Archive | December, 2012

Listening to employees shouldn’t be a big deal

19 Dec

At a recent  event run by the Customer Engagement Directors’ Forum, the HR Director of M&S got me thinking when she said at one point,  “You wouldn’tBLOG tennis balls only ask your customers for feedback once a year, so why do you think it’s acceptable to only ask employees once a year?”.

This reminded me of an article I’ve blogged about before, “Employee engagement is not an event”, where the authors, Switch and Shift describe the all-too-common way some companies handle The Employee Survey;

Each year or every other year an employee engagement survey is delivered via email to all employees. Its arrival is trumpeted by an email from the CEO explaining the survey’s importance. This is the event. It’s followed by survey results disseminated to managers and some messaging shared with employees”

To this I’d add, that after the results are published, the ‘process’ then requires (seeing as engagement is being treated as a Project), that the team sits down to discuss and create an action plan, that then, well-intentioned as it is, is all too often consigned to the shelf.  After a few months, it becomes all too easy to dismiss the findings from the survey as out-of-date, because, well, we’ve moved on, and things – and people- have changed since then. Better wait for the next survey for a more accurate snapshot of how people are feeling. So much for the standard process.

Surely, listening to employees and acting on it shouldn’t be such a big deal. Nixon McInnes, a Brighton-based social business consultancy take a different tack with a blindingly simple approach using tennis balls and buckets.

Each night, as you leave, you simply lob a ball in one of two buckets, the happy bucket or the unhappy one – see photo. This enables team leaders to get an instant ‘temperature check’ on the team, and discuss with the team.  Simple, immediate, cheap and low tech. In fact, Nixon McInnes has recently taken it to the next level with an electronic traffic light system but the principle is the same: find a fun and simple mechanism to engage easily and continuously with the team, a mechanism that is woven into the rhythm of the day, and that takes away the formality and unnecessary weight and significance of the annual engagement initiative that tends to get seen for what it is, yet another ‘project’ to be scheduled in on top of an already crammed workload.

I’ll finish with another great quote from the event I was at, that underlines the problem with this engagement-as-a-formal-event approach, that it tends to drive the wrong behaviours, “we hit the target but missed the point”!

Fair play to Nixon McInnes, then, where simplicity is all the more engaging.


Calling all corporate weasels. Play Vingo, the new bullshit bingo game.

14 Dec

Tired of hearing people talk about ‘fast-tracking’ an idea or a project? Of ‘socialising’ it, in order to ‘engage’   with key stakeholders and ‘leverage’ their insights, to ‘iterate’ it and thereby ‘maximise’ and ‘optimise’ it, in short to ‘operationalise’ it?   

If yes, then Bullshit Vingo – verb bingo – where words become verbs, and the corporate and consulting weasels rule, is for photos of objects

 Click here to help you stay awake, even snort with derision, at these beauties from the mouths of managers and consultants.

And ‘hat tip’ to Frank Ledo, whose site hosts the game.


And… there’s plenty more where this came from, watch out for other themed games to follow, and please do pass me any new and exciting crimes against language that you uncover.




“Everybody’s talking at me, I don’t hear a word they’re saying”. Are companies really listening?

12 Dec

BLOG listeningSo went the Nilsson song in that great film, Midnight Cowboy. Business 101 says Listen to your customers, and act on what you hear. Not rocket science is it? But even listening still seems like a tall order for some, these days. I have a long drawn out complaint with a major parcel delivery company, and 10 weeks in, no response as yet. I’ve enlisted the help of a nice new service via twitter called ServiceReply30; when I asked them for an update they said that the outfit concerned sometimes responds to their approaches, sometimes not.

But in the press at least, the L word – listening – is big news. Last week, two major and ‘damaged’ brands, Starbucks and Barclays both announced they are listening. Hmm. Big deal. Are they really hearing what people are saying?

In an open letter to customers and the world at large, announcing a plan to pay more corporation tax, the Starbucks UK CEO said “We’ve learned it is vital to listen closely to our customers – and that acting responsibly makes good business sense.” Take a break, Sherlock. Since then, this gesture is already close to being written off as a sham, if the weekend press was anything to go by.

In the same week, a Marketing Week article reported that the retail arm of Barclays is promising a “relentless focus on customers” and is seeking opinions on its products, in a bid to “shape banking” around their needs.

The problem is, we consumers (the 2.0 variety) live in a once-bitten-twice-shy kind of world, and we are increasingly sensitive and alert to PR puff, corporate propaganda and empty gestures. And, isn’t “listening” a bit last century, anyway? Haven’t you heard enough already? When did ‘we’re going to listen now’ become a key strategy?   

Internal vs External Perceptions

The Marketing Week article is interesting though as there is a reference to the gap between the external customer perception and the internal employee view: a spokesperson said “I see what the organisation believes internally and it is not the organisation that is portrayed, the organisation people see from the exterior”. To be fair to Barclays, I’m sure this is right; the desire to do the right thing, to be liked and appreciated will be as strong in the Barclays rank-and-file as it is in other organisations. As the old cliché goes, no-one gets out of bed in the morning determined to screw things up for customers. We all want to do a good job.

This reminds me of Edelman’s 2012 ‘Trust Barometer’ which reported that while consumer trust in CEOs as spokespeople of their organisations had declined, willingness to trust the average employee has increased. After all, most of us will relate far more easily to ‘people like us’ who we feel are more likely to tell it like it is, than we will to your average CEO.

All this prompts two questions;

  • Often the first barometer of public opinion is the workforce itself  – a rich source of insight, feedback and ideas. Ignore at your peril and all that. How are companies like Starbucks and Barclays truly harnessing that voice?
  • What more could companies do to break down the external perceptions, and reveal the good stuff behind the scenes? An insight into the real voice of the employee might be much more powerful in helping convince us sceptical consumers that the organisation is indeed made up of people ‘like us’ and is trying to do the right thing, than any number of ‘we’re listening’ external press releases.

What do you think?

Less is more and more is less when it comes to corporate strategy

10 Dec
English: Oscar Wilde, three-quarter length por...

Oscar Wilde, credit: Wikipedia)

Great article from Elaine Dundon in Fast Company on Proctor and Gamble’s mission statement, strategic language, and the struggle for meaning. Having worked for 5 years in a corporate strategy team, I can attest to the many hours spent struggling over words, their meaning and their reception.  

The problem with almost all (and here the words tend to become interchangeable; yet more fuzziness!) ‘purposes’, ‘goals’, ‘strategies’, ‘missions’, ‘ambitions’ is that the opposite of the written words is clearly absurd. So, as the author says, in the case of P&G, who wouldn’t sign up to improving lives, making a difference, adding value and so on? (And then again, which company would declare its mission to ‘make as much money as possible, for the least amount of effort, time and cost?’).

The potential dangers that arises from mission statement by committee and the desire to avoid excluding someone’s pet topic are firstly, generic and meaningless catch-all statements, and secondly, as the author suggests, it’s all too easy to over-load the business with activity.

Let me bring Steve Jobs and Oscar Wilde (pictured) in here; the former is quoted as saying, “simple can be harder than complex; you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple”. The latter wrote, “if I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter”.     

The author goes on to look at the multiple messages and goals at P&G (see article) which all boil down to “do more with less” (no different from practically every corporate strategy these days).

But, that’s hard work isn’t it (yeah, thanks Sherlock). Research from Simplicity Partnership says that 30% of managers are coping with 6 or more strategic initiatives at any one time and that 12% are coping with over 16! And, I heard of one public sector organisation the other day with over 60 key change initiatives!   It’s tough for the workforce to navigate through, and resolve the tensions that exist at the intersections where different directives and priorities meet.

As the author says, “it’s time for P&G to rethink what its one message should be”. While that may be too tall an order (and at the risk of lapsing into consultant-speak), you do have to at least construct a narrative that explains the connections, the dependencies and hierarchy between each message and priority. I wonder which large, long-established companies have truly succeeded in simplifying the myriad of messaging, in order to get More from Less? 

How to lose customers. A handy checklist.

6 Dec

Great piece from Jeff Haden in Inc on how to lose your best customers, and what to do about it, short of fencing them in with barbed wire, that is.


It’s al good thought-provoking stuff, but there are two types of no-no’s listed in the article that I find really interesting. Firstly, what you might call ‘strategic’ mistakes driven by the relentless hunger for profit from customers, and secondly, those to do with failing to recognise the critical role played by the firm’s own people.

So, in the first category you’d have to put focussing on price (“good luck maintaining that advantage”), pushing too hard to grow revenue, and the classic trap of exploiting-existing-customers-and-hoping-they-don’t-notice! (See also my earlier piece on the Penny Dreadful customer experience, a tale of seduction ending in betrayal).

It is this kind of corporate world-view that leads to blood-chilling statements like ‘our customers are our greatest assets’ where the unvoiced part of this sentence feels like it ought to be…“…so let’s make sure we sweat those assets hard while we can”.

Personally, when I choose to place my business with a company, I don’t consider that I’ve somehow acquiesced in becoming an asset to be henceforth ‘owned’ by the company. Or, ‘prey’ to be targeted and hunted down.

In the second group of mistakes, we have those to do with the ‘people’ side of the business (or… ‘human capital’, a phrase I heard yesterday at a conference). So, yes, madness does lie in the direction of the seventh mistake : asking for one behaviour – let’s respect and love our customers – but rewarding a different behaviour, selling, for example.

But it’s the first and fifth points that are particularly important, I think. It’s a useful reality check to be reminded that “It’s tempting to assume long-term customers love your brand. More often than not they love your employees”, which is why high turnover – especially in the front line – is such a challenge to the business.

There’s a load of research out there that constantly reinforces the importance of consistency – plain boring reliability – as the cornerstone of a successful customer experience strategy. And, the more often the cast changes, the more inconsistent and unpredictable the experience. Which is why, for example, I sometimes find it hard to fill in Net Promoter surveys; while I might be willing to recommend the person I just dealt with, and I consider them a great ambassador for company X, how confident am I that I, or my friends, would have the same experience tomorrow, with a different person?

Who fights for the customer in the boardroom?

4 Dec

SuccessWell, not necessarily marketing, according to this new research report from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

It reveals a worrying lack of support around the top table for marketing. The report title signals the problem well: “Outside Looking In: The CMO struggles to get in sync with the C-suite”.

Why? Because “many organisations still have trouble defining the Chief Marketing Officer’s (CMO) role and responsibilities” and therefore marketing’s priorities. And while the “CMO has a potentially critical ally in its quest, the voice of the customer” it’s alarming to read that:

  •  While over a quarter of CMOs believe they are the voice of the customer at their organisation, only 13% of other C-suite executives agree, and, in fact…
  • 27% of c-suite executives see the Head of Sales as the voice of the customer today…
  • And, more CMOs see the Head of Sales filling this role than they do themselves!

On the plus side, all feel that marketing should step into this role: “The CMO occupies the perfect chair to serve as the disciple for the customer internally”.

What’s holding marketing back? The C-suite believes marketing has not earned the right to be more strategic because it is ineffective at demonstrating the return on investment for its activities. The other big issue comes down to making the “soft stuff” work, in other words getting the c-suite to come together and work collaboratively around the customer agenda: “For many marketing leaders, success will be determined by their ability to align the marketing function – and the entire organisation—around delivering a superior customer experience”.

The soft stuff is also the hard stuff: “CMOs view communication skills and team-building as two of the three of most important skills they need to succeed. The ability to work cross-functionally and break down the internal silos will be key”.

So, marketing needs to break out of marketing and re-shape internal perceptions and the key to this is external, the customer : “If marketing can provide a more comprehensive view of how a customer interacts with the business as a whole, it stands to gain more credibility and more influence in driving strategic change”.

What about the alternative, the new kid on the block, the Chief Customer Officer? As the report suggest, someone needs to transcend organisational and functional boundaries to truly fight for the customer. I’m in the CCO camp, to be honest, but for me the bottom line is: more important that functional background is the need to make sure it’s a strong individual with the respect and support of the C-suite peers and the ability to herd the cats and fight the customer’s battles when the boardroom door closes.

I still struggle with the Head of Sales, though!

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