Can you tell me what it is?  Do you even know?  Is it freedom?  Or truth?  Perhaps peace?  Yes?  No?  Could it be for love?”  Agent Smith, in The Matrix Revolutions, 2003

Just in case you don’t get it then let me spell it out for all of us.  The ground of our existence is survival – we wish to continue to exist – and there is an awfully lot we will do to earn that paycheck that allows us and the people that count on us to survive.  However, we will only go that extra mile for a) people we love; and b) causes that occur as noble and which stir our hearts and light up our lives.  Does that remind you about the key points from the Deloitte report? The need to foster connections: people to people connections; and people to a sense of purpose?  Without these connections investments in social technologies are a waste, a fool’s errand. 

Customer-Centricity: let’s wake up and address the real issue!

Our relationship to reality: the therapist and the patient

Allow me to tell you a story, I promise that you will enjoy it.   Picture a therapist’s consulting room: you have the therapist sitting in in a comfortable chair and the patient sitting in another comfortable chair.  The therapist  has, over many sessions, built up a rapport with the patient.  Today he feels able to discuss the issue at hand and help his patient move on and live well.  Here’s the dialogue:

Therapist: “So, John, am I correct in understanding that you really do believe that you are dead?”

Patient: “Absolutely, I am dead, I died several years ago.”

Therapist: “John, do dead people bleed?”

Patient:  “Don’t be ridiculous, dead people can’t bleed.  They don’t bleed.”

Therapist:  “John, is it ok with you if we did a test?   As you’re dead this test will be easy for you.  I’ m going to come over and cut your hand with a knife to see if you bleed.  Are you ok with that?”

Patient: “Sure go ahead, you’ll find out I’m dead.”

So the therapist takes out a knife and cuts the patients right hand.  Red blood flows – the therapist and the patient look at the blood.  The therapist is delighted, he is savouring his moment of triumph. Let’s get back to the conversation:

Therapist:  “John, I cut your hand and you’re bleeding.  Do you see that you are bleeding?”

Patient:  “Wow, dead people do bleed!”

I, you, we are the patient and you dive into this you will find that the story is reflects a fundamental truth that we are blind to and which when made visible we deny, repress and/or suppress.

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter got me thinking

The Goldman Sachs resignation letter is an internet sensation and it got me thinking about reality and how well we deal with it or not.  We all work in or have worked in organisations.  We know (at an experiential level) the reality of organisations. So, why is this letter a sensation?  It really is not disclosing anything new to us.   We know that the prime directive of big business is to make the numbers no matter what it takes.  Those that make the numbers are hailed as heroes and treated as gods. Those that don’t make the numbers find themselves in the same position as Tesco’s UK chief Richard Brasher who is ‘leaving the company‘ shortly after Tesco announced its first profit warning in decades.

Given this big business context is it surprising that the customer is seen/treated as a wallet to be emptied and the contents transferred into the company’s treasury?  If this was not the case then a handful of companies like Zappos, Zane’s Cycles, USAA, Chick-fil-A… would not stand out.  And all the billions spent by big business on CRM and related Customer initiatives would have delivered customer loyalty and the rewards that go with that.  We know that it hasn’t.

So back to my question, what is the fuss?  Could it be that the  BBC has got it right when it writes:

“Many of us have imagined writing a letter of resignation that shakes our bosses to the core, but few have actually done it, and rarely even then has the letter been read by millions. Greg Smith, who quit Goldman Sachs this week, has realised our fantasy.”

It is my point of view that Greg Smith’s letter is a sensation because it gives voice to our voices and our experiences.  If the resignation had showed up as as one man’s fantasy then it would never had become the sensation it is.  It is became a sensation because it is our fantasy: to tell the truth of our experience, to walk away from the filth that we find ourselves to be mired in, to be noble in our conduct and work for noble causes.

Most of us know that the “Emperor has no clothes” yet few of us the financial security or the courage to say publicly that the Emperor has no clothes. That is why few of us are ‘whistleblowers’, just take a look at the price Linda Almonte has paid for doing the right thing: fired, no other bank would employ her, real struggle to survive – to make ends meet for the last two years or so.  So I totally get that why Greg Smith collected his bonuses before departing,  I believe that Nassim Nicholas Taleb (of Black Swan fame) called this “f**k you money”.  It is only when we don’t have to worry about money that most of us can do the right thing – follow the dictates of our conscience.

What has this got to do with customer-centricity and customer loyalty?

Do you remember my post on good strategy bad strategy (part III – failing to face the problem)?  The key point is that formulating a sound strategy (think back to the story of the therapist and the patient) requires us to acknowledge reality as it is and address the key problem/s that have to be faced.  The question is how good are we at facing reality?  Jack Welch didn’t think at the people at GE were adept at facing reality and so he made it his mission to change that situation:

“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.” Jack Welch

As I walk around the halls of business and look at / talk with the people walking on Customer initiatives and read the stuff that is written on customer-centricity, customer loyalty, customer service, I find myself getting present to the following:

“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground. Anybody who knew their ass from a hole in the ground could stand up and tell me how they know when something’s real.”  Werner Erhard

All the time-money-effort being put into Customer initiatives will continue to be wasted (from the customer loyalty, customer experience perspectives) until and unless we deal with reality: what is so rather than what we pretend is so.  We pretend that the customer matters, that the customer is the king/queen, the master of our hearts and drives our actions.  The reality is that within the current system (they way it really operates) Customers (as fellow human beings) don’t matter.  What really matters is getting our hands on customers wallets – quickly, easily, repeatedly and taking out as much money as we can and transferring it into the company treasury.   The problem is that digital technologies and social media have made it that much harder to do that.  

We have a choice to make.  We can stick with the existing context (misrepresentation, manipulation, extraction, greed, me, me, me),  relating to these customers as muppets and embracing anyone who promises the latest ‘shiny object’ that will allow us to get the better of our customers. Or we can choose to operate from a radically different context.

I assert that we need to get real.  The days of fooling and fleecing customers easily and cheaply have come to an end. In my last post, I pointed out that the IBM study suggested that there is a social transformation is in progress and big business has to get with that.  Specifically, we have to go from talking about caring for our customers to actually caring for our customers.  It is only when we connect with ‘our heart and what is noble’  can we rule out anything and everything that contributes to “bad profits”, making money at the expense of the customer.  Specifically, that means:

  • being truthful and providing the complete picture in our marketing;
  • designing, making, source quality products – quality as perceived through the eyes of the people who will be using these products;
  • matching the right products to the right customers, refusing to sell products that enrich us at the expense of our customers;
  • ensuring that the contract between the customer and the company is written in plain English and is fair to both parties;
  • investing  in the service dimension of the customer experience as opposed to push relentlessly to reduce the costs associated with serving customers, whether that is in the retail store, the call-centre, the logistics function or in billing;
  • getting the balance right between human and digital channels / interfaces such that, taken as a whole, these interfaces simplify and enrich the life of our customers.

What do you think?  I’d love to hear your point of view.  Better, still I’d love for you to share your lived experience.  Are you up for that?

Final words

Before I, you, we get righteous about the people at Goldman Sachs (or any other organisation eg. News International) it is worth getting present to the fact that it is only because I, you, we participate in the current system that allows this morally bankrupt and socially evil system continues to operate. Don’t believe me?  Think you are not responsible for what is so?  I invite you to read this piece – warning, it is not for the faint hearted.   I thank you for your listening.



Customer-Centricity: what does it take to make the transition to a customer-centric business?

What is our defining feature, our magnificence?

We are awesome.  We, individually as an organism and collectively as a species, are best signified as “that whose defining characteristic is the capacity to imagine possibilities and convert these possibilities to reality‘.  Yes, we are an organism that excels in listening to and telling Story.  Yes, we are an automatic meaning making machine.  And for me the distinguishing feature, the crowning glory, the magnificence of us is our ability / our deftness at converting a vision, a dream, a possibility in our mind into what is so in the world.

Allow me to give you specific examples of what I am talking about.  Think about the American Declaration of Independence and what resulted when this is put into the world.   Would there be a USA without this declaration?  Think about Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, vision, declaration, stand.  Think about Gandhi and his declaration that India will be free. Think about JFK’s “Man on the Moon” bold vision, challenge and address to congress.

Why doesn’t the ‘world work’?

Why doesn’t the ‘world work’ such that no-one is excluded?  Is that too abstract, too philosophical?  OK, let me make it simpler by asking the question:  why is it so that many of our fellow human beings live in hunger and die of hunger?  Do we lack the know how? No.  Do we lack the capacity, the resources, to feed our hungry fellow human beings?  No.  So why are our fellow human beings dying?  Look into this and you might come to the conclusion, that whilst many of us are inspired at the thought of a world in which every one of us has enough to eat (none of us starve), one or both of the following is present:

  • We simply cannot conceive of possibility of an Earth where all of us are well fed – this simply occurs as ridiculous to us; and/or
  • It is OK by us for our fellow human beings to starve as long as we do not have to ‘see’ it, face it, experience it.

I take no credit for this insight.  It rightly belong to an unacknowledged American genius (now living in exile) called Werner Erhard.  He got and articulated this position over 30+ years ago.  You might be wondering what this has to do with organisations and customer-centricity in particular.  Let’s deal with that – the foundation is in place to have that conversation.

Why is it that only a handful of big businesses have made the transition to being customer-centric?

What are the obstacles to making the transition to customer-centricity?  Is it lack of know how?  Is it the lack of capacity / resources?  Before you come to a conclusion, consider the following:

  • A ‘handful’ of poorly armed, poorly trained (militarily), yet powerfully motivated colonists defeated the military might and political power of the worlds’ greatest empire (the British empire);
  • A man (Gandhi) in a loincloth took on the world greatest empire and after many years of sacrifice / struggle he won, the empire capitulated;
  • One man’s speech (“I have a dream”) dramatically changed the social landscape of many millions of Americans despite the entrenched legacy of slavery;
  • One man (JFK) rallied a nation and put a man on the moon.

I assert that only a handful of companies have made the transition to being customer-centric because of one or both of the following:

  • Tops do not believe that if they look after their customers, their customers, will in return, look after them; and/or
  • It is perfectly OK for the business to continue as is (product/sales centric) because the business is doing just fine as it is.

Lets listen to what the CEO of O2 shares about their transition to customer-centricity

One of the few big companies, that I know of in the UK, that has made that transition is O2 (telco).  So it might just be worth taking a look at Ronan Dunne, the CEO, says:

Our philosophy was: create an enduring relationship.  How do you do that? You build trust. You take away the scams, the small print that people think is unfair.  You make your tariffing more transparent and simpler so that all the weasel is gone, so what you see is what you get…..To build a trust relationship with your customers you have to be really clear in your communication.  You have to be bold to change the rules of the game. You have to take risks.

By introducing Simplicity and Fair Deal, we were essentially writing a £500 million cheque against our P&L.

The thing that got us through those early days was…we had a very tough and open and honest debate as a board.  We finished the conversation by saying we may not be able to fully analyse this as a business case on a few PowerPoint slides, but we all believe that it is the right thing to do……

We looked each other in the eye as a team – finance, marketing, sales, the operation side – and said, ‘Do we, or do we not, believe this?‘  And as a team we absolutely signed up.  As a result every tough conversation we had subsequently was in the context of ‘If we believe doing the right thing for the customers is ultimately the most profitable business model, have we solved this particular issue?’ 

If each time we had a problem we had argued about it without the benefit of that context then it would have all fallen apart.  That basic premise of the long term sustainable profitability of the business being underpinned by creating a differentiating customer experience was the rock on which we built the brand.”

I draw your attention to the following

The O2 Tops created the possibility of being customer-centric AND believed that this was the right thing to do.  Why?  Because there was no statistical evidence, in the real world, that this was the right thing to do.  The outcome of their actions was uncertain, undetermined – that is the only time we need beliefs, else beliefs are superfluous.

The access to starting the customer-centric journey was boldness, the willingness to take risks. The O2 Board (the Tops) took a risk – a potential hit of £500m against their P&L.

The entire O2 Board discussed the matter at hand and each Board member signed up voluntarily.

Keeping the context (‘If we believe doing the right thing for customers is ultimately the most profitable business model…’) alive allowed the O2 Tops to make the difficult decisions without rupturing their relational bonds (without destroying their working relationship with one another)

And finally

The source of the material on O2 is the book BOLD by Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan.

What flavour of customer-centricity are you practicising?

Customer-Centricity: we are great at lying to ourselves

If there is one facet of ‘customer-centricity’ and the ‘outside in’ approach that I find striking it is this:  almost no-one who talks about this actually goes entices and enters into conversations with customers on what constitutes ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘outside in’ approach to doing business with customers.   Put differently which are the companies that have entered into ‘conversations for customer-centricity’ with their customers?  With all the noise around social media, user generated content including recommendations/ratings/feedback and collaborative platforms I notice only one way communications: from the company to the customer via some kind of survey or from the customer to the company via the call centre and social media.  Some habits persist: on and on and on.

There is a particularly interesting habit that human beings have: lying.  Must people are aware that they are pretty good at lying to others.  One has to be good to survive and prosper in families, organisations, institutions, communities and societies that function because we lie to one another.  What is overlooked is that we are masters at lie to ourselves: we are striding South whilst proclaiming that we are committed to heading North and then finding a whole host of excuses as to how it is not yet time to head North or that the quickest or only route to heading North is to first go South.  My experience suggests that the same is going on in organisations which are proclaiming their ‘love’ of the customer: customer focus, customer service, customer-centricity, customer experience, customer loyalty, customer obsession, customer responsiveness ……  Put bluntly, there are at least two flavours of customer-centricity: genuine customer-centricity (what I refer to as North in this post); and sham customer-centricity (what I refer to as South in this post).

A real world customer experience example

Lets make this real.  I was talking with James (he happens to drive a taxi) and he was sharing his story about difficult times with me.  If you haven’t noticed, there is a recession and James (and his family) really are feeling the effects.  Insurance premiums have been going up and up and up: over the last 2 – 3 years they have almost doubled.  James (and his family) need that insurance cover and yet James finds he cannot afford it.  So when he got is renewal letter (with a big insurance premium hike) James phoned the company and he was greeted by a helpful chap at the call-centre.   By asking him various questions the call-centre chap was able to move James to an insurance plan that was more in line with his needs (cut out the frills that James did not need) and thus take out the insurance premium hike.

Is James delighted?  Yes and no.  James is delighted that the chap on the phone was friendly and helped James to keep his insurance without any increases.  At the same time James is convinced that he has been ‘milked’ in the previous years.  “Why did they sell me a plan (two years ago) which provided benefits which they knew I was never going to need?”  What is James thinking?  He told me bluntly: “If they can find a suitable plan for me today by asking me some simple questions then why did the company not do the same two years ago when I joined them?  Why did they put me on a more expensive plan than I needed?  I don’t trust the company!”

In the real world we have messiness that does not appear in Customer theory and talk by ‘gurus’

So just recap, in James example of his relationship with his insurance provider what is so?  This is what I noticed:

  • James is positively delighted with his last interaction with his insurance provider – the helpful chap who helped him to keep is insurance premium to what it was last year;
  • James distrusts the insurance company – he is convinced that the company deceived him into taking out a more expensive insurance plan in order to fatten its coffers at his expense;
  • James is disappointed with the conduct of the insurance company yet has stayed on with the same company – he does not feel he has a choice.

Lets just take a look at that again and see what we can learn.  When I look at this I notice that life is messy.  You can have a customer who is delighted (in traditional customer satisfaction terms), distrustful & disappointed (not loyal in attitudinal terms, certainly not an advocate!) and yet loyal in behavioural terms – all at the same time.  I believe that this is kind of what I was pointing towards in one of my earlier posts.

A genuinely customer-centric organisation would have won James trust and advocacy by being genuinely customer-centric!

If James does not trust you to look after his best interests then he will not be loyal to you and he will not be an advocate.  How do you win him over?  By being genuinely customer-centric.  What does that involve?  It involves giving up the pretense to the outside world and lying to yourself.  It means recognising that behind the find words and the excuses you are simply exploiting the customer as best as you can.  And it means giving that up.

The access to customer loyalty and advocacy is simply HONESTY – being a honest broker. Do what you say and say what you do.  You might just want to read this short post by Seth Godin which gets to the heart of the matter.  Or you might want to revisit one of my posts on what it takes to cultivate trust:

Service Providers: why trust matters and what you can do to cultivate it (Part I)

Service Providers: why trust matters and what you can do to cultivate it (Part II)

Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012?  Start with ‘Integrity’

Where does HONESTY start?  With the people at the top.  I assert that the fundamental task of Tops who espouse customer-centricity is to be HONEST with their customers.  And if the Tops are not willing to do that then they should give up claiming their ‘love of the customer’.  Why?  James is not easily fooled – sooner or later ‘dishonesty’ shows up and occurs about as inviting as walking into a room full of elephant dung!

Leadership: does it start with ownership?

What constitutes leadership and makes a good leader?

Let me start by saying that I am no expert in ‘Leadership’.  Yes, I have read the theory – all kind of theory including ‘charisma’, ‘being decisive’, ‘situational leadership’, ‘leadership v management’, ‘servant leadership’ and so forth.  In my world most of it occurs as theory or put differently it occurs as ‘philosophers philosophising’.  I can think of ‘charismatic’ people who do not / did not make good leaders.  On the other hand I can think of humble souls with an indomitable will making a huge impact on the world like Gandhi.

Gerstner and Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?

Reading (several years ago) Gerstner book ‘Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?’ I was struck by something which surfaced again for me this week.  Gerstner did not have to take the helm at IBM: seemed to be poisoned chalice and many of the natural candidates (and favourites) declined.  Everybody had written IBM off (a dinosaur) and so no person in his/her right mind wanted to take the risk.  Yet Gerstner was different – he eventually took that hot seat even though he had grave doubts about his ability to save that dinosaur and give it wings – make it into a powerful flying dragon.

One other aspect got my attention when it came to leadership.  There he was, Gerstner, doing his best to get to grips with the situation and he would ask the ‘leaders’, the VPs, the SVPs, the Country Managers to look into various aspects and get back to him.  Many did not get back to him.  When Gerstner met with them to ask for the answers to the questions he had set, many of them had no answer to the question.  Their answer was that they had handed the task over to one of their subordinates.  Gerstner got irritated because he expected these Tops to wrap their hands, minds, hearts around the ‘problem/task’ and get their ‘hands dirty’ doing the investigative work of searching / digging for the answers.

Perhaps the defining act of leadership is taking ownership

Which brings me to the question of this post.  Is the essential existential act that constitutes ‘leadership’ that of taking ownership?  Take ownership with your heart, your mind, your hands, your feet?

My experience is that ownership is necessary yet not sufficient pillar of being a leader.  A leader (and thus leadership) stands for a Possibility (a vision of the future) that inspires him/her to take 100% ownership for being a stand for that Possibility, for that future.  Yet it is more than that.  By standing for that Possibility, the Possibility gives powerful being (courage, boldness, risk taking…) to the leader.  Think of it as mutual relationship – like to sides of a coin.  The leader invents a Possibility (an invented future, in Gerstner’s case an IBM that survives and is stronger than ever, in Jobs case an Apple that goes back to its heart – making great products) that moves, touches and inspires him/her to the level of soul and that Possibility shapes the leaders being and doing right here and now – again and again for years.  Sometimes it takes many years to bring about that invented future.  Think about Gandhi how long did it take for him to get the British to leave and for the Indians to be free to rule themselves?  Think of Nelson Mandela, how many years did he spend in prison?  Sometimes you can live from your Possibility and generate your desired future in 15 months like Jean-Dominique Bauby did as set out here.

When I look around I do not notice Tops (people who are thought of and called leaders) being ‘leaders’.  In good times these Tops make sure that everyone knows that it is they who have come up with the vison, the strategy and shaped the organisation to deliver the great results.  And they insist on being handsomely rewarded – tens even hundreds of millions in compensation.  In ‘bad’ times what happens?  Just take a look at the News International phone hacking scandal: none of the Tops takes ownership.  Look at prisoner and torture abuse at Abu Ghraib: none of the Tops took ownership.  Look at the MPs expenses scandal in the UK?  None of the Tops took ownership.  Look at the financial crisis, the recession and the impact on millions of lives: none of the Tops took ownership – not the politicians, not the regulators, not the Csuite at the banks and associated insurance companies.

Now you might be wondering what has this got to do with the Customer.  Here is my question: which CEO has the level of commitment to customer-centricity, the customer experience, that Gerstner showed or Jobs showed or Mandela showed or Gandhi showed?  And if the CEO does not have that level of ownership then why should anyone else in the organisation care – care deeply – about the customer, the customer experience, the customer-centric organisation.

Final thought

Standing for a Possibility (a vision of the future) that is larger than yourself and your selfishness is a key pillar of leadership.  It is necessary and yet it is not sufficient.  I will tackle the other two pillars in another post – coming soon.

What is your lived experience of leadership?  Please do not share the theory: you can take my word on it when I write that I have read it all!  I am looking forward to you sharing your experience of leadership and learning from your sharing.  So please do share.

‘Integrity’, leadership, communication and performance: the most valuable post you will read this year?

This post is associated with and follows on from the previous post: Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012?  Start with ‘Integrity’.  This post clarifies what I wrote in the earlier – some people did not get what I was getting at and I take responsibility for that – and extends ‘Integrity’ into the domain of leadership and business performance.  If you are up for being customer-centric and improving the performance of your organisation then you absolutely have to grapple with the domains of ‘Integrity’ and leadership and connect the two together.  So let’s take a deeper look at these and how they fit together.  This is a long post AND you can get a lot of value out of it if you take the time to really read it and digest it.  Some of you are going to find all kind of issues (too long, too boring, too preachy…) with this post.  How do I know?  Because we ‘resist’ that which ‘confronts’ us and spoils the picture of the world that we are attached to – especially if it means giving up some of our self-serving habits. 

When I speak/write ‘Integrity’ I am not pointing at morality and virtue!

If you take a look at the dictionary you find the following definitions for integrity:

  • The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness –  e.g. he is known to be a man of integrity
  • The state of being whole and undividede.g. upholding territorial integrity and national sovereignty
  • The condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in constructione.g. the structural integrity of the novel

When I use the term ‘Integrity’ I am NOT talking about, not pointing towards, nor interested in the first definition.  I am talking about and pointing towards the second and third definitions.  Why?  Because I am concerned with the domains of ‘workability’ and ‘performance’.   Allow me to illustrate this through a personal experience and a concrete example.

Recently I jumped into my Honda Accord and drove fours hours to spend some time with my parents.  I noticed that the car was ‘dirty-messy’ on the outside and on the inside.  I also noticed that when I pushed the accelerator down hard there was a delay of several seconds before the car responded and when it did the response was sluggish and the engine made a noise that suggested that I was asking it do more work than it was able/ready to do.  Finally, I noticed that at certain speeds the steering wheel vibrated suggesting wheel balancing and tracking issues.  Whilst I was at my parents I shared my experience of driving the car with my brother (who runs a car business) and asked him to fix the issues and get the car back into ‘Integrity’.  After examining the car he replaced the spark plugs, he topped up the fluids, balanced the wheels, took care of the tracking to make sure the wheels were in alignment and cleaned the car – inside and out.  When I drove the car back home my driving experience was completely different: instant response from the car when I hit the accelerator, no noise from the engine, no steering wheel vibration, crystal clear windscreen, sparking interior…..

Why the difference in performance of the car as I experienced it?  When I was driving to my parents my car had been out of ‘Integrity’.  It was not whole and complete.  It was not a condition of being unified, unimpaired or sound in construction: the spark plugs were not working, the power transmission was less than it needed to be, the wheels were not balanced, the wheels were not aligned…. When I drove back to my parents my car was in ‘Integrity’:  all the components that had to be there for the car to be whole and complete (sound, unimpaired) were there and so the performance of the car was transformed.

Now is the time to address the question: why are you ignoring the first definition of integrity that of moral uprightness?  Different people have different ideas about what is moral.  Different groups of people have different ideas on what is and is not moral.  Morality is simply a social agreement between a group of people: is some groups of people (Christians say) it is moral to eat pork, in others (Muslims say) it is immoral to eat pork; in some groups of people it is moral to make use of all the latest technology (most of us), in others (e.g. the Amish) it is immoral to make use of electricity, phones etc.  Now here is the thing to get no matter what we decide is ‘moral’ regarding my car, in the real world having in place faulty spark plugs or unbalanced and misaligned wheels degrades the workability and performance of my car – that is simply what is so in the real world no matter what I, you, they, we believe about it.   Get it?

What would be present in your life (including your organisation) if ‘Integrity’ was present?

Werner Erhard has done great work on ‘Integrity’ and I cannot explain it any better than he has written it.  So I am going to use his words (I hope that is ok with you Werner and I thank you for putting this into the world):

“What would your life be like, and what would your performance be, if it were true that:

You have done what you said you would do and you did it on time.

You have done what you know to do, you did it the way it was meant to be done, and you did it on time.

You have done what others would expect you to do, even if you never said you would do it, and you did it on time, or you have informed them that you will not meet their expectations.

And you have informed others of your expectations for them and have made explicit requests to those others.

And whenever you realised that you were not going to do any of the foregoing, or not going to do it on time:

You have said so to everyone who might be impacted, and you did so as soon as you realised that you wouldn’t be doing it, or wouldn’t be doing it on time, and

If you were going to be do it in the future you have said by when you would do it, and

You have dealt with the consequences of not doing it on time, or not doing at all, for all those who are impacted by your not doing it on time, or not doing it at all.

In a sentence, you have done what you said you would do or you have said you are not doing it; you have nothing hidden, you are truthful, forthright, straight and honest.  And you have cleaned up any mess you have caused for those depending on your word.

And almost unimaginable: what if others operated this way with you?”

‘Integrity’ and communication go together

If you read what Werner has written you get that ‘Integrity’ and communication go together – think of them as two sides of the same coin.  Being ‘in Integrity’ means ‘being in communication’.  How?  Why?  We live in relationship with one another and we progress our ‘projects’ (and an organisation exists to progress specific ‘projects’)  by making, accepting, declining, renegotiating, fulfilling requests of one another – these requests can be implicit (implied) or explicit as is clearly set out by Werner.  Making, accepting, declining, renegotiating, fulfilling requests how is this done?  Surely it is done through language – right?  That is to say through speaking and listening – whether that is face to face, on the phone, email, SMS…

Let me put it more bluntly when you are part of a group – and we are always part of a group as we exist in relationship – not ‘being in communication’ with the group is being ‘out of Integrity’.  That is simply so even if you did not promise to be in communication.  Why?  Because it our normal functioning to expect the people in our group to ‘be in communication’ – to let us know what is going on.  How do you feel when your son or daughter does not let you know what is going on his/her life?  How does your mother feel if you turn up and tell her that you have been experiencing a really difficult time for the last year?  Does she berate  you for not sharing?  Does she say that you should have called her and shared your pain?  I hope you get what I am saying.

‘Integrity’ and leadership

One of the people who read my last blog on ‘Integrity’ made the comment that his organisation (he is the CEO) relies on a contract manufacturer and fulfillment partner to honor its promises to its customers. He also pointed out that this contract manufacturers is out of ‘Integrity’: this organisation has committed never to be out of stock and to despatch order within one day and it is regularly out of stock and often takes up to five days to despatch orders to my readers customers.  Bob (the reader) also stated that whilst the CEO of the contract manufacturer is in ‘Integrity’ the people in his organisation are out of ‘Integrity’ – else the organisation would honour the agreements around stock and fulfillment.  My response: bull***t!

What goes with being the CEO (the leader) of an organisation?  When I or you step into the CEO role you automatically become responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the whole organisation!  That is what is so.  The CEO is the top dog and rightly or wrongly we (customers, partners, employees, suppliers, regulators) expect the CEO to make sure that his organisation works:  it does what it says (keeps promises) and says what it does (honesty, authenticity).  So the hallmark of effective leadership is taking the stand: I am responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation that I lead.  What goes with this stand?  It involves setting up an ‘existence structure’ that regularly gets me present to where the organisation is out of ‘Integrity’ and another (or perhaps the same) ‘existence structure’ for taking action to get the organisation back into ‘Integrity’.  Any fool can take responsibility for his own (personal) integrity it takes a special fool to take responsibility for the group of people – family, organisation, community, society.

Does you CEO relate to himself as the person who is responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation he leads?  And when the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation is out does he/she ask the question: who am I being such that the ‘playing field’ that I have created (upon which the organisation plays the game of business) gives rise to the organisation that I lead being out of ‘Integrity’?   Or does he/she simply point the finger of blame at other people in or outside the organisation?   Why do I say outside of the organisation?  Because the CEO is also responsible for the ‘Integrity’ of value chain partners!  When I, the customer, order from Amazon I expect Amazon to be accountable for getting what I have bought to me by the promised date.  I do not care if Amazon has outsourced part of the value chain to another party e.g. the end delivery to a fulfillment company like Yodel – I hold Amazon responsible!

‘Integrity, leadership, communication and performance – how are they connected?

By now you should be clear that ‘being in Integrity’ can only occur if you are also ‘being in communication’.  You should also be clear that ‘being in Integrity’ for the organisation as a whole is related to leadership.  And you should know that ‘being in Integrity’ is desirable because when any ‘system’ is not in ‘Integrity’ then workability and performance of that ‘system’ degrades.  So I’d sum it up as follows:

  • Leaders are responsible for the performance of their organisations;
  • Performance (the output) is correlated with the ‘Integrity’ of the organisation (the ‘system’) – ‘Integrity’ gives rise to workability and performance;
  • Leadership is fundamentally about being a stand for the ‘Integrity’ of the entire organisation (including value chain partners) and setting up ‘existence structures’ to quickly detect where the organisation is ‘out of Integrity’ and then taking prompt, effective action to put the organisation back ‘into Integrity’; and
  • Communication is essential to ‘Integrity’ and so leadership about effective communication – communication that tilts the table towards the organisation being ‘in Integrity’ rather than being ‘out of Integrity.

I have covered a huge amount here.  If you take the time to digest it you should get it.  And if you get it then you can dispense with a library of books on leadersip, organisation development and business performance.   Really you can!  You don’t agree with me?  OK where have I gone wrong?  Please educate me – I am listening and everything that I can do today is because someone took the time to educate me.

Want a breakthrough in customer-centricity in 2012? Start with ‘Integrity’

First put in place a sound foundation

If you want to make through in being customer-centric in 2012 then forget strategy, forget process redesign, forget technology, forget voice of the customer, forget customer experience design, forget social media – forget everything!   Why?  How much sense does it make to spend time, money and effort on the walls, floors, windows, roof, plumbing, electrics etc if you have not taken care to put in place a sound foundation in place to make sure that the house doesn’t collapse on you – sooner or later?

What is this foundation? ‘Integrity’

What do I mean by ‘Integrity’?  First and foremost ‘Integrity’ in the sense that I am using this word has nothing to do with morality – good, bad, being an upright member of the tribe (whatever the tribe is).  By ‘Integrity’ I mean the state of being whole and complete and in particular I am pointing towards the state where words and actions are in complete alignment.  For example, if you say you will give me a call tomorrow at 09:00 and you do that then your words and your actions are in agreement.   The foundational practice of ‘Integrity’ is ‘honouring your word‘.

What do I mean by ‘honouring your word’?  I do not mean keeping your word – doing what you said you would do when you said you would do it to the standard that we agreed (or the standard we can reasonably expect to have been agreed).  Are you thinking “How can one honour his word and yet not keep it?”  You honour your word by going full out to keep it. And if you know that you are not going to keep your word then right there and then you tell the person/s who are counting on you (and your word) that you will not be keeping your word.  And you clean up the mess that you have made.  This  could involve:

  • getting someone else to do what you promised to do;
  • renegotiating what you have agreed so that the other person is happy with the end result (of the renegotiation) and the state of the relationship does not deteriorate;
  • apologising and making restitution such that the other person is happy with the end result and the relationship is intact.

Why is ‘Integrity’ so important?

You might remember that I wrote about three amazing experiences before Christmas.  The third experience was at the Chemist (the pharmacy) where the dispensing Chemist issued me medicines even though I did not have a prescription signed off by my doctor.  Furthermore, the staff at the Chemists offered to get the repeat prescription signed off by my doctor and have my medicine ready this morning.  Whilst I was initially reluctant, I accepted when the Chemist told me that they provide this service, regularly, for many of their customers – it saves customers the inconvenience of first going to their doctor to get a repeat prescription and then going to the Chemists.

Well I turned up at the Chemists to pick up my medicine – which is incredibly important to my health and well-being.  How did things turn out?  I walked up to the counter and told the assistant that I had been promised that my Levothyroxine Sodium tables (56 of them) would be ready for pick up today.  The assistant could not find my medicine nor my repeat prescription.  She asked the dispensing Chemist (not the one that was there last time) and he could not find my stuff on the computer system.  To cut a long story short the Chemist (as a business unit) failed to honour their word to me:  the medicine was not ready to be picked up.  Instead I made my way to the doctors surgery, picked up my repeat prescription, walked back to the Chemists, handed in the prescription and then waited ten minutes for it to be dispensed.

I get that sometimes there are ‘breakdowns’ – I am totally ok with that as it is simply an integral part of this world that we live in even if you get to six sigma.  What stunned me was the attitude of the staff at the Chemists.  Let me be specific:

  • they were totally oblivious to the importance of the medicine to me;
  • no-one (four staff members) got that they had made a promise to me – no apologies, no effort to make right what had not gone right;
  • they side stepped any responsiblity and accountability by pointing the finger at my doctor – the doctor’s practice had failed to issue the prescription to them even though they had taken my repeat prescription to the doctor’s surgery to be signed by the doctor;
  • they acted as if it is totally OK to make a promise and then not keep it because a part of the system outside of their control had failed to function properly;
  • knowing that they would not keep their promise no-one at the Chemist had contacted – proactively – to let me know of the issue even though I live only two minutes walk away from them.

In most people, most teams, most departments, most organisations ‘Integrity is out’ – it has gone walkabout

Take a good look and you will find that we as individuals, teams, departments, organisations, communities and society have a feeble relationship to our word.  We simply do not keep our word.  Because everyone accepts that it is OK to not keep our word then we give away our word willy nilly without real consideration.  Taken together I assert that our word is cheap and not worth the paper that it is written on.

That is an issue because when I, the customer, buy from you a set of promises (explicit and implicit) have been made.  And now you and your organisation have to deliver on those promises. How the heck are you going to do that if your relationship to your word is feeble just like the Chemist in the story that I told earlier.  Great leaders, teams and organisations have a fanatical, obsessive, relationship to their word – playing full out to honour their word as individuals, as team members and as an organisation. Amazon is a great example:  I have ordered many items and every time the items arrive on time, in the perfect condition and I am billed only what I expected to be billed.  Things went wrong only twice.  Once I did not get the travel books when I expected them (and by the promised date) and upon ringing Amazon they fixed it without any questions or hassle: replacement books were desptached that day and arrived the next morning as agreed.  The second time I bought a book from a reseller and it had a page missing the reseller did not quibble – he apologised and refunded my money.

Integrity being out compromises workability and performance

If you remember nothing else then remember this Integrity being out compromises the workability (the performance) of the system that is out of integrity.  It is not a moral issue. It is a performance issue.  And that is why you should start with Integrity – the performance of the system can never surpass the level of integrity especially across the system (the various players, processes, departments, organisations….).  Any compromise in integrity will impact the customer in terms of misleading advertising, misleading selling, products that do not do what it says on the tin, failed deliveries, inaccurate billing and so forth.

Investing in voice of the customer, in process redesign, in implementing complected CRM systems etc is simply putting lipstick on a pig or putting icing on a mud pie.  You are simply fooling yourself.  Incidentally, lack of integrity will impact the value you get out of any VoC program, process redesign or CRM technologies.  You can never escape the performance impact of the endemic lack of integrity – lack of integrity flows from the very top, the leaders of the organisation.  An organisation can never have more integrity than that of the leadership team.  What do you think?