Dialogue on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity

Colleague: So much money has been spent and continues to be spent. On CRM. On CX – voice of the customer, journey mapping etc. In the name of customer-centricity – whatever that means.  Yet, there is little to show for it.

Me: Seems that way.

Colleague: Which big company, as in the kind of company that we end up consulting to / working with, has anything to show for the time-effort-money that has been spent on the whole Customer thing?

Me: I am not aware of a single one. Maybe there is big company out there that has become customer-centric as seen through the eyes of the customers. And If there is I am not aware of it. I distrust whatever the folks who go to the Customer circus (conference circuit) say about themselves. What matters is what the customers say.

Colleague: What’s your point of view on what’s going on?  You’ve always got a point of view on pretty much everything! Let’s hear it then.

Me: Have you come across a philosopher called Heidegger?  His thinking provides a good clue as to what’s going on.

Colleague: Never heard of him. What’s he got to say that’s relevant.

Me: He introduces the distinction between “in order to” and “for the sake of”. This distinction sheds light on the failure of the whole Customer thing. And what it will take to generate success.

Colleague: Explain then!

Me: Imagine a man in a workshop working on wood.  He happens to be sawing a piece of wood.  Why is sawing this piece of wood? In order to make a cabinet.  Why is he making a cabinet? In order to sell it?  Why is he looking to sell the cabinet?  In order to get money / make a living. Why do that? In order to care for / feed his family? Why do that? For the sake of his own conception of what it is to be a good father/husband.  Why does that matter to him? It just does!  Here the chain of in order to comes to an end.  There is no in order to. Showing and travelling as good father/husband is the sake of which he gets up in the morning and works/lives.

Colleague: There you go again not answering the question. What the fork has this to do with the whole Customer thing?

Me: Let me explain it another way.  Imagine that there are two spherical round hollow cylinders. The walls are quite thin, and of the same size.  It is possible to fit/slide into the other one by squeezing it as the cylinders are made of flexible material.

Colleague: OK.

Me: One is labelled “Revenue & Profits”, the other is called “Customer-Centricity”.  You are told that you need to slide one of these cylinders into/inside of the other cylinder.  Which one do you slide inside? Which one has to fit inside the other one?  Do you fit/slide the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder? Or do you choose to do the opposite: squeeze/fit the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder inside the “Customer-Centricity” cylinder?

Colleague: No question, the ‘Customer-Centricity” cylinder goes inside of the “Revenue & Profits” cylinder. That’s the whole purpose of CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer -Centricity – to boost revenues, increase profit margins, and so boost profits. And to keep on doing this year after year.  Isn’t it?

Me: As a philosopher I say that purpose does not inhere in the things itself. Purpose is a human construction. And as such the speaker who speaks of purpose gets to say what the purpose is. And sure, pretty much everyone that has taken on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity has done so for the sake of ambition/greed: for revenue growth, raising profits margins usually by cutting the costs of serving customers, and for profits and profit growth.

Colleague: What’s wrong with that!

Me: Wrong is not found in the world.  Wrong is a human construct. It’s wrong if you say it’s wrong and get enough other folks to agree with you.  I’m not saying there is something wrong with it. I am saying that when we choose one course of action over another there are always consequences.

Colleague: I think you are saying that there is little that big companies have to show for the time-money-effort they have spent on CRM, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity because they have been squeezing “Customer-Centricity” inside of “Revenues & Profits”.  Is that what you are saying?

Me: That is exactly what I am saying!  Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Almost every big company has gone about it that way. The prime, unquestioned directive, is to make the numbers, and grow the numbers. The latest magical recipe is CRM, Customer Experience, or Customer-Centricity. So lets hire a bunch of consultants to fit these magical solutions into our organisation so that these solutions help us deliver on our sake of: sake of making the numbers, sake of “Revenues & Profits”. And this approach has generated that which it has generated: limited benefits, incremental improvements in cultivating genuine loyalty.

Colleague:  The alternative?  Squeezing/fitting “Revenue & Profits” inside of “Customer-Centricity”, how does that work?

Me: As members of the senior leadership team you show up & travel in a way that makes it clear to all that you, and the company, that you represent is there for the sake of enriching the lives of your chosen set of customers.

You can do that as Zappos does through it awesome customer service.  You can do it as Apple does by creating great (as in cool, high quality, unique) products for folks who are willing to pay a premium. You can do it as Amazon does – attractive prices, huge product range, ease/convenience of shopping, and next day delivery.

Amazon, in particular Jeff Bezos, sets a clear example.  You choose to be customer-centric, to build that long term customer loyalty, to play for the long term, and you take the hit to “Revenues & Profits” over the short and even medium term. And you tell your shareholders that this is what you are about.  If they don’t like it then they should sell their shares and move on to other enterprises.

Zappos is also an instructive example.  The leadership team of Zappos started out putting the “Customer Centricity” container within the “Revenues & Profits” container. At a critical point when the Zappos was on its last legs the leadership team had to make a choice: to continue providing a lousy customer experience or do the opposite.  And it looked like doing the opposite changing the operation model so that “Revenue & Profits” had to squeeze into / fit into “Customer-Centricity” would leave to ruin faster.  The choice they made? To make “Revenues & Profits” subservient to, and for the sake of “Customer-Centricity” as in delivering an awesome customer experience.  It so happened that this change worked out for Zappos. And there is no guarantee that another company in the same situation as Zappos taking the same course of action will generate the same result.  You have to be a particular kind of idiot to believe that taking the same course of action in a open/dynamic/non-linear/uncertain/unpredictable world will yield the same results as you got last time.

Colleague: But CEOs of big listed companies cannot do this. They have to make the numbers – that’s what the analysts want, that’s what the shareholders want.

Me: Which is why I say that big listed enterprises will continue to make incremental improvements at best when it comes to the customer experiences (as viewed through the eyes of the customers) and customer loyalty.  And the field for creating an awesome customer franchise belongs to outsiders – the Zappos, the Amazons, the Apple’s of the future.

 

 

Customer Experience: A Tale Of Two Service Providers – One Public, One Private

The Technology Exists to Transform the Customer Experience

In his latest post Don Peppers shares his experience of attending the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Given my recent experiences as a customer, the following words particularly resonate with me (bolding mine):

“At virtually every booth, at every significant exhibit, the message was about how to use each of these new technologies or product offerings to deliver a better customer experience. To interact faster or more efficiently with customers. To provide what customers need in a more effective manner. To deliver better, more reliable service, less expensively and more flexibly.

And this didn’t seem out of place to me at all, because the customer-experience revolution is being powered by technological change. It’s always been a good thing for businesses to be customer-oriented, but it’s only within the last twenty years or so that technology has made it economically possible to be customer-centric, at scale.”

I want to pick up this theme and illustrate it through two of my recent experiences. One with a public sector organisation (The Passport Office, UK) and Churchill (car, home, travel, life insurer).  Which one is making effective use of technology to transform the customer experience?

What Kind of A Customer Experience Does The Passport Office Enable-Deliver?

1. My Experience Fifteen Years Ago

The last time I put in an application to renew my passport was fifteen years ago: 1990.  I remember it being a painful process.  First, I made my way to the local Post Office branch. Then queue up for some 10 minutes, finally only to be told that the branch had run out of passport renewal forms. This meant getting into my car and travelling to the main Post Office branch in the town centre. This required a ten minute journey, the hassle of finding a car park, paying car park charges. Waiting even longer – something like 20 minutes – to get hold of the requisite form. Whilst I was in town, I took the opportunity to get passport photos made.

Once I had the paperwork and photos, I returned home. After I had completed the paperwork, I had to write a long declaration in tiny writing on the back of several photos (of me). Then I phoned my doctor’s surgery requesting my doctor to sign two of these photos to declare that they represented my likeness. I was told that the doctor would charge a fee of £40. So the next day I took the fee and the photos and left them with the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery. I was told that the photos would be available for collection in two days.

A week or so, I remembered the photos so I made my way back to the doctor’s surgery to pick up the photos. As the surgery was busy I had to wait something like five minutes to ask for the photos only to find that they had not been signed!  After another couple of days I got hold of the signed photos. Then I put all the material together, took it to the Post Office and sent it away ‘special delivery’. About four weeks later, I received my new passport.

2. My Experience This Time Around

I had been aware for months that my passport would run out in Feb2015. I also knew I needed a passport to travel – for work, with the family on holidays  . Yet, I could not get myself to start the renewal process – except for getting the passport photos made. Why?  The memory of the previous experience was fresh in my mind. I was totally convinced that it was going to be a long drawn out effort (hassle) to get my new passport.

One day I decided to take on the challenge. This time I did not go to the local Post Office branch. I opened up my laptop and typed “UK passport renewal online” into Google. To my delight, I shortly found myself on the http://www.gov.uk website presented with easy to understand wizard/directions. By following the online process, within four minutes I had filled in the requisite screens, selected various options, paid the fee through credit card, and printed out the requisite paperwork.

I checked over the paperwork. Then I attached two passport photos – this time I was not required to get the photos attested by my doctor. I added in my expired passport, sealed everything up in an envelope, and walked to the local Post Office branch. At the branch, I paid the requisite fee for ‘special delivery’. I experience ease and marvelled at how easy it had been this time around.

Just a week into the process, I got an automated message from The Passport Office telling me something like “Your passport is being printed right now. And will be with you in a couple of days.” I found myself surprised and delighted. Why?  The Passport Office had used technology to make the application process easy and quick. Now The Passport Office was using technology to keep me up to date with progress – just at the right moment, the moment my passport was being printed. Wow!  How clued in, how customer-centric, is The Passport Office.

The Passport Office went on to keep its promise. I received my new passport within the promised two days. It had taken a total of 8 working days to get a new passport office issued. And the most effort had involved going into the town centre and getting the photos taken.  A total contrast with fifteen years ago.

Now that is how to make good use of technology to get the customer from where he finds himself (current situation) to where he wishes to be (desired outcome) easily, quickly, intelligently. And cut out unnecessary costs – for both the customer and The Passport Office.  So I acknowledge and thank the folks that have thought things through and transformed the process of renewing a British passport through the smart use of digital technologies.  Great work! It is the kind of work that I’d be proud to do myself as a digital strategist and CX designer.

What Kind of a Customer Experience Does Churchill Deliver?

Recently, I had to contact Churchill to ask how many years of no claims my wife has. So I phoned Churchill and after a couple of minutes I found myself talking to a helpful call-centre agent. She gave me the answer.  Then I told her that I needed that in writing. She told me to wait whilst she triggered the necessary paperwork, and assured me that the no claims certificate would be with me in five days.

The no claims certificate did not arrive as promised. And my wife started pestering me as her car insurer was pestering her to provide it – else her insurance policy would be cancelled.

So I rang Churchill again. Another helpful call-centre agent took my call. I explained the situation and the importance of getting the no claims certificate asap. I requested that she email it to me. She told me that she was not in a position to do that. She did not have access to email. All she could do was request (in her system) for the certificate to be printed and mailed to me. That is not the answer I was looking for.   The end result was that I had to be patient and wait to receive the certificate in the post.

Has anything substantial changed in regards to customer’s post sales interaction with insurance companies?  I am tempted to say, little – at best.  Fifteen years ago, I called up insurers to get my post sales needs met. I did the same this year. Fifteen years ago I had to wait for five to ten days to get paperwork in the mail. This time, 2015, it is the same.

Why has Churchill not made effective use of digital technologies – to make things easier, to minimise the cycle time, to cut out unnecessary costs, to deliver a customer experience that leaves their customers grateful that they are doing business with Churchill?

The technology exists to create a online self-service portal. The technology exists to allow customers to make requests through this portal. The technology exists to take these requests and convert them to cases for call-centre agents to review-execute. The technology exists to cut-out call-centre agents out of simple processes and get simple requests actioned by the system itself. The technology exists, to create documents and send them out through email. The technology exists to keep customers informed – to track the progress of their requests…. Is Churchill using any of this technology?  No!  Why not?

Summing Up: Why The Customer Experience Sucks Most Of The Time For Most Organisations

I will allow Don Peppers (who, along with Martha Rogers, deserve the label thought leader) to sum up the situation at hand:

The technology part gets faster-better-cheaper every year, but this just throws into stark relief how difficult it really is, as a business, to take the customer’s point of view, and to organize yourself to deliver a superior customer experience, across the firm. The vast majority of companies have a great deal of difficulty with this task, even with all the digital technology now available.”

Why do the vast majority of companies have such great difficulty?  Don sums this up, beautifully:

“At its core, for a firm to improve its customer experience it must minimize the friction in the experience. It has to remove obstacles, eliminate problems, and streamline processes. But the overwhelming majority of companies just aren’t organized to do this. Instead, as a first priority, companies organize themselves to minimize the friction in their production process.” 

Of course this begs the question: Why aren’t the Tops who run these companies reorganising the way their companies work?  It occurs to me that if the caterpillar had the kind of intelligence that we have it is highly likely that s/he would think the idea of ‘butterfly’ was a great one. And when it came to taking action – to going through the transformation process – the caterpillar would choose to stay as a caterpillar. And take the easier route of adding one or more colours to its caterpillar body. Our gift of foresight-imagination is both a blessing and a curse.

I thank you for your listening. For my part, I am delighted to be in a position where I can share my speaking with you.  I look forward to listening to that which you share.

 

Why Do Tops Struggle With Customer Experience & Employee Engagement?

On Tops And Their Struggle With Customer Experience and Employee Engagement

Have you noticed that the folks who occupy the seats of power (‘Tops’) in organisational life struggle with ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Employee Engagement’? By that I am not pointing at the talk. Nor am I pointing at conceptual-intellectual understanding.  I am pointing at walking the path: ‘showing up and travelling in the world’ in a way that creates a context which calls forth the actions that cultivate meaningful relationships with customers and employees.

Why do Tops, in particular, struggle to embrace-embody that which it takes for an organisation to create-design-deliver the kind of experiences that call forth meaningful relationships with their customers, and their employees? In asking this question I wish to rule out the domains of psychology or morality. What interests me is structural factors: the underlying ‘structures’ that shape human behaviour pretty much irrespective of morality and personality.

What is your answer?  Hold that answer. Let’s first turn our attention to considerateness – the quality/state of being considerate.

What Is It To Be Considerate?

Language always leaves clues. So what does the English language suggest? Let’s take a look at the definition:

considerate

adjective

careful not to inconvenience or harm others.

“she was unfailingly kind and considerate”

Synonyms: attentivethoughtfulconcernedsolicitousmindfulheedfulobliging,

accommodatinghelpfulcooperativepatient,

kindkindlydecent,unselfishcompassionatesympatheticcaringcharitablealtruistic,

generouspolitesensitiveciviltactful

 

If you haven’t done so then I urge to look up each of the synonyms to get a rounded feel for the phenomena under discussion. Notice, what we are talking about here is a genuine concern for the wellbeing of others – our fellow human beings.  A working alongside-with others as opposed to over-against others.  Cooperation and accommodation and not domination or indifference.  What is the basis of considerateness? Is it not fellow-feeling? That you are human just like me and are worth of the same kind of consideration that I ask for, demand, for myself?

Considerateness: The Glue Of Long Term Relationships?

It occurs to me that the way of showing up and travelling in the world that we have named considerate is the access to cultivating relationships. And, importantly,  keeping these relationships in existence over the long-term. It also occurs to me that this way of being-in-the-world is central to human centred design. And that includes experience design: Customer Experience, and Employee Experience.

Now back to the Tops. If you are a Top then what kind of situation do you automatically find yourself in?  Let’s ask this question differently:  What is the privilege that goes with being at the top, a Top?  Is it not that as a Top you fully expect others to be considerate to you and your needs? Others that surround you and serve you show up and travel in a manner that is considerate of your status-needs-wishes-preferences. Is it not true that you are accustomed to be treated with considerateness by just about everybody that you encounter?

As a Top how do you treat others? Is it not that the default way of showing up and  travelling in the world, as a Top, is that of inconsiderateness towards others:

inconsiderate

adjective


thoughtlessly causing hurt or inconvenience to others.
“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”

“it’s inconsiderate of her to go away without telling us”

What I’m pointing out here is structural-situational factor. One that calls forth a certain mode of being in the world. In no way am I making a moral-value judgement. Nor am I making reference to psychology or personality types. What happens when you are a Top for long enough? You lose touch with the anyone, the everyman.  So your ability to listen to and respond with considerateness to the needs of others withers  – even if it was there to start with. Yet this very considerateness is essential to being attuned to the needs-wishes-preferences of customers and employees. And responded sensitively and on a timely basis so as to generate gratitude, engagement, and loyalty.

Special Treatment: Words Of Wisdom From James A. Autry:

I wish to end this conversation by sharing words of wisdom with you

I think I started maturing as a manager when I discovered that one of the oldest principles of organisational management was hogwash. That principle is stated in many ways, but the military guys used to put it best: “Nobody gets special treatment around here.” …. In the military, they might also say, “If we do this for you, Lieutenant Autry, we’ll have to do it for everyone.” I used to want to say, “No, sir, you could do it just for me.”

What I realise now is that the professed aversion to special treatment was all delusion anyway; people in every organisation ….. get special treatment all the time…… much of it has tilted towards “in” groups…. that kind of “special treatment” is favouritism and discrimination.

But there’s another kind of special treatment …… a manager’s willingness to bend the rules to accommodate every person’s specialness…. Some people do good work but are slow; some do fast work but are sloppy. Some are morning people; some do better in the afternoon. Some have children that cause schedule problems; some have elderly parents. Some need a lot of attention and affirmation; some want to be left alone to do their work. Some respond more to money, less to praise; some thrive on praise…… some are very bright; some are slow….. Some are men; some are women.

Who in the world could believe that all those special needs could be accommodated without special treatment? But it takes a lot of management courage to provide that special treatment…..

I’ve made exceptions to corporate rules to help get an employee’s family through the nightmare of overwhelming financial and emotional distress. I’ve made similar exceptions for employees needing assistance to recover from substance abuse…..

The road of special treatment is not without peril, and it makes day-to-day management much trickier and more time consuming. You must consider the impact on the group, the legal risks, and the questions of equity and justice, in addition to the record and commitment of the person involved. Then if at all possible, decide in favour of special treatment…….

When someone complains, just say, “Everyone gets special treatment around here.”

– James Autry, Love and Profit, The Art of Caring Leadership

I leave you to ponder considerateness and special treatment. It occurs to me that they are intertwined: being considerate involves providing special treatment when special treatment is called for – by the customer, by the employee.  What gets in the way of being considerate and providing special treatment? It makes the life of those in management harder. And ultimately, once you get beyond the rhetoric, the organisation is designed so as to be considerate to the needs of the Tops – not customers, not employees.

How To Cause Customer-Centricity By Shaping The Work Context (Part 2 of 3)

Recap: Where We Are At

If you took part in the previous conversation you will have a good grasp of the work context that led to the receptionists running to-fro from the front desks to the problem rooms, seeking to keep rooms in reserve so that they were in a position to placate angry customers by moving them to a different-better room, and using their newly acquired guest engagement skills to negotiate with customers – offering them refunds, room rate reductions and/or vouchers.

What Is The Core Challenge Here?

So I ask you what needs to happen for InterLodge to generate its desired outcomes: higher occupancy rates, higher price points per room, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and ultimately a higher share price?  Let’s make this question simpler, what is the challenge here?  Have a go, formulate an answer to that question.

Isn’t the challenge to shift the work context so that it calls forth, naturally and by default, the kind of behaviour that will result in guest rooms being fit for guests, leading to happy customers, leading to less rooms being kept aside by receptionists and no need for the receptionists to offer discounts-refunds on the room rates?

Now look further-deeper, go into the heart of the matter. Venture into territory that few venture into: think!  Keep peeling the onion.

What is the core challenge when it comes to doing that which needs to be done in order to craft-deliver the kind of customer experience (end to end) that causes happy customers?  Isn’t it cooperation? Cooperation between all the organisational actors who directly-indirectly influence the customer experience. Is it not your experience that the bigger the organisation, the higher the importance of cooperation, and the lower the likelihood of finding genuine cooperation?

What Steps Did InterLodge Take To Shift-Shape The Work Context?

According to the authors of the Six Simple Rules, InterLodge took the following three steps:

  1. Did away with the organisational elements that were useless and/or counterproductive.  For example, they did away with the financial incentives which were supposed to motivate the receptionists to improve room occupancy. And they stopped the soft skills “guest engagement” training program.

  2. Made managerial promotion dependent on having worked in multiple functions. Why? To encourage and ensure that managers had a lived-experiential understanding of the work of each function and how it related to the work of other functions.

  3. Changed the work context so that cooperation was called forth between Housekeeping, Maintenance and the Front Desk (receptionists).

Let’s dive into point 3 shifting the work context to cause cooperation as the default behaviour. Imagine that is your challenge.  What specific action/s would you take to shift the work context and call forth cooperation between Housekeeping, Maintenance, and the Front Desk (receptionists)?

What Actions Did InterLodge Take To Generate Cooperation Between The Multiple Actors?

Before I share the answer with you, I invite you to listen to the authors of Six Simple Rules:

Their [receptionists] work put them in the closest contact with customers, and they were the most directly penalised when customers were unhappy. They had an interest in cooperation but had not way to influence the behaviour of other groups – specifically, the housekeeping and maintenance staff.

So the clue is there: find a way to directly expose the housekeepers and maintenance staff to the wrath of unhappy customer/s.  Did management pursue this option?  No. Why? Because the did not find a practical way to expose these folks to the wrath of the customer. The customer was most likely to be angry in the evening when s/her checked into or returned to her room. And this is exactly when the housekeepers and maintenance were not at work.

What did InterLodge do?  Management give the receptionists a say in the performance evaluation of the folks in housekeeping and maintenance.  Did it work? Yes. Why? Because the Receptionists had a say and their say mattered. This is how the authors put it (bolding is my work):

In the past, it had always been enough for these employees [housekeeping, maintenance] to fulfill the criteria and meet the targets of their individual function. Now, people in the the two back office functions were also being evaluated on how effectively they cooperated with each other and with the receptionists, and it was the opinion of the receptionists themselves that carried special weight…. After all, their careers and the possibility of promotion were on the line

Was it as simple as that. Not quite, this change had to work in conjunction with the other big change:

When this change in how personnel in back-office functions were evaluated was combined with the new cross-functional rotation of managers (which gave managers more of an appreciation for the interdependencies among the various functions), the nature of work changed rapidly at the hotel.

How exactly did the nature of the work change?  By this expression the authors are pointing out, in particular, how the way the folks in housekeeping and maintenance ‘showed up and travelled’. Let’s listen once more to the authors:

The housekeepers checked the equipment in the rooms when they cleaned and let the maintenance groups know immediately when something needed attention. What’s more, the two back office functions were a lot more responsive when someone from reception would call asking for help to resolve a customer problem.

What Results Showed Up At InterLodge?

According to the authors:

… InterLodge hotel business unit’s gross margin increased by 20 percent within eighteen months. The rapid improvement in margins allowed the company to … nearly triple it [stock price] in just two years.

If you want to understand the logic behind this then I recommend buying-reading the Six Simple Rules.

What Is The Core Insight-Lesson For Those Working On Customer Experience And Customer-Centricity?

The core insight-lesson is spelt out rather pithily and it is one with which I am in full agreement.  The lesson is so obvious and yet neglected.  Why? Because it involves taking the “road less travelled”. What is this central insight-lesson:

To achieve customer-centricity make the organisation listen to those who listen to customers. Changing interaction patterns among functions is much more powerful than creating a dedicated customer-centricity function.

There you have it.  The challenge of customer-centricity is that of disrupting, shifting, and shaping interaction patters so that transformed work context calls forth the requisite degree of co-operation from-across-amongst all organisational actors which directly and/or indirectly affect the customer experience. And the authors have shared how this was done at InterLodge. And they give other examples in their book, which is well worth reading.

Enough for today. In the next and last part of this conversation I will lay out for you (and comment upon) the sociological theory behind tools for shaping the work context. And why it is that the standard-commonplace approaches (hard, soft, hard+soft) to organisational change and customer-centricity do not work. Like they did not work for InterLodge.

Thanks for listening, I hope you got value out of the conversation.

 

 

 

 

George Orwell’s Insights Into Customer Service, Customer Experience, and Customer-Centricity

What Is The Weak Point Of Many Organisations?

In a few days I had grasped the main principles on which the hotel was run …….

What keeps a hotel going is the fact that the employees take a genuine pride in their work, beastly and silly though it is. If a man idles, the others soon find him out, and conspire against him to get him sacked…… everyone in the hotel had his sense of honour, and when the press of work came we were all ready for a grand concerted effort to get through it….

This is the good side of hotel work. In a hotel a huge and complicated machine is kept running by an inadequate staff, because every man has a well defined job and does it scrupulously. But there is a weak point, and it is this – that the job the staff are doing is not necessarily what the customer pays for. The customer pays, as he sees it, for good service; the employee is paid, as he sees it, for the boulot – meaning, as a rule, an imitation of good service. The result is that, though hotels are miracles of punctuality, they are worse than the worst private houses in the things that matter.

Take cleanliness for example. The dirt in the Hotel X, as soon as it penetrated into the service quarters, was revolting ….. the bread-bin was infested with cockroaches….. The others laughed when I wanted to wash my hands before touching the butter. Yet we were clean where we recognised cleanliness as part of the boulot. We scrubbed the tables and polished the brass work regularly, because we had orders to do that; but we had no orders to be genuinely clean, and in any case had no time for it. We were simply carrying out our duties; and our first duty was punctuality, we saved time by being dirty.

In the kitchen the dirt was worse….. he [French cook] is an artist, but his art is not cleanliness..… When a steak is brought up for the head cook’s inspection, he does not handle it with a fork. He picks it up in his fingers and slaps it down, runs his thumbs round the dish and licks it to taste the gravy, runs it round and licks it again, then steps back and contemplates the piece of meat like an artist …. then presses it lovingly into place with is fat, pink fingers, every one of which he has licked a hundred times that morning…..

Dirtiness is inherent in hotels and restaurants, because sound food is sacrificed to punctuality and smartness. The hotel employee is too busy getting food ready to remember that it is meant to be eaten. A meal is simply ‘une commande’ to him, just as a man dying of cancer is simply ‘a case’ to the doctor. A customer orders ….. a piece of toast. Somebody pressed with work in a cellar deep underground, has to prepare it. How can he stop and say to himself, ‘This toast is to be eaten – I must make it eatable’? All he knows is that it must look right and must be ready in three minutes. Some large drops of sweat fall from his forehead onto the toast. Why should he worry? Presently the toast falls among the filthy sawdust on the floor. Why trouble to make a new piece? It is much quicker to wipe the sawdust off… And so it was with everything…..

Apart from the dirt, the patron swindled the customers wholeheartedly. For the most part the materials of the food were very bad, through the cooks knew how to serve it up in style. The meat was at best ordinary, and as to the vegetables, no good housekeeper would have looked at them in the market …… The tea and coffee were of inferior sorts, and the jam was synthetic stuff out of vast unlabelled tins ……. There was a rule that employees must pay for anything they spoiled, and in consequence damaged things were seldom thrown away. Once the waiter on the third floor dropped a roast chicken down the shaft of our service lift, where it fell into a litter of broken bread, torn paper and so forth to the bottom. We simply wiped it with a cloth and sent it up again. Upstairs there were dirty tales of once-used sheets not being washed, but simply damped, ironed and put back on the beds. The patron was as mean to us as to the customers ….. And the staff lavatory was worthy of Central Asia, and there was no place to wash one’s hands, except sinks used for washing crockery.

In spite of all this the Hotel X was one of the dozen most expensive hotels in Paris, and the customer paid startling prices. The ordinary charge for a night’s lodging, not including breakfast, was two hundred francs …. If a customer had a title, or was reputed to be a millionaire, all his charges went up automatically…..

George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

What is that the astute change agent can learn here?

I don’t know. Here is my take on the matter of leadership and organisational change – including shifting organisations to be more responsive and aligned to customer needs:

The context is decisive

– Werner Erhard

The underlying structure of anything determines its behaviour

– Robert Fritz

I urge those of you who strive to be effective in effecting change need to master and obey these insights. Most of us don’t – even if we get these distinctions we don’t have the time, the energy, the resources, or the passion to do that which is necessary. Which explains why it is that most organisational change efforts yield disappointing harvests.  And why most ‘customer-centric’ change efforts fail to yield an organisation that shows up as customer-centric.  Perhaps genuine customer-centricity is unnecessary – maybe it is a matter of faking it like the patron and employees of the Hotel X were faking it.  Perhaps not – today just about everyone has digital media and access to social media. You decide.

I dedicate this post to James Lawther who reached out to me when reaching out occurred as a most welcome kindness.  James called me back to the conversation that occurs in this blog.

Is It Unrealistic To Demand-Expect Integrity From Human Systems?

Does The Concept Of Integrity Apply Only To Non-Human Systems?

This post continues the conversation (blog and comments) that started with the following blog post: Revisiting Integrity: Why Do All Human Systems Lack Integrity?

To summarise, I say that integrity in the sense  of whole and complete (unity between word and action, between the ‘parts’ and the whole) is essential to workability and performance of all systems including human systems.  If you want to get a sufficient understanding of Integrity as I am speaking it then it is essential to read this post: Integrity, Leadership, Communication and Performance – The Most valuable Post You Will Read This Year?

Max J. Pucher disagrees. He says that ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation and does not apply to human systems:

“Maz, I propose that it is not allowable to use a physical system concept of integrity (whole-complete) for human systems. Physical systems such as a car have a well-defined function/output and therefore integrity is defined to perform as designed. Human systems have no such function and the output is purely based in individual perception. Therefore ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation from a single human perspective and will most likely not agree with many others….”

As I promised Max, I have been thinking about his assertion. And now I share with you what showed up for me.  I find that Max’s view is commonplace, I came across it just today.  And I find myself in disagreement.  Allow me to share with you that which shows up for me as I get to grips with the coal face of human existence.

What Does The World Of Aviation Disclose Regarding The Integrity of Human Systems?

Let’s consider NASA’s shuttle program.  Yes, this program involves amazing technology-equipment. Who produces this technology? Who configures it? Who works it?  Who addresses issues with it?  Human beings.  OK, the equipment is ready, in place.  Is that all it takes to take a number of human beings, put them in space, keep them there, and then bring them safely back home?  No!  It requires a large number of people, in different roles, of different temperaments, of different genders, of different ages to work together as one.  What do I mean by one?  I mean integrity as in being ‘whole-complete’ at the level of the system they constitute. Which is why there has only been one disaster to date.

Why did this disaster occur?  Because the integrity (wholeness-completeness) of the system was compromised.  Some ‘parts’  (people) did know of the issue and the associated risk.  Some ‘parts’  (people) escalated the known issue. Other powerful-dominating ‘parts’ of the system choose to ignore the voices-concerns of these ‘parts’. And, they also choose not to care for the needs of other ‘parts’ (astronauts) to return safely to Earth.

This is my point. Where there has been a focus and commitment to integrity (wholeness-completeness of the system) the shuttles have launched and returned safely.  When integrity was sacrificed, disaster struck, the astronauts died.

Now consider the world of air travel.  Don’t the passengers count on the integrity of the system?  Don’t they count on people to make sure that the airplanes are safe to fly?  Don’t they count on people to ensure that the airplanes have the right fuel – type and quantity? Don’t they count on the pilots to be competent and fit to fly the plane? Now look behind the scenes, what else has to be in place?  How about the air traffic controllers – on both sides of the trip? You get the idea: all of these ‘parts’ have to work together for air travel to exist as it does. And the system works. It is rare for the system not to work, for a crash to occur. And when it does, an investigation occurs, lessons are learned, sanctions applied where necessary, new operating policies and practices put in place.

Notice, that the pilot of an airliner that crashed and killed passengers would not get away with pleading “Your honour, I am only a human being. You can’t expect me to follow the rules, each and every flight, regarding how much I drink before boarding the plane and taking the helm.”  No, if he was found guilt of breaking the rules, he would go to jail.   Notice, no party that is essential to the game of ‘safe air travel’ would get away with shirking its role and responsibility. Why?  It is simply not acceptable to compromise the integrity of the system.  And if there are ‘flaws’ in human beings, in themselves, then the designers of the system are charged with coming up with the means to address the ‘flaws’ through checklists, equipment, technology….

Why Does The Lack Of Integrity In Human Systems Persist?

Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we do not get the impact of the loss of integrity on the workability and performance of a system.  And I find myself to be in agreement.

Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we misunderstand integrity. We make integrity to be ALL about morality: right and wrong according to the moral norms of the group/s we find ourselves living amongst.  And in so doing, we are not present to integrity as the fundamental basis of workability and performance: integrity as a state/condition of a system – state of being whole-complete, a unity. I find myself in agreement.

It occurs to me that there is an even bigger-deeper, more fundamental, cause for this lack of integrity in human systems.  What is this cause?  Max provides a clue when he says it is not allowable to use the concept of integrity (as the condition of wholeness-completeness) for human systems. It occurs to me that when it comes to integrity and human systems, we accept and are comfortable with defeat before we even start.  What do I mean?  Allow me to share an extract from another blog post ‘The Myth of Scarcity: That’s Just The Way It Is’:

“That’s just the way it is is just another myth, but it’s probably the one with the most grip, because you can always make a case for it. When something has always been a certain way,  and traditions, assumptions, or habits make it resistant to change then it seems logical …. that the way it is is the way it will stay. This is when the blindness, the numbness, the trance, and, underneath it all, the resignation of scarcity sets in. Resignation makes us feel hopeless, helpless, and cynical. Resignation also keeps us in line…….

That’s just the way it is justifies the greed, the prejudice and inaction that scarcity fosters in our relationship with money and the rest of the human race…”

– Lynne Twist

What Does It Take To Call Forth Integrity From Human Systems?

If we are the ones that defeat ourselves when it comes to calling forth integrity from human systems, then the answer to this question lies in us: specifically, in our collective way of being/showing-up in the world.  Let’s listen to the wise words of Lynne Twist once more:

We have to be willing to let go of that’s just the way it is, even if just for a moment, to consider the possibility that there isn’t away it is or a way it isn’t. There’s the way we choose to act and what we choose to make or our circumstance.”

– Lynne Twist

Consider air travel. Would there be any air travel if all of us had simply accepted that man is not meant to fly on the basis that if he was meant to fly then he would have been given wings.  Everything starts with one or more of us being called forth and stepping into a possibility.  The possibility of integrity in human systems is a real one.  Will you and I embrace and embody that possibility?  Will your team embrace-embody that possibility?  Will your organisation embrace-embody that possibility?

Why Pay Any Attention To The Integrity of Systems: Human, Mechanical and Hybrid?

I invite you to consider that your customers are painfully aware of where your organisation is not in a state of integrity. Why? Because customers experience the effects of this lack of integrity: promises made in marketing-sales but not kept by the product itself; being passed around from one person to another, one team to another, and having to go through the same dance all over again; promises made by one part of the organisation and not honoured by the others part/s…. I say that if you want to play the joined up game of Customer Experience then you have to work on the integrity of the ‘system’ – the whole organisation including all the key partners whose performance impacts the end customer and shapes her experience.

Finally, I invite you to not kid yourself. You cannot claim to be 90% pregnant and get away with it. Why not? Because you either are pregnant or you are not pregnant.  The same is the case for integrity: either the system in question (e.g. the organisation) is in a state of integrity or it is not.

Revisiting Integrity: Why Do All Human Systems Lack Integrity?

Setting the context for this conversation

In an earlier post, I wrote:

When you take a look at the system that generates outcomes you will find that all human systems lack integrity; at the level of the person, the family, the organisation, the community, the nation and even the world what there is is the lack of integrity.

James Lawther upon reading the post commented:

Sorry Maz, I don’t understand. Why do all human systems lack integrity?

In this post, I honour the promise I made: to think on the matter and share that which has showed up for me. Before we start I am compelled to warn you that this is a long conversation and you will only get value out of it if you really are interested in grappling with the question of integrity.  Let’s start.

First, let’s be clear on ‘integrity’

In order to speak about and grapple with the phenomena of integrity it is essential to be clear on what it is that I am pointing at when I speak ‘integrity’. When I speak ‘integrity’ I am not talking about ‘integrity as morality’: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles/practices.  So what is this conversation about?

It is about integrity as the condition/state of being whole, complete, cohesive, unified’. Let’s be clear on this:

  • If I promise ‘To come over to your house and smash your car with sledgehammer” and I turn up at your house and do exactly that then  my actions are in a state of integrity with my words;

  • If you gathered together all the parts that constitute a car and throw them together without ensuring that they interconnect with one another and are in tune with one another then the car is not in a state of integrity – it may work yet it is highly unlikely that the car will generate high performance, it is highly likely that it will fail far short of the ‘ultimate driving machine’.

Second, let’s consider the phenomena

Now look into your lived experience devoid of theory-opinion-dogma and ask yourself if the individual human being shows up as being in a state of integrity?  What about the family – is there a state of integrity operative at the level of family?  The organisation – is there a state of integrity operative here? The community? The nation?

Is there a state of wholeness-completeness at the level of the individual human being? Sure? Ask yourself if the values you profess are the values that you embody-live?  What about the family, is there wholeness there?  Ask yourself how many families work well? In how many families is there respect, consideration, love and communication?  How many families are happy families?  At the organisational level ask yourself how well management and the workers work together?  How about the interplay between the front office and the back office?  What about the fit between the talk (espoused values) and that which is in play on a day to day basis (lived values)?

If after this you are still convinced that integrity (whole-complete-unified) is the default condition then take a look at the education system, the healthcare system, the financial system, the legal system, the political system.  How well are these working in your country?

Having so looked at the phenomena – ‘that which is as it is and is not’ – I am clear that the default condition of ALL human systems is a lack of integrity.  If you disagree then I ask you to consider

What is the explanation for the pervasive lack of integrity in human systems?

Let me say that I do not have the one answer to this question.  And that which I share here is simply my thinking on what may be the threads of an explanation.

1. Design of the human-being at the level of the system

It occurs to me that at the level of the design of the system that we call ‘human being’ there is a lack of integrity.  Rather than there being one unified self it appears that there are a multiplicity of competing selves.  Do you find yourself doubting my assertion?

Look at the phenomena. What do you see?  Do you see that there is a self that is keen to be slim. And there is the self that loves all the ‘wrong foods’ from a ‘being slim’ perspective.  What about the  self that wishes to be athletic and gets the value of exercising. And then there is the self that is addicted to being comfortable, sat on the sofa watching tv for hours.  Is there not a self that yearns to speak its truth. And then there is the self that ensures that only that which is politically acceptable is spoken…..

Yet this is not an excuse and not the whole picture. After all we are not designed to fly and yet do so safely, through the inventions and practices of aviation. So let’s continue the exploration and ask ourselves why it is that we have not put in place practices that call forth integrity.

2. Not being present to the importance of integrity and the impact of being out of integrity

“Our way of being and our actions are a correlate of the way in which the circumstances we are dealing with occur (show up) for us”.

– Werner Erhard

Do you/i/we truly get (at the experiential level not the cognitive level) the value of operating in a state of integrity and the impact of lapses in integrity?  It occurs to me that the answer for most of us – as expressed through our living – is that we are blind to the true impact of violations of integrity. This became clear to me on a driving awareness course.

All of us on this course were on the course because we had been caught breaking the speed limit.  Did any of us feel guilty?  No. Why? For my part, I found myself feeling sorry for myself and blaming the police for focussing on folks like me rather than the proper villains. Why? Because I had been only doing 36mph in a 30mph zone: “What’s the big deal! What difference does 6mph make?”  

The turning point came when I learned the impact of that extra 6mph. That 6mph is the difference between life and death. Turns out even an extra 3mph is the difference between a pedestrian walking away relatively unharmed and spending the rest of his life badly damaged.  To bring the point home, in the only way it can home, we were shown a film showing the human impact of speeding. This had such an impact on me that I left this course with the commitment to drive safely and that is what I do. If I catch myself exceeding the speed limit, guilt is present, and the presence of this guilt is enough to get me mindful and respectful of the speed limit.

We assume that it makes no difference if we turn up five minutes late for a meeting. Yet it does.  We assume it makes no difference if we tell ‘little lies’ to customers. Yet it does. We assume that it makes no difference if we push employees around and take advantage of their weakened position to get more out of them. Yet it does. We assume that it makes no difference if we push around our suppliers and squeeze them to drive up our bottom line. Yet it does make a difference.

3. Lack of willingness to put in place mechanisms and listen to feedback that points out a lack of integrity

It starts in the family.  The child points out of the lack of integrity between what the parent is preaching and what the parent is embodying-living.  One response is “Do as I say not as I do”.  Another kind of response is a slap on the face or some kind of punishment like that.  The third kind is to ignore the child, to pretend that you have not heard anything, and continue as before.  In all three cases the child learns the message. Be quiet, don’t rock the boat, don’t upset the authority figures.  And so the child muddles through as best as s/he can.

Put bluntly there is an unspoken agreement not to ‘speak truth to power’.    Breaking this agreement is no easy matter and as such only a few brave souls do so.  When you break the unspoken agreement not to threaten the status and power of those in power then you put yourself in a vulnerable position. The powerful and their allies turn their guns on you and target your livelihood, your reputation, your social status, your freedom and even your life.  

There is an excellent example of this unwillingness to listen to feedback and the consequences for those who speak ‘truth to power’ pointing out the lack of integrity of the system.  Listen to this piece on the NHS:

The NHS will “go bust” without radical change to drive up standards and rid hospitals of a “toxic” bullying culture that damages patient care, the head of its official regulator has warned.

David Prior, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), says the safety of the most vulnerable patients is being jeopardised by a “dysfunctional” rift between NHS managers and clinical staff…..

He discloses that one in four staff have reported bullying, harassment or abuse from colleagues and managers, while whistleblowers are ostracised……

Mr Prior highlights the treatment of whistleblowers, saying the NHS is failing to listen to those who challenge poor care and champion the rights of patients. He says those who try to speak out are too often “ostracised” by their colleagues and managers.

He writes: “Too often, it delights in the ritual humiliation of those deemed to fail, tolerates and institutionalises outdated working practices and old-fashioned hierarchies and can almost encourage “managers” and “clinicians” to occupy opposing camps…..

Soon after Mr Prior took up his post as CQC chairman last year, the regulator’s previous management was accused of a “cover-up” and failing to properly investigate hospital scandals because it was too close to the last Labour government…..

Perhaps most crucially, we need to change the culture.”

Even when there is no power to speak truth to, we do not speak truth: we don’t call people on their lack of integrity. Why not?  There is another unspoken agreement: “You don’t call me on mine, and I won’t call you on yours!”.  We are socialized into this early on with instructions to mind our own business and not to poke our nose into the affairs of others.  Furthermore, from an early age we are actively pushed to tell people what they want to hear and/or what will ‘save face’.  This becomes so much a part of us and our way of showing up in the world that we don’t even notice how much of social life, in all its favours, is based on this way of showing up.

4. The powerful ensure that they are immune from the impact of systems that lack integrity

As I reflect on the impact of systems that lack integrity I am struck by what is so: the powerful almost always profit and worst walk away unscathed and the powerless are struck with the impact-costs-wound arising from the lack of integrity. 

Who suffers most from the impact of poor teaching and poor schools?  The powerless – the children. Who has suffered most from the lack of integrity (through and through) in the NHS?  The powerless, the vulnerable – the patients.  Who has suffered as a lack of integrity in the world of finance?  The powerless – those who have the lowest incomes and the least politics clout.  Who is most likely to suffer from our way of living and the impact on the world that is our home?  The powerless – the unborn, the future generations.

Summing up

It occurs to me that all human systems exhibit a lack of integrity. And that the reason that this lack of integrity continues to persist is because we have not put in place cultural practices to call forth integrity and keep it in existence: detecting lapses in integrity and correcting course promptly to put the system back into a state of integrity.

Why haven’t we put these cultural practices into place?  It occurs to me that despite the lack of integrity in human systems we have successfully muddled through. In so muddling through, most of us do OK, and the powerful do great most of the time. Look at the business world: despite all the scaremongering (by those who hope to profit by selling their products-services) most organisations have muddled through all the ‘challenges and dangers’: they are doing OK.  Look at the banking crisis: we have muddled through. Look at the Euro crisis: we have muddled through.  Every time we muddle through we reinforce our addiction to muddling through.  Look under the hood of ‘business transformation’ and most and on on most occasions you will find plain old fashioned incremental change.

We do not put integrity into our way of being-showing up in the world because like thinking, genuine thinking, it is hard work. More importantly it is hard work that never ends. Why? Because integrity is always flowing out and so we have to be always putting it back in.  Then there are people like Jobs who set out to make a dent in the universe and accept nothing less. Or people like Gandhi who set out to set India free and accept nothing less. Or people like Mandela……