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.

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.

John Lewis: masterful at employee engagement, customer experience and organisational effectiveness?

What makes John Lewis so special?

John Lewis is one of the few retailers that is doing great in the UK.  My eldest son (who is studying business and passionate about retail) got to spend one week working in the menswear department of John Lewis.  During a car journey I asked him about his experience.  He told me that he enjoyed working at John Lewis and was looking into an apprenticeship.

I asked him what made John Lewis given that he already “runs” the local charity store on Saturdays and has been selling since he was 8 years old.  This is what he told me:

  •  “John Lewis is professional – they do things right“;
  • “I like the people who I worked with“;
  • “Papa, a lot of them have worked there [John Lewis store] for a long time – they love it“;
  • “One of the main people has worked there for 34 years!  He told me that he came for his interview via horse carriage!”
  • “He knows everything about John Lewis and the products they sell“;
  • “He knows instantly what size, colour and clothes will suit the customer!“; and
  • “He is great with customers – they like him.”

I am clear that John Lewis has created a unique context and thus a unique relational bond between the key players in John Lewis: the brand, management, staff and customers. Which is why one person has worked at the John Lewis store for 34 years and knows the business, the products and customers inside out.  And why so many of the staff have been with John Lewis for many years.

How has John Lewis brought about this state of affairs?  By not treating their employees as ‘disposal’ objects/resources which is what almost all other employers do.  Do you know that John Lewis is actually called the John Lewis Partnership.  Who are the partners?  The 69,000 permanent employees!  Yes, the John Lewis Partnership is an employee owned partnership through design/constitution.  Here is what the Guide to Employee Ownership says:

“The John Lewis Partnership has a visionary and successful way of doing business, putting the happiness of Partners at the centre of everything it does. It’s the embodiment of an ideal, the outcome of nearly a century of endeavour to create a different sort of company, owned by Partners dedicated to serving customers with flair and fairness.

All 69,000 permanent employees are Partners who own John Lewis department stores, Waitrose supermarkets, an online and catalogue business, johnlewis.com, and a direct services company, Greenbee.com, with a turnover of nearly £7bn last year. Partners share in the benefits and profit of a business that puts them first.

When the founder, John Spedan Lewis, set up the Partnership, he was careful to create a governance system, set out in the company’s Constitution, that would be both commercial, allowing the business to move quickly to stay ahead in a competitive industry, and democratic, giving every Partner a voice in the business they co-own. His combination of commercial acumen and corporate conscience has helped to make the company succeed.

John Lewis Partnership shares are held in Trust. The beneficiaries of that Trust are the employees of the company, the Partners. They share the profit and have oversight of management decisions through a number of democratic bodies.”

When the employer and the employees show up and operate from a ’employees/employers are disposable’ context, what shows up?

We live in a ‘disposable’ world best epitomised by Apple: the hottest new Apple product is only hot for a year or so then it is ‘thrown out’ and the next hottest thing is bought.  That may be a great relationship as regards objects/resources.  Is this type of orientation/relationship appropriate when it comes to the relationship between the organisation and its employees?  Does a ‘disposable relationship’ lead to a good/great customer experience and contribute to organisational effectiveness?

I say that in normal economic times, the employees are alienated from their work and there is high turnover.  Staff rarely stay long enough to get the organisation: what it stands for, where it is headed, who the key players are, how work gets done etc.  Nor does their brief ‘tenure’ in their role/post allow them to develop the product expertise and the softer customer interaction skills.

What is the impact on the customer experience?  From the customer’s view the employees show up a ‘not having a clue about the products they are selling’ and lacking in basic ‘human to human communication skills’.  At best the customer is left with an ‘adequate/bland/indifferent’ experience.  This kind of experience is good enough as long as there is no real competition.  Else, it is the route to failure – it just takes a little time (that reminds me of a song).

What is the impact of that on organisational effectiveness?  It degrades organisational effectiveness in several ways:

First, it takes some time/effort/cost to recruit new staff and give them even the basic training.

Second, the employees are not invested in their roles nor in the organisation so do not come up with ideas and/or take action to: improve that which is not working well;  improve that which is working ok and could be better; retire that which is not necessary; and come up with that which is necessary and is missing.

Third, these kind of organisations are ‘held together’ by a small number of ‘long timers’ who are the ones who know how the system works and who work the system to get things done.  When they leave – and they do eventually leave as their passion/determination wears out – their knowledge/expertise/passion/dedication walks out with them.  And a big gap is left in the organisation.  Result?  The workability and performance of the organisation suffers.

Fourth, management is so busy dealing with staff related concerns – recruitment, training, interpersonal squabbles, control , exit – that the managers rarely have/make the time to do anything other than put fires out.  And create more policies and practices to further restrict/control the degree of freedom that employees have.  Why?  Because employees have shown that they are not up to the job.

What do I say?

Tell me what matters most to you, what are you really passionate about, what are you genuinely committed to?

If it is the workability and performance of your organisation over the longer term then I say take a good look at The John Lewis Partnership.  I also say throughly read/grapple with the ideas Dave Logan et al share in their book Tribal Leadership and move your organisation to a Level 4 organisation.  Why? Because I am a clear that the John Lewis Partnership is an embodiment of the Level 4 organisation and Dave Logan et al show you how to move the people in your organisation through the different levels.  The bad news?  The fundamental transformation starts with the CEO and his leadership team.

If you are committed to ‘command & control’ and ’employees as disposable resources’ then I say carry on a you are.   And beware that in doing so you are sitting atop a fragile organisation that will break with the next big/unexpected.   I will explore the subject of ‘fragility’ and ‘Antifragility’ in a follow up post.

What do you say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Integrity’ and communication go together

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

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

‘Integrity’ and leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First put in place a sound foundation

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

What is this foundation? ‘Integrity’

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

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

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

Why is ‘Integrity’ so important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integrity being out compromises workability and performance

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

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