Everything I have learned about business, customer-centricity, customer experience and life

Whenever I struggled with a Physics problem my professor (a wise man) instructed me to go back to the fundamentals: the fundamental principles of Physics.  This post is written in that spirit.

A little about the value and limits of frameworks

So you want to lead your organisation to competitive success.  Great.  Without a framework – a point of view that you CREATE and IMPOSE on the messiness of reality – how are you going to get there?

Here is the framework that I use based on everything I have learned about business and customer-centricty – looking through the lens of the strategist rather than an expert in operational effectiveness/efficiency.  Before you read what I write, I am compelled to point out that everything that I share with you is NOT the truth.  It can NEVER be the TRUTH.  Why?  When you dive into it, really dive into depths, you will see for yourself that ultimately life is a mystery.

Frameworks are simply models.  Models are not an accurate depiction/representation of reality (what is so).  Models are useful because they simplify reality and thus allow us to act on it.  Frameworks are filters – they filter out that which is unnecessary.  The issue is that we can never know what is unnecessary.  The hidden manifests that which is visible.  If that is too esoteric, too zen for you then think about the fundamental finding of chaos theory: a infinitesimal change somewhere in the system (far far away in space-time) can have catastrophic impact over here now.  The popular version for this is the “butterfly flapping its wings in South America yesterday can change the weather over here in the USA/Europe today”. OK, with the context set let me share with you that which I promised to share with you.

This is everything that I have learned about business, customer-centricity and customer experience – as a strategist

–  He who does the best job of creating AND communicating the most value for the customer (through the customer’s eyes) wins;

–  A distinctive Value Proposition (that speaks to the target market) is at the heart of creating value for the customer – notice I used the term DISTINCTIVE, not better and not simply different;

–  That distinctive Value Proposition allows you to offer and get away with a ‘not so great customer experience’.  Yes it does!  Think about IKEA.  Think about Ryanair/Easyjet.  Think about early adopters of any new technology who put up with all kinds of ‘hassle’ simply to access and benefit from the Value Proposition.

–  If you do NOT have a distinctive Value Proposition you can focus on excelling at the Customer Experience and that excellence can become your Value Proposition.

–  Even if you have a distinctive Value Proposition you must continually improve the Customer Experience such that it AMPLIFIES your Value Proposition.

–  A distinctive Value Proposition and the appropriate Customer Experience – both pinned by the Value Chain and a continuous improvement culture – will allow you to dominate your industry and make bumper profits.

To create and deliver that Value Proposition and the associated Customer Experience you have to get your hands dirty designing, monitoring, changing, tuning the Value Chain – what you do not do (e.g. Zappos does not outsource Customer Service) matters as much as what you do. 

Create a context where you and your people are open to generating and using insights (wherever they arise) to improve your Value Chain, the Customer Experience – think twice before you make any significant change to the Value Proposition. 

Communication (listening, talking, discussing, imagining, sharing, debating) matters profoundly so communicate, communicate, communicate – if a tree falls down in the forest and there is no-one to record and share that falling then that tree did not fall, in fact it never existed!

One day a butterfly will flap its wings, change the ‘environment and the rules of the game’ rendering your Value Proposition irrelevant.  When that happens your customer-centricity, your Customer Experience – no matter how great – will not save you.   If you are ‘lucky’ you may end up reinventing yourself – like Apple, like IBM, like Starbucks did.  The more likely scenario is that you will die a slow death like Kodak.  No need to despair, the game goes on, just the player/s at the centre of the stage change.  Comfort yourself, know that we are all like guests in hotel rooms – temporary occupants in the game of business and life, the game goes on with and without us.  Ultimately it is all about the game itself – we come on the stage, play our part and then leave.  That applies to all of us – no exceptions.  That is our shared humanity.

Final Words

I thank you for listening, it is your listening that makes my speaking possible.  I wish you the very best in the game of business and in the game of life.  It’s just a game – don’t take yourself so damn seriously AND play the game full out.  Do not be like the old lady who died ‘clutching’ a note that read:

Never fulfilled my potential

NEVER fulfilled my potential

Make your life count, make your role count, make your team count, make your organisation count.  Make an awesome contribution – at least play the game of making an awesome contribution full out.  It is when you are standing in the clearing called ‘up for / committed to making an awesome contribution’ that you are most likely to come up with the Value Proposition (that makes a contribution to the lives of our fellow human beings) and the associated organisation that creates and delivers that Value Proposition.

‘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.