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.

Are your marketing communications cultivating customer loyalty or distance?

Theory: marketing communications cultivate loyalty

Recently I wrote a post on customer loyalty – Why Companies Are Struggling in Cultivating Loyalty – and one of the readers brought up the subject of communication.  In his words:

…………..It’s critically important that companies create an ongoing dialogue with customers to determine their preferences and then create solutions to meet those needs.

One way companies can nurture the overall customer relationship is to determine the best method of communicating with customers (voice mail, e-mail, text messaging, social media, direct mail) and when they would like to receive information. Once they have determined the appropriate channel for communicating, companies can engage customers in a highly personalized and tailored way.

Companies that actively engage with customers on a regular basis can proactively offer additional products, services and information that cultivates customer loyalty.

What is the reality as opposed to the theory?

First let me say that there will be an array of realities – one for each company and even within the company the reality will be different for each customer.  Given that context let me share with you the findings from a report (Data Wastage Report 2011) commissioned by Transactis  (a company focussing on data and customer insight  services):

  • 65% of consumers said that companies have sent them offers for products they would never buy even though these customers had previously handed their personal details and preferences to these companies;
  • 58% of consumers said that some companies have sent them offers to become new customers even though they are existing customers of these companies;
  • 52% of consumer said that companies have repeatedly tried to sell them products that they have already bought.

Furthermore another Transactis report (Customer Trust 2010) highlighted the following:

  • Around 80% of consumers do NOT see any of the firms they buy from using their personal data to make attractive offers and deliver good customer service.

So what is the impact of all this on the 2000 UK consumers that were surveyed?

  • 86% of consumers say they would withdraw permission for a company to even contact them if it continues to send them irrelevant communications;
  • 88% of consumers say they would refuse to hand over any more personal information if they continue to get these irrelevant communications;
  • 81% of consumers say they seriously question the competence of companies that ask for details that they have already given to the company

My take on this: reality is much messier than theory

Some kinds of communications can cultivate loyalty.  I can remember that some years ago I received a thank you letter and plastic coffee mug from Amazon (with no sales related offers) and that surprised and delighted me.  The result was that my loyalty was cultivated.  I have also written about three other instances where the communication left me touched and loyal:

The kind of communications that do cultivate loyalty are not the ones that marketing departments typically produce and distribute. Why?  Because, these communications tend to be self-serving and rather impersonal (even if they are ‘personalised’) rather than customer-centric and personal.  Put differently, these communications do not create value for the customers that receive them:   it can be argued that whilst 20% of customers may find them useful, 60% of customers are indifferent, and the remaining 20% are left annoyed and think less of the company sending out this ‘junk mail’.  What looks like success (ROI) on a campaign by campaign basis may be failure when viewed on a longer time scale.


Why organisations will continue to struggle to get close to their customers

I am not well, I think it is the flu.  So today I am going to keep my writing short – please excuse me if it is a little light.

I love learning especially stuff that challenges the dominant ways of thinking about stuff.   As a result I regularly visit TED and in my last visit I came across this video:

It got me thinking and I asked myself the question: is it that simple?

If you read the articles on CRM, on Customer Experience, on Social Business then time and again the writers mention the need to get commitment from the Tops, the need for leadership from the Tops, the need for cultural change – which, no surprise, needs agreement and leadership from the Tops!

Who are the Tops?  Almost always men.  The language that men speak is the language of warfare; the language of the impersonal; the language where the end often justifies the means.  And men love technology – we love our toys.  We love command and control. And in the process we make toys of human beings.  That applies to employees, it applies to suppliers and I argue that it also applies to customers.  We seek to manipulate customers adeptly as they are the more important pieces on the chessboard – yet they are just another piece on the chess board.   Can I dare assert that the men that are most adept at playing this game of chess end up at the Top?

Yet the social, relational and experience paradigms are predominantly feminine.  It is soft stuff. the stuff that has been neglected for a long time and often handed over to the HR folks.   If you are struggling with this then I have a question for you?  How is that in business we refer to getting customers as ‘conquesting’, as hunting; keeping customers is referred to as ‘farming’; and hunters are the hero’s that get the lion share of the rewards  whereas the farmers are looked down upon and get meagre rewards.

Is it that simple?  That organisations are struggling to become customer centric because this is  relationship centred paradigm which is natural for many women and unnatural for many men and especially the Top.  That the Tops prefer to play generalship (the art & science of warfare) then to play midwife to the relationship centred organisation and economy?

If it is not that simple then why is it that whilst the Tops profess customer focus and customer centricity their lieutenants claim that these very same Tops are the main obstacles to bringing customer centred initiatives to fruition?

I do not claim sole access to  ‘truth’ so do let me know what you think.

An easy way to connect with your customers: speak their language

Recently I wrote a post asking why it is that Experts do such a poor job of relating to the ordinary person: After This Experience I Am Puzzled: Why?

Some weeks ago I was given a cheque and this week I finally made it to the high street.  As I was waiting to put this cheque into my account I witnessed an interesting spectacle.  A cashier in his early twenties was serving an older man in his sixties and it was clear that they were not connecting.  As I listened to the conversation I noticed something interesting:  the cashier was talking in the language of banking whereas the old man was talking every day language and because of this the cashier was failing to connect with this customer.  An example: the cashier talked about funds and the transfer of funds; the old man spoke about money and asked about how he could get his hands on his money.

It hit me that a very simple way that companies can better connect with their customers is to talk the language of their customers.  No need to get in McKinsey to formulate a strategy.  No need to pay Oracle a fortune to buy their CRM suite.  No need to pay Accenture to redesign processes and implement the Oracle suite and so forth.  Just change the language you speak to match the language that your customers speak.

Language matters.  When you speak my language you acknowledge me, you respect me, you validate me, you make me feel good about myself.  In turn I cannot help but feel good about you and thus want to do the right thing by you – the law of reciprocity.  I have had the good fortune to live in a number of cultures and travel to many countries and the one thing that I have noticed is that I have received much better treatment when I have made the attempt to speak the local language!  And when I have made the effort to learn about and embody the local culture.

This lesson applies to all organisations:  you can enter into the world of your customer and form closer ties with your customer simply by speaking her language.  Yes her language – Professor Moira Clarke of Henley Business School told us today that some 85% of purchases are made by women.