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

Where does reasonableness tend to lead to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally

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

The wisest words you will ever read on leadership and organisational change?

Making the transition to customer-centricity involves ‘change’

Once the euphoria of being a customer-centric organisation has worn off you have to get to grips with reality: today your organisation is neither designed for nor led nor managed for customer-centricity.  How do you make that transition? If you think conventionally then you will think about change and change management.  And when you are there, you will fall for the spells of change management consultants.

They will pander to your needs and beliefs: they will tell you that with their particularly methodology / tool set you can orchestrate and manage (control) change in your organisation.  Look underneath the hood and their change methodology / tool set is likely to be some variant of the Kubler-Ross grief cycle.  Look deeper into your ‘change management’ consultants and your likely to find that these folks have never held positions of authority nor led any real world organisational change.  The lack the lived experience of what organisational change involves, how it is handled, how it tends to turn out.

I have been involved in organisational change for over 20 years – starting with being ‘parachuted in’ to take charge of a failing motor dealership.  I assert that if you take the traditional ‘change management’ approach then you have built struggle, hardship, resistance and ultimately failure into your change journey.  Before you go down that route I simply wish to share with you some of the wisest words I have ever read on organisational change.  The hallmark of wisdom is that it tends to come out of lived experience and often has a paradoxical aspect to it.  Why?  Because human life is like that: it is not neat and ordered (as in the management textbooks), it is messy, it is paradoxical.  I don’t want you to take my word on that matter, I simply wish to share with you some of the wisest words I have come across on the subject of leadership and organisational change.

Wise words on leadership & organisational change?

“Examining what went wrong at Buffalo altered forever the way I think about change.  Martin Meyerson had the first thing that every effective leader needs – a powerful vision of the way that the organisation should be, a vision he was able to communicate to me and many of his other recruits. But unless a vision is sustained by action, it quickly turns to ashes.

In ways that only later became clear, we undermined the very thing we wanted the most. Our actions and even our style tended to alienate the people who would be most affected by the changes we proposed.  Failing to appreciate the importance to the organisation of the people who are already in it is a classic management mistake, one that new managers and change oriented administrators are especially prone to make……..we acted as if the organisation hadn’t existed until the day we arrived.

There are no clean slates in established organisations.  A new administration cannot play Noah and build the world anew ………… Talk of new beginnings is so much rhetoric – frightening rhetoric to those who suspect that the new signals the end of their careers.  At Buffalo we newcomers disregarded history. But without history, without continuity, there can be no successful change.  A.N. Whitehead said it best: “Every leader, to be effective, must simultaneously adhere to the symbols of change and revision and the symbols of tradition and stability.”

What most of us in organisations really want (and what status, money, and power serve as a currency for) is acceptance, affection, self-esteem.  Institutions are more amenable to change when the self esteem of all members is preserved and enhanced.  Whatever people say, given economic sufficiency, they stay in organisations and feel satisfied in them because they feel competent and valuedChange carries the threat of loss.  When managers remove that threat, people are much freer to identify with the adaptive process and much better equipped to tolerate the high degree of ambiguity that accompanies change.

When I think of Buffalo, I think of that joke “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is “One, but the light bulb really has to want to change.”  Organisations change themselves when members want to.  You can’t force them to change, even in a Batman cape.”

Warren Bennis writes these words in his book An Invented Life, Reflections on Leadership and Change.  The book really speaks to me and I am enjoying reading it.  If you are in a leadership position and involved in organisational change then I recommend it – it is more a biography than an academic tome that sends you to sleep.  Better still it is based on real life experience – lived experience, rather than theory cooked up in sterile academic towers.

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