Beyond The Nonsense of Employee Engagement: What Truly Calls Forth ‘Engagement’ and Generates High Performance?

What Occurred Over The Last Week

It occurs to me that I have not been well for at least a week.  Almost every night for at least the seven days my sleep has been fitful and I have been luck when I have been able to get 3 – 4 hours of interrupted sleep. Some nights I have slept downstairs so as not to disturb my wife.

I ate one light meal on Monday. I ate one light meal on Tuesday. I ate one normal meal on Wednesday as I was really hungry. Shortly thereafter I found myself in the bathroom throwing up. I ate a light meal on Thursday. And I ate nothing on Friday lunchtime even though I was hungry and my two colleagues did their very best to persuade me to eat something!

In amidst all of this: I turned up at client sites to join my colleagues and do the work that was necessary; accepted the responsibility for generating the structure and writing most of the final presentation deck (40+slides); worked at least 8 hours  a day whilst often in pain or just uncomfortable; and sat amongst my colleagues on Friday whilst the three of us finalised and delivered the final presentation to our client.  Once it was all finished, I told one of my colleagues that I was looking forward to going home, eating something, and resting.

Why did I not chose the easier option of just calling in sick?  In fact, my wife seeing my state encouraged me to take care of my health: phone in sick, visit the doctor, rest-recover and then get back to work.

Please notice that nobody had to devise mechanisms (rewards and punishments) or engage in propaganda (empty misleading talk in tune with most marketing communications) to get me motivated and engaged.  I did not do what I did because of fear of punishment. I did not do what I did because of money – bonus. I did not do what I did because someone was call me onto the stage and say great words about me and hand me trinkets.

Why Did I Do What I Did?

I did what I did because it was never an option to let my friend and team leader (Richard Hornby) down!  I knew that there is nobody else (with the appropriate skills) available to take over that work that is my domain – except for Richard. And I knew that Richard was already overstretched due to working on multiple engagements. I did what I did out of love:

“What we will do for love will always be far more powerful than what we will do for money. What we can do together will always be far greater than what we can do alone.”  Pavithra Mehta

Money, no amount of money, can buy genuine care-love-meaning-community. And that is what most, or at least many, of us yearn for, live for, and ultimately allows us to face death.  Interestingly, what Richard, Matthew and I were able to do together, and indeed did together as one team, was more than what each of us did alone.  This became clear when we put our presentation together from our individual pieces, and took what did not work and reworked it (by contributing, listening, debating, building on one another’s insights-contributions) and ended up with a great presentation: a sentiment share by us and our client.

Please notice that I did not need anybody to preach to me on the value of social, or collaboration. Nor did I need people to provide me with social/collaboration tools.  Indeed, I did not use any.  Email and the phone were sufficient to keep in touch with my colleagues and do that which was necessary.

The Poverty of The Workplace

It occurs to me that the workplace is a place of poverty.  What kind of poverty?  A poverty of relationships of genuine caring (for one another as fellow human beings), mutual respect, and collaboration.  A poverty of that which calls forth the very best of us: beautiful workplaces, meaningful work, climate of solidarity, and a context of love.

Am I alone in this? Look into yourself, look into those whom you know, and answer the questions for yourself:

  • would you prefer to work in a beautiful environment or an ugly even bland environment?
  • would you prefer to work in an environment of love or one of fear?
  • would you prefer to do work that shows up as meaningful work or meaningless work?
  • would you prefer to be enmeshed in caring-respectful-collaborative relationships or find yourself enmeshed in relationships of blame-judgement-competition?

Ask yourself what you want to have inscribed on your headstone? “Here lived someone who was loved and loved others, one that made a contribution, touched lives, left behind a better world.” Or would you prefer “Here lies a person who spent their days and their life doing meaningless work in bland/ugly environments full of people who did not care for one another….”?

An Invitation

I share with you two quotes which show up as worth reflecting on:

“What you do today is important, because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.” Unknown

“Living life without making a difference is to be amongst the living dead.” Ron Travisano

I invite you to put love into your relationships, into the workplace, and into the world.  I promise you that if you do so then you will enrich existence: yours (as lived-experienced) and all whom you touch.  How do I know?  Because amidst all the pain that I experienced over the last week, my existence was also rich: all that I was doing was doing for my friend who was counting on me.

If you find that which I write her speaking to you then I invite you to check out this blog.

Musings on Leadership, Performance, and Customer Experience

Is performance a function of an ongoing attunement to the ‘truth’ of the situation?

It occurs to me that, all else being equal, the probability of the airliners successful arrival/landing at San Francisco is a function of the the pilots attunement with reality: that which is and is not.  Let’s make this concrete by considering some examples:

  • If as the pilot, I have access to the gap between the actual flight and the flight path which is necessary to get the airliner to San Francisco, and I do make the necessary course corrections, on an ongoing basis, then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
  • If as the pilot, I become aware that there is a serious problem with one of the engines and I can accurately determine which engine it is, and I do shut down the troublesome engine as/when it becomes necessary to shut that engine down then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.
  • If as the pilot, I become aware that there is a security lockdown at San Francisco airport and that the airliner is running out of fuel, and I head for the nearest alternative airport (say LA) then I increase the probability of safe-timely arrival.

You get the idea: the probability of success in this venture is a function of the pilot/captain’s ability to ensure that ‘the actions that are critical to the safe arrival of the airliner’ at San Francisco are in attune with, on an ongoing basis, with what is so (and is not so) as this impacts the airliner.  Furthermore, this attunement can be broken down into:

  • an accurate-timely grasp of what is so – the ‘truth’ of the situation; and
  • taking appropriate-timely action, on an ongoing basis, to ensure attunement with this reality.

I ask you to notice the following as regards the very structure of this game of commercial flying:

  • that which we are talking about applies irrespective of who/what is piloting the airliner. And what shape the airliner takes;
  • every crew member who values his life finds him/herself called to pass on information that helps the pilot to be attuned to the truth of the situation and take the appropriate action;
  • every sane pilot (one who values his life) is motivated to be open to and seek knowledge of the ‘truth of the situation’ and take the action that the situation calls for given the commitment to arrive safely at the desired destination;
  • lack of sufficient attunement to the the truth of the situation would affect the lives of all including the pilot/captain – even if the pilot/captain could ‘parachute’ out (and leave all the others to their fate) his live would be affected sufficiently negatively that parachuting out does not show up as an attractive option for any same pilot; and
  • there is no space to ‘hide behind’ an ideology that does violence to the ‘truth’ of the situation – the structure of this game is such that any significant lack of attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation will lead to visible disaster and those held responsible will pay a public price.

Are large-established organisations in attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation?

What accounts for the rampant malfunction, even outright failure, when it comes to large-established organisations? I say that it is a lack of ongoing attunement with the ‘truth’ of the situation. Put differently, it occurs to me that the first and most serious casualty of organisational life is the ‘truth’ of the situation; the ‘truth’ of the situation is moulded so as to speak-pander to the interests of the powerful and to conform to the reigning ideology.

Perhaps, there is no greater challenge for those who aspire to be leaders and who fill leadership positions then calling forth and truly listening to the ‘truth’ of the situation: seeing ‘reality’ in the nude – naked of personal interest and the dominant ideology.

How to illustrate, make concrete, that which I have been talking about here?  How to give it flesh and bones?  Let’s revisit the latest news on the NHS. Here is what jumped out at me from a piece (NHS-on-brink-of-crisis-because-it-became-too-powerful-to-criticise.htmlin the Telegraph newspaper:

THE NHS should not be treated as a “national religion” while millions of patients receive a “wholly unsatisfactory” service from GPs and hospitals, the official regulator has warned.

David Prior, the chairman of the Care Quality Commission, said the health service had been allowed to reach the brink of crisis because it was “too powerful” to be criticised.

He said parts of the NHS were “out of control” because honest debate about the weaknesses of the health service was not tolerated.

… he said. “When things were going wrong people didn’t say anything. If you criticised the NHS – the attitude was how dare you?”…..

Mr Prior suggested that the “target culture” imposed by Labour a decade ago fundamentally damaged the culture of the NHS, creating a “chillingly defensive” operation in which the truth was often sacrificed. “The whole culture of the NHS became so focused on targets that it obscured what real quality was about,” he said. “The voice of the patient wasn’t in those targets.”

He said many hospitals needed radical reform.

And finally

Is it just many hospitals that need radical reform?  It occurs to me that many organisations need radical reform. It occurs to me that our whole way of life requires radical reform. It occurs to me that our fundamental way of being-showing up in the world requires reform.

Where to start? It occurs to me that, at an ‘organisational’ level, a great place to start is to create a context which call forth an enquiry into, and a grappling with, the ‘truth’ of the situation from all of the actors who find themselves in or impacted by the situation.

When it comes to Customer Service, Customer Focus, Customer Experience, CRM, Customer Obsession, a great place to start with is the question, “Do we REALLY want to play this game, play it full out? Are we willing to do what it takes to EXCEL at this game?”

I say excellence in the game of cultivating meaningful customer relationships and excelling at the Customer Experience is an ongoing attunement to the ‘truth’ of the situations as experienced-lived by the Customer.  This kind of attunement takes more than customer surveys or mystery shopping. I say these mechanisms are merely ‘defence mechanism’ – ways of avoiding what it truly takes to be attuned to the ‘truth’ of the situation as lived by the Customer.

Without Integrity, Is Talk of Customer Focus Just Cheap Talk?

Integrity is a choice – one that we fail to choose

Let me make clear that when I speak integrity I am not talking about morality nor virtue.  I am talking about integrity as honouring one’s word.

Integrity, as honouring one’s word, is a choice. It is a choice that almost all of us choose not to make. And those of us who do choose integrity, as way of being and showing up in the world, get that ‘Integrity is mountain with no top’ – that is to say that one never arrives. Put differently, integrity is always flowing out. Therefore, the challenge is to be present to this flowing out and make the necessary corrections ongoingly – this applies to individuals, teams, organisations.

It occurs to me that we live in an age given by cultural practices which allow and encourage us to have a cheap-weak relationship to our word. In our societies one expects people not to talk straight. One expects people not to mean what they say. Nor to say what they mean. It is perfectly ok to make promises and break them if it is convenient to do so. And when we do this the challenge is to find convenient reasons and excuses that allows us to ‘save face’.

What place is there for integrity when the measure is ROI?

Consider the world of business. What drives decisions and actions? If you look at it theoretically, every significant decision should be based on ROI. If honouring your promise, your word, delivers ROI then the smart course of action is to honour your word. If honouring your word does not deliver ROI then the smart course of action is not to honour your word. Doesn’t the ROI argument, in one shape or another, show up at each level of the organisation: Tops, Middles, Bottoms?

Without integrity promises to customers are just cheap talk

Why am I drawing our attention to integrity and the importance of fierce resolve to honouring one’s word? I say that work on harnessing digital technologies is useful. I say that work on changing policies and processes is necessary and useful. I say that harnessing data and using it to generate insight is useful. And I say that all of this makes no difference if fierce resolve is missing. What kind of fierce resolve? The fierce resolve to create superior value for a core set of customers. The fierce resolve to honour the organisations implicit and explicit promises to the customer. The fierce resolve to honour one’s word to colleagues within the bigger context of honouring the organisation’s word to customers.

Let me put it bluntly, the companies that excel at generating strong profitable relationships with customers create and show up from a fierce resolve to create superior value for their customers. Companies like Amazon, John Lewis, SouthWest Airlines, USAA, Zappos… Then are the rest – those that talk the talk and lack the fierce resolve to honour their word. Their words, our words, are cheap.

The real test of integrity is?

The real test of integrity, honouring one’s word, comes when the ROI of keeping one’s word is negative. For an organisation the real test of integrity shows up when the cost of honouring one’s word directly and negatively impacts the short term numbers: revenues and profits. And when the cost is a loss of face even ridicule. I think back to Warren Buffet sticking to his way of investing-doing business during the tech-internet boom.

Here’s the core point when it comes to integrity and honouring one’s word. Those who recognise the critical importance of integrity (as a positive phenomenon) would never do an ROI calculation once they have given their word.  For these people honour one’s word is  matter of principle not expediency. People with such deep relatedness to their word get that integrity is not a nice to have. No, they get that integrity is basis of workability and performance – of our lives, our relationships, our communities, our organisations, our societies, our world.

What is possible when cultural practices encourage and call forth integrity?

Enough said, now I want to share with you this article that I read  and which got me present to what is possible when cultural practices encourage and call forth a strong relationship to our word.  Here is what struck me about this real life WWI story:

  • Capt Robert Campbell had been languising in Magdeburg prisoner of war camp for two years;
  • He received word that his mother was dying of cancer;
  • He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II, begging to be allowed home to visit her one final time;
  • The Kaiser granted his request, allowing him two weeks leave, and did so on Capt. Campbell’s word as an Army officer;
  • Capt. Campbell returned to Kent (England) in December 1916, spent time with his mother and returned to the prison camp (keeping his word to the Kaiser), and was held there until the end of the war (1918).

I say that this is possible only in an age where cultural practices call us to be our word. When we are called to be our word, our enemy can grant us leave trusting that we will honour our word. We in return are called upon to honour our word. As the author of the article says:

“Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners. What I think is more amazing is that the British Army let him go back to Germany. The British could have said to him ‘you’re not going back, you’re going to stay here’.”

Imagine what level of performance would be possible if the people in your organisation were committed to honouring their word. Imagine what kind of relationships would be possible with customers if the people in your organisation – Tops, Middles, Bottoms – were committed to honouring the organisation’s word to customers.

If you want to explore integrity at a deeper level

If you find yourself drawn to this conversation on integrity then I encourage you to listen to this 2 hour talk on integrity by Professor Michael Jensen

Strategy: Forget The Customer and Focus on Purpose?

Is purpose the vital access to performance and the starting point of strategy?

What explains the variability in performance – revenues, profits, share prices – across firms who compete in the same industry? Why, for example, does IKEA do so well in the furniture industry when many other players struggle or have to accept modest performance?  Is the answer that IKEA is customer-centric and the other players are not?  Is it that IKEA delivers a superior customer experience?

Cynthia Montgomery in her book The Strategist explores this question and shares her answer.  She says:

Purpose is where performance differences start. Nothing else is more important to the survival and success of a firm than why it exists, and what otherwise unmet needs it intends to fill. It is the first and most important a strategist must answer. Every concept of strategy …… flows from purpose.

Will any kind of purpose do the job?  Is the purpose of making mountains of profit and enriching shareholders enough? Is the purpose of letting the lean folks loose so that all the processes can be streamlined and any joy, the comes with being social human beings, driven out of existence, enough?   Is it enough to simply be great at interacting with customers at the touchpoints that matter?  No, according to Cynthia Montgomery.

We hunger for purpose that lifts us up from the harshness and banality of the dog-eat-dog world of competition. And this includes the Tops:

Many of them want to feel that what they do matters in some context larger than themselves and larger even than their companies….

So is an inspiring, uplifting, purpose enough? Not according to Cynthia Montgomery. She says that purpose needs to do much more than inspire.

1. A good purpose ennobles 

You and I are are spiritual beings manifested in physical form. Whether we like it or not, in our quiet moments, we find ourselves called to answer questions concerned with meaning. What is life about? What is my life about? Am I leading a meaningful life?  Is this organisation and its mission worthy of me and all that I have to contribute?

In an age where 80% of employees are disengaged at work you can see the value of a noble purpose. A noble purpose inspires people in the organisation, it literally elevates and energizes.  Talking of IKEA, Cynthia Montgomery says:

The people at IKEA don’t believe they’re flogging cheap furniture. They believe they’re creating a “better everyday life” for the many people who can’t afford top-end furnishings.

Cynthia goes on to say that we should not overlook the vital role of purpose in calling forth and fostering the care and commitment that lead people to play full-out and generate good results.

I say that a good purpose ennobles more than the people inside your organisation. I say that a good purpose ennobles customers, ennobles distribution partners, ennobles suppliers, ennobles the community in which your organisation operates.

2. A good purpose forces choice and puts a stake in the ground

A good purpose forces choice: to stand for one set of values and not others; to do X and not Y; to be this and not be that.  Choosing is painful because it means letting go of some options. Choice is also critical because it enables focus. Here is what Cynthia says:

If your purpose does not preclude you from undertaking certain kinds of work, then it’s not a good purpose. Purpose, like strategy, is about choice, and real choice contains …… both positive (“We do this”) and negative )”By implication, then, we don’t do something else”) elements.

3. A good purpose sets you apart; it makes you distinct

A good purpose is not generic, it does not lead you to say “We are a training company” or “We are a telecommunications company” or “We are a marketing agency”.  A good purpose spells out the reasons for your existence, the people (customers) you have chosen to serve, the needs you have set out to meet, the contribution that you committed to making.  It is in these specifics that the purpose comes alive. Cynthia shares how IKEA describes its difference:

From the beginning, IKEA has taken a different path ….. It’s not difficult to manufacture expensive furniture. Just spend the money and let customers pay. To manufacture beautiful, durable furniture at low prices is not easy. It requires a different approach. Finding simple solutions, scrimping and saving in every direction. Except on ideas.

There is a lot of talk about innovation and how rare it is in larger organisations. Yet, IKEA continues to innovate. What does Cynthia say:

IKEA’s experience illustrates a key advantage of a good purpose. A clear sense of what a company is striving to do can serve as a focal point or a core organising principle around which a whole set of innovations and distinctive features can coalesce.

4. A good purpose sets the stage for creating and capturing value

Whilst I can and do come across as an idealist, I am also a pragmatist.  After all I qualified as a chartered accountant, as such I get the critical importance of profits and cash-flow. So does Cynthia, she writes:

Whatever your purpose, it must mean something to others in ways that produce good economic outcomes for you. What made IKEA’s purpose so powerful was not just that it was distinctive or well-defined, or that it made people feel part of something bigger and more important. It also drove IKEA’s superior performance in its industry.

The acid test, then of purpose is this: Will it give you a difference that matters in your industry?  Not all differences are equal. You need a difference with real consequences….. Even a legitimate difference such as “best-in-class quality” is often rendered meaningless by companies that trumpet the words but don’t make the investments or tough trade-offs such a goal requires.

And finally

If you are doing “Customer Experience” stuff ask yourself this question “This stuff that we are doing will this give us a difference that matters with our customers and in our industry?” I say that much of what is showing up under the Customer Experience banner fails this test. And I have been wrong many times before.

If you have any interest in strategy, purpose, and organisational effectiveness then I throughly recommend getting hold of a copy of Cynthia Montgomery’s book The Strategist. It is both easy to read and it is a great read.  I swear she is versed in existential philosophy as her book is imbued with existential tones: purpose, choice, courage, being and becoming….

What does it take to generate breakthroughs in performance and the customer experience?

Why do almost all change initiatives fail to deliver?

I have been involved in all kinds of organisational change initiatives whose ultimate purpose was to power performance. These change initiatives have come in many flavours: strategy, people, process, and technology.  They have encompassed the front office, or the back office, or both.  These change initiatives included: BPR, Kaizen, shared services, quality, ERP-CRM-Ecommerce technology, customer service excellence, strategy…

What is it that is I found common pretty much across all of these change initiatives:

  • They were mostly initiated by people gripped by a fad of that time;
  • Each of these initiatives was going to deliver substantial, even breakthrough, improvements in performance; and
  • Almost all of them failed to deliver on the promise.

I see the pattern being repeated with Customer initiatives that are focussed on improving the customer experience and thus engendering loyalty and advocacy.  Why?  Because what is being changed is the content and not the context.  Working on the content whilst leaving the context intact is liking rearranging the music, the dining hall, the food & wine, say on the Titanic.  Great stuff and ultimately it is merely a distraction from the inevitable.  The inevitable (destiny) is always shaped/determined by the context.

Differentiating between the context and the content

Let’s start with the dictionary definitions of context:

con·text

  1. Background, environment, framework, setting, or situation surrounding an event or occurrence.
  2. Words and sentences that occur before or after a word or sentence and imbue it with a particular meaning.
  3. Circumstances under which a document was created, including its function, purpose, use, time, the creator, and the recipient.

con·tent

  1. The things that are held or included in something.
  2. A state of satisfaction: “the greater part of the century was a time of content”.

Are you struggling with distinguishing between context and content and why this distinction is of profound significance? Let me help out.  Let’s use the analogy of computer software. The context can be likened to the operating system.  The content to the software programmes that you are using say Word, Excel, Outlook.

Or think of work and home.  The context of work is radically different to the context of home. Or the context of a wedding is radically different to the context of a funeral. Do you see how the content – people, talk, behaviour – whilst the same is/can be radically different in the differing contexts.  You talk at work, you talk at home, yet the way you talk and what you talk about is likely to be very different between work and home.

Shifts in context are the access to transformation and breakthrough results – for customers, for the organisation

Let me say this bluntly, most of the work that is taking place in the customer space in the name of customer focus, customer experience, customer-centricity, customer obsession is wasted money and effort. It is merely the equivalent of arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Or if you prefer behaving like Blockbuster or HMV – both of which have gone into administration and are busy closing or selling their stores.

I say that excellence in the customer domain, and the business benefit this excellence generates, is only available to a particular set of organisations.  Which organisations?  The organisations whose leaders exercise courage. What kind of courage?  The courage to shift the context.  Allow me to give you some dimensions along which you can shift the context that powers your business:

Slide3

If you want to get a better grip of context and how it applies to the customer experience then read this post.

Great examples of shifts of context: from Amazon to Zane’s Cycles

Examples of Contextual Shifts

 

Kuhn called this contextual shifts “paradigm shifts”.  Every paradigm shapes/limits that which shows up including human relations and performance.  Some paradigms create more space and generate more energy to empower high performance. If you want to transform your customer experience then pay attention to the context.  Context comes first, content second. Only the fool, or one who has time-money to burn, focuses only on the content.