Is It Unrealistic To Demand-Expect Integrity From Human Systems?

Does The Concept Of Integrity Apply Only To Non-Human Systems?

This post continues the conversation (blog and comments) that started with the following blog post: Revisiting Integrity: Why Do All Human Systems Lack Integrity?

To summarise, I say that integrity in the sense  of whole and complete (unity between word and action, between the ‘parts’ and the whole) is essential to workability and performance of all systems including human systems.  If you want to get a sufficient understanding of Integrity as I am speaking it then it is essential to read this post: Integrity, Leadership, Communication and Performance – The Most valuable Post You Will Read This Year?

Max J. Pucher disagrees. He says that ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation and does not apply to human systems:

“Maz, I propose that it is not allowable to use a physical system concept of integrity (whole-complete) for human systems. Physical systems such as a car have a well-defined function/output and therefore integrity is defined to perform as designed. Human systems have no such function and the output is purely based in individual perception. Therefore ‘whole-complete’ is an idealistic interpretation from a single human perspective and will most likely not agree with many others….”

As I promised Max, I have been thinking about his assertion. And now I share with you what showed up for me.  I find that Max’s view is commonplace, I came across it just today.  And I find myself in disagreement.  Allow me to share with you that which shows up for me as I get to grips with the coal face of human existence.

What Does The World Of Aviation Disclose Regarding The Integrity of Human Systems?

Let’s consider NASA’s shuttle program.  Yes, this program involves amazing technology-equipment. Who produces this technology? Who configures it? Who works it?  Who addresses issues with it?  Human beings.  OK, the equipment is ready, in place.  Is that all it takes to take a number of human beings, put them in space, keep them there, and then bring them safely back home?  No!  It requires a large number of people, in different roles, of different temperaments, of different genders, of different ages to work together as one.  What do I mean by one?  I mean integrity as in being ‘whole-complete’ at the level of the system they constitute. Which is why there has only been one disaster to date.

Why did this disaster occur?  Because the integrity (wholeness-completeness) of the system was compromised.  Some ‘parts’  (people) did know of the issue and the associated risk.  Some ‘parts’  (people) escalated the known issue. Other powerful-dominating ‘parts’ of the system choose to ignore the voices-concerns of these ‘parts’. And, they also choose not to care for the needs of other ‘parts’ (astronauts) to return safely to Earth.

This is my point. Where there has been a focus and commitment to integrity (wholeness-completeness of the system) the shuttles have launched and returned safely.  When integrity was sacrificed, disaster struck, the astronauts died.

Now consider the world of air travel.  Don’t the passengers count on the integrity of the system?  Don’t they count on people to make sure that the airplanes are safe to fly?  Don’t they count on people to ensure that the airplanes have the right fuel – type and quantity? Don’t they count on the pilots to be competent and fit to fly the plane? Now look behind the scenes, what else has to be in place?  How about the air traffic controllers – on both sides of the trip? You get the idea: all of these ‘parts’ have to work together for air travel to exist as it does. And the system works. It is rare for the system not to work, for a crash to occur. And when it does, an investigation occurs, lessons are learned, sanctions applied where necessary, new operating policies and practices put in place.

Notice, that the pilot of an airliner that crashed and killed passengers would not get away with pleading “Your honour, I am only a human being. You can’t expect me to follow the rules, each and every flight, regarding how much I drink before boarding the plane and taking the helm.”  No, if he was found guilt of breaking the rules, he would go to jail.   Notice, no party that is essential to the game of ‘safe air travel’ would get away with shirking its role and responsibility. Why?  It is simply not acceptable to compromise the integrity of the system.  And if there are ‘flaws’ in human beings, in themselves, then the designers of the system are charged with coming up with the means to address the ‘flaws’ through checklists, equipment, technology….

Why Does The Lack Of Integrity In Human Systems Persist?

Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we do not get the impact of the loss of integrity on the workability and performance of a system.  And I find myself to be in agreement.

Werner Erhard et al assert that this lack of integrity exists because we misunderstand integrity. We make integrity to be ALL about morality: right and wrong according to the moral norms of the group/s we find ourselves living amongst.  And in so doing, we are not present to integrity as the fundamental basis of workability and performance: integrity as a state/condition of a system – state of being whole-complete, a unity. I find myself in agreement.

It occurs to me that there is an even bigger-deeper, more fundamental, cause for this lack of integrity in human systems.  What is this cause?  Max provides a clue when he says it is not allowable to use the concept of integrity (as the condition of wholeness-completeness) for human systems. It occurs to me that when it comes to integrity and human systems, we accept and are comfortable with defeat before we even start.  What do I mean?  Allow me to share an extract from another blog post ‘The Myth of Scarcity: That’s Just The Way It Is’:

“That’s just the way it is is just another myth, but it’s probably the one with the most grip, because you can always make a case for it. When something has always been a certain way,  and traditions, assumptions, or habits make it resistant to change then it seems logical …. that the way it is is the way it will stay. This is when the blindness, the numbness, the trance, and, underneath it all, the resignation of scarcity sets in. Resignation makes us feel hopeless, helpless, and cynical. Resignation also keeps us in line…….

That’s just the way it is justifies the greed, the prejudice and inaction that scarcity fosters in our relationship with money and the rest of the human race…”

– Lynne Twist

What Does It Take To Call Forth Integrity From Human Systems?

If we are the ones that defeat ourselves when it comes to calling forth integrity from human systems, then the answer to this question lies in us: specifically, in our collective way of being/showing-up in the world.  Let’s listen to the wise words of Lynne Twist once more:

We have to be willing to let go of that’s just the way it is, even if just for a moment, to consider the possibility that there isn’t away it is or a way it isn’t. There’s the way we choose to act and what we choose to make or our circumstance.”

– Lynne Twist

Consider air travel. Would there be any air travel if all of us had simply accepted that man is not meant to fly on the basis that if he was meant to fly then he would have been given wings.  Everything starts with one or more of us being called forth and stepping into a possibility.  The possibility of integrity in human systems is a real one.  Will you and I embrace and embody that possibility?  Will your team embrace-embody that possibility?  Will your organisation embrace-embody that possibility?

Why Pay Any Attention To The Integrity of Systems: Human, Mechanical and Hybrid?

I invite you to consider that your customers are painfully aware of where your organisation is not in a state of integrity. Why? Because customers experience the effects of this lack of integrity: promises made in marketing-sales but not kept by the product itself; being passed around from one person to another, one team to another, and having to go through the same dance all over again; promises made by one part of the organisation and not honoured by the others part/s…. I say that if you want to play the joined up game of Customer Experience then you have to work on the integrity of the ‘system’ – the whole organisation including all the key partners whose performance impacts the end customer and shapes her experience.

Finally, I invite you to not kid yourself. You cannot claim to be 90% pregnant and get away with it. Why not? Because you either are pregnant or you are not pregnant.  The same is the case for integrity: either the system in question (e.g. the organisation) is in a state of integrity or it is not.

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?

Why culture is the ‘Achilles Heel’ of your customer experience efforts (Part II)

This post concludes the train of thought that I shared in an earlier post – Why culture is the Achilles Heel of your customer experience efforts (Part I). – I encourage you to read it to get the most out of this post.

Let’s forget morality and focus on ‘workability’.  By ‘workability’ I am addressing the pragmatic dimension.  For example if you want to fly a 747 from London to New York you simply need an airworthy aeroplane, the right fuel, experienced pilots, the right staff etc – these are the conditions of workability for the flight.  If you do not have these in place then your plane may get off the ground but it is highly likely to make it to New York.  So what are the conditions of workability for a customer-centric orientation that builds customer loyalty?

The foundation of customer loyalty is earning and cultivating trust

In a world full of suppliers who offer pretty much the same goods who would you choose to do business with?  If you are like most of humanity then you will instinctively do business with the one that you trust the most. Don Peppers & Martha Rogers have taken a good look at the whole trust thing in their book ‘Rules to Break & Laws to Follow’.  So allow me to share their wisdom with you.  Here are the laws that they recommend that you follow:

1. Earn and keep the trust of your customers

The key point I want to stress here is the word ‘earn’.  Yes, you need to earn it by doing the right thing (honest, fairness, integrity) as well as doing things right (competence, ease, access, efficiency…).  It means paying as much attention to the social and moral aspects as it does the economic aspect. Are you a fit and proper person/organisation?  Which is another way of asking: can you be trusted to act honorably/ethically?

2. Really taking your customer’s point of view means treating each customer with the fairness you would want if you were the customer.

At a philosophical level you can look at this either through John Rawls veil of ignorance or refer to some of the oldest philosophies used to guide human relations.  Using the lens of the ‘veil of ignorance’ ask yourself how would I design the system (roles, rules, interactions….) if I did not know if I would end up playing the role of the customer or the enterprise?  I used to use this with my two children when they would quarrel over cake: one of them got to cut the cake into two pieces and then the other one got to choose (first) which slice he wanted.  This system ensured fairness.

If we turn towards the world’s great religions then with Christianity you have the Golden Rule.  Rabbi Hillel when asked about the Torah replied “Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you, the rest is merely commentary.” Confucius stated “What you do not wish upon yourself, extend not  to others.”  Mohammed said “None of your truly believe until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” And in the holy book (Mahabharata) of the oldest religion (Hinduism) you have “This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others what you would not have them do unto you.”

At a practical level it means taking off your shoes and walking the shoes of your customers.  It means experiencing how it feels to pick a mobile phone plan when there are so many to choose from, so many conditions, so many variables?  It means experiencing what it is like to set-up and use the product with instructions that occurs as being useless?  It means experiencing what it is like not to be able to get hold of  helpful human being when you have an urgent need and having to navigate a ‘hard to make sense of’ IVR and so forth.  Not reading a report about it – actually experiencing it by doing it for real.

Don and Martha say it best when they write:

  • Honestly taking the customer’s perspective is really at the heart of understanding the customer’s experience with your brand or product.”
  • “…the very concept of being trustworthy that the company will not be acting solely in it’s own short-term interests.  On one level, this might involve simply giving a customer a fairer deal than she would otherwise have know about.  Or it could mean providing the information to allow her to compare competing offers directly – your competitors best offers included. It might mean being completely open with the customer when talking to her about the merits of buying a product or service….”

3. To earn your customers’ trust, first earn your employees trust.

Your employees can be the source of customer insight, competitor intelligence, ideas, creativity, innovation and judgement.  They are also the source of flexibility: they can judge the situation and respond appropriately.  And there is world of difference between giving the minimum and put our ‘heart and soul’ into your work.  The difference is called ‘discretionary effort’.  Tapping into it is like tapping into an inexhaustible gold mine.  Still not convinced?  Name one technology, one artifact, that has not been ultimately created by a person or persons working as a group.

If you want your employers to treat your customers well you have to model that behaviour: you have to treat your employees well.  In services heavy industries (such as retail, telecommunications, hotels & leisure…) your employees are absolutely critical to any form of service excellence.  To earn the trust of customers you absolutely have to earn the trust of your employees.  You do that by treating them well:  the ‘veil of ignorance’ and the Golden rule applies just as much to your employees as it does to your customers.

You would be wise if you were to apply this ethic to your suppliers and your partners.  I have been a supplier of professional services for most of my working life and my teams have given our all to those clients who have practiced the golden rule.  The rest – we stuck to the contract and did the minimum we had to do.  When disaster strikes your suppliers/partners can be your saviours or the source of your ultimate destruction: more than one company has experienced this.  When disaster struck Toyota survived because it’s suppliers did the right thing because Toyota had a history of doing the right thing by suppliers. In the UK I once heard the CEO of the best known Indian food company share (emotionally) how his suppliers pitched in to save his business when his only manufacturing facility burnt down overnight. Why?  Because he had treated them honorably.

4. If being fair to customers conflicts with your company’s financial goals, then fix your business model or get a new one.

To cultivate customer trust you must put in place a culture that calls everyone in the company – each and everyone – to genuinely consider your customers perspective and well being in each and every decision that your company makes.   Here is how Don and Martha put it: “Whenever your employees are solving a problem or undertaking an initiative, at some point they should ask themselves the question: What’s in the customer’s interest here?” And you have to act on that interest.

If we are truthful then it is highly unlikely that you have this culture today.  Your challenge is to create that culture; your biggest obstacle is likely to be the Tops, your business model and short-termism.  If you company does not create that kind of culture then you are leaving the field wide open for new entrants who build a business model around treating your customers fairly, cultivating their loyalty and reaping the benefits: think Netflix v Blockbuster (late fees) or Google v Yahoo! or Zane’s cycles v other bike sellers.

Final words

Archimedes said “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Culture is the lever and the CEO (as leader) is the fulcrum:  if you have do not have the right leader and the right culture then despite your best efforts you will not succeed in cultivating customer loyalty and harvesting the benefits. At best you will win minor battles like reducing customer service costs or improving the ROI of your marketing campaigns. And in the process of seeking ‘customer gold’ you will simply make the pick axe and shovel sellers rich.