When we were preparing to release our TakeON! Business Matters conversation theme ‘Keep It Simple’, I did a fair bit of reading of articles about the importance of simplicity in organisations. Seems like we all too often, have a tendency to overengineer solutions for customers when something much simpler would have sufficed.
I remember when I worked at an ice cream company and we were creating the latest novelty ice cream for kids to celebrate the release of The Flintstones Movie. The product we designed had a jelly centre, two different colours of ice cream, and a coloured white chocolate shell with biscuit crumbs on the outside. This made the whole production process much more complicated and no doubt added a lot of extra when the kids really would have been more than happy with a couple of these product features - one colour of with the coloured chocolate shell on the outside. My view on the need to look for simplicity in changed from that day on.
In my reading around simplicity, I saw it's antithesis, ‘complexity’. described the other day as “the cumulative by-product of organizational changes, big and small, that over the years weave complications (often invisibly) into the ways that work is done.”
So the challenge for most businesses is to unwind that complexity and get back to some basics - to really understand why they do things the way they do. And half the time nobody knows because nobody asks the question "Why?" often enough.
Which is why, when I was watching TV last night, I heard a line in a TV drama that reminded me of how simple, and powerful, our TeamTalk conversation process actually is. The line was...
“If you don't talk about s@#t, nothing changes.”
Made me think how true that is, and how that is exactly what our TeamTalk process is all about….. getting people to talk about the brown stuff that is going on in their organisation and what can actually be done to fix it. And then, most importantly, be inspired and empowered to get on and fix it! Nothing changes, big or small, if there isn't meaningful dialogue about it.
I know most organizations say they already talk about 'stuff', but do they really? In a structured and focused way? Where everyone is involved? And encouraged to contribute and make decisions? Fully supported by leaders? And focused on what really matters to success? Where ideas are actively encouraged and fostered? I doubt it. I've worked in too many corporates and seen enough, to be confident in saying that.
I’m sure for many leaders, the thought of implementing a process to get their people talking about their ‘s#@t’, sounds just too simple an answer to their problems. Thing is, it is and needs to be a simple answer.
Probably we too often look for, or are expecting a complex/sophisticated solution to big issues, when a simple one actually does the trick? Quite probably, one of TeamTalks greatest benefits really is its’ simplicity. But there are a few tricks.
Successful conversations require a number of things - integration into business-as-usual, aligned leadership language, and a clear structure and process and a bias towards action. And this is where the ON-Brand Partners TeamTalk process stands apart - it gets people at all levels talking about the important stuff and their role in delivering it.
Back to the brown stuff... Apologies to anyone who is offended by the use of the 'S' word here. It's designed to get the dialogue going - just like a TeamTalk!
And as one of my colleagues pointed out, that word is more commonly used today (by those who've had fewer birthdays than others) as a positive thing. And with TeamTalk that's perfect, because it's really important for teams to talk about their good s#@t (what's working, strengths, stories) as much as their bad s#@t! A truly transformative conversation is one that starts with what's already working and gets people to build from there.
David Rock author, consultant, and lecturer who helps Fortune 100 clients integrate brain discoveries into their leadership development frameworks suggests not...
"1-Day training is like trying to grow a garden but only watering it for one day and expecting it to grow".
He says that what causes the most change in behaviour is small amounts of 'focused attention' on something more regularly, (i.e. once a week) rather than overwhelming the brain with a mass of information in a training session. So changing corporate behaviours (a.k.a. culture) is like growing a garden - it requires regular watering in the form of dialogue on what's important.
This ongoing dialogue or 'attention' on something, is what actually changes the hardwiring of the brain. 'Insight' is what is at the heart of learning and regular attention (continued awareness of, and time for reflection) on something, is what leads to that insight. And when it comes to creating change in an organisation, this insight is critical because it's what actually leads people to action! - to do things differently from the way they have always done them.
And turning insight into action is the core premise behind ON-Brand Partners TeamTalk process, used to get people focused on and talking about what really matters in their organisation. And, most importantly, coming up with ideas on how to keep making things better.
So what actually is 'insight'? Well the dictionary offers up the following
I'd say the best definition though is "I get it". And that's what you want your people to be saying...
"I get this now, it makes sense to me, I can play an important role in this and, I want to be part of it".
I can recall going to many Training days on critical competencies such as leadership and coming away feeling very energised ready to change the way I did everything, only to get back to the pressing day-to-day activities of my job and finding that my enthusiasm and knowledge waned. Plus the organisation had provided no framework that allowed myself and colleagues to be continually putting our learnings into action, and actually apply them to current work challenges.
Our experience at ON-Brand Partners has found Training (workshops presented from the front in a stream of one-way download) by itself, creates very little change or insight. This is supported by learning effectiveness research from the likes of the Center for Creative Leadership which indicates this approach accounts for only 10% of any change required. however, through embedding new processes as part of day-to-day routines, is what is critical to people 'getting it', 'owning it' and driving both short and long-term results. Only when new learning becomes business-as-usual (or in effect change-as-usual) does it have a positive impact on an organisation - helping it to get its' strategy implemented as intended. Read more about the 70/20/10 Model
So Mr Rock I couldn't agree with you more. We need to keep watering those gardens through structured, ongoing, everyday dialogue on what matters to an organisations success. Then, like a garden, a culture will grow that will feed the people.
Customer experience is one of the hottest topics in business today. It has become the business buzzword. The reason couldn’t be more straightforward and underscores a clear business message in today’s crowded marketplace: Your customer experience defines the unique point of differentiation for your products and services and is, perhaps, your only real opportunity to stand out.
Yet, despite all the money invested in CX, most brands under perform. Is that so surprising? Not according to David Burrows of The Design Agency in the UK, who says that “40 percent of marketing investment is wasted, as ill-informed or demotivated behaviour by staff unwittingly undermines the promotional promise. The result is that 68 percent of those who do buy go away because of how they were treated.”
The a major reason for this is that most brand strategies today still rely heavily on advertisements, marketing, endorsements and other media-based approaches in an economy that has become predominantly experience based. While marketers can fairly easily present one consistent external face of the brand, delivering customer service that enhances the brand is another matter.
Customer service is a dynamic exchange between human beings, who are highly individualistic. All too often the brand effort is hijacked – or at best, is not taken advantage of – because employees are not aware of and, don’t understand, the consequences of all their brand related behaviours.
The impact is profound. First-hand experience strongly influences consumers’ repurchase decisions. That’s because customers become primed by every experience to create more positive memories of earlier brand experiences. Based on their research, Richard Elliott and Kritsadarat Wattanasuwan at Oxford University, conclude, “lived experience with a brand, through purchase and usage over the life cycle, will tend to dominate the mediated experience of advertising…” Reinforcing a brand through every customer touch-point, therefore, can provide the repetition necessary to inspire repeat purchasing decisions.
Indeed, the Gallup Organisation polled 6,000 passengers and discovered that, by a ratio of between three and four to one, employees of airlines are more important than advertising messages in building brand loyalty. Banking customers are more likely to return, by a ratio of 10 to 20 times, if the organisation has outstanding employees. And in the telecommunications industry, the loyalty of customers is influenced by employees of the organisation at a ratio of between three and five to one, compared to advertising.
And, dissatisfaction with customer service is burgeoning. Not only is this discontent reflected in many nationwide and individual organisational surveys, but it’s now the talk of the Internet with entire Web sites devoted to slamming different brands. Even as businesses struggle to improve their customer service and top management aims at a strong brand, the word is out that service standards have fallen. In fact, if you believe what’s being said, service stinks and it’s getting worse. A study way back in the early 2000s put a large exclamation mark on this point. A survey of 4,000 customers of nine Blue Chip Australian organisations sponsored by the respected Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals (SOCAP) revealed that only one in 20 customers trusts the organisations that serve them! Has much changed since then?
So what was the key reason consumers gave for this lack of trust?
“they don’t deliver on their promises”.
For example, when organisations promise that you are “more than a number” and yet the first information a service representative asks for is an “account number”, it’s no wonder many consumers are becoming increasingly cynical about the role and purpose of marketing. Consumers do ask: Can I trust this organisation? Was my experience of their products and services aligned to the expectations they had created? Is this organisation following through on commitments, or is its advertising just so many words and images with no action behind them? Clearly, a company’s ability to deliver what it declares is fundamental to its reputation. Therefore, the ability to move from a credible strategy to authentic delivery is paramount in building trust.
Customers are strongly influenced to return or re-purchase by their first-hand experiences with service representatives.The skin care product may be exactly the same product that the client bought the last time she was in your spa, but the person who helped with the purchase is probably a different person, or perhaps the same person but in a different mood. The exchange will impact the client's interaction with the skin care product she purchased and her memories of the spa experience. In fact, branding ultimately shapes organisations precisely because it is trust based: we promise, we deliver. When this is not done, customer relationships are more likely to be short-term, immediate, and transactional—and to contribute little to building brand trust.
The public has leapt ahead of organisations on this one. Consumers do not hold one idea of service in their minds: the public is not generic when it comes to service. When evaluating customer service, consumers hold a multitude of personal, specific and unique expectations about services and products relating to specific brands.
Think about it. If you want to distinguish your brand position from another organisation’s brand, it is difficult to do that when offering advertising that looks like everyone else’s. In the same way, generic service will not enhance your customers’ experience about the uniqueness of your brand. Customer exchanges must reflect and illuminate features of the brand promise and brand values.
As one hotelier remarked to us “Our marketing collateral is very good. But do we deliver? If we really delivered what we imply, our customer-return rate would be much higher". The personal service component of the brand experience is therefore a powerful competitive weapon, waiting to be unleashed. But to move service delivery from the bland to the brand, we must do much better in engaging those tasked with overseeing and managing service. Research by Scott Davis and Michael Dunn across ninety global organisations shows that 45% of managers lack an understanding of their brand. Sixty two percent of respondents highlighted lack of senior manager support for their brands. Both of these deficiencies were judged by corporations as threats to their long-term business success.
Of course, some companies are attempting to bridge this void. Unfortunately, many are continuing to use, without much questioning, branding models that are more appropriate to fast moving consumer goods. Customer service scripting is a case in point. Tightly scripted, rule-driven approaches are fraught with difficulty, because they often lead to inauthentic service exchanges that leave customers either ambivalent or scratching their heads in wonderment about the service they have received. It can also lead to bored, underutilised and frustrated staff.
Brand experts Bob Tyrell and Tim Westall make the same point with a slightly different caution.
“Branding customer service requires something much more complex than the bolt-on activities currently parading as ‘relationship’ building. It implies developing a recognizable style and personality, and that has important implications for brand marketing.”
There are those who say that branded service is too expensive and too difficult. But ironically, the big expense for organisations is in shifting from poor generic customer service to excellent generic customer service. The cost lies not just in training people service skills, but investing in all systems and technology required to deliver quick, assured, high quality, error-free service. By contrast, if you are at the point where you know what your brand promise is, then it is more likely that your internal structure and systems are coherent with that branded proposition, and a relatively low investment is required to move from generic customer service to branded customer service. That’s the service that’s going to get you noticed and more profitable. That’s the service that is “on-brand” and therefore “on-customer”.
Top tips for those wanting to build a culture that supports a great customer experience:
If you want to create a culture that supports the customer experience your brand promises, and which clearly differentiates you in the market. we'd love to talk.
Article is based on extracts from Branded Customer Service - the new competitive edge, by Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart (Berrett-Koehler, 2004). Branded Customer Service is an ON-Brand Partners offering.
One of my favourite articles of all time is The Neuroscience of Leadership by Rock & Schwartz. Sounds technical and scary but it isn't. It really helps to explains why us weird humans do the things we do.
The article appeals because it helps to explain why the application of the principles of behavioural psychology so critical in driving organisational change. Simply demanding compliance ("you will now do this") from people does not work if you want to achieve sustainable, authentic change because humans have to believe in what they are asked to do. And only then will they come along for the ride - the 'why' is so important to us humans.
Another excellent article on the subject from Strategy+Business titled 'That's the way we (used to) do things around here', also helps to explain that change doesn't just happen simply because the boss decrees it. As the article says...
"New behaviours can be put in place, but only by reframing attitudes that are so entrenched that they are almost literally embedded in the physical pathways of employees’ neurons. These beliefs have been reinforced over the years through everyday routines and hundreds of workplace conversations. They all have the same underlying theme: “That’s the way we do things around here.”
So to change 'the way things are done around here', and get peoples heads out of the sand, requires a change in the conversations they are having, which then leads to an actual rewiring of the brain (mindsets) and which ultimately leads to new (and better) behaviours. Sounds like something out of science fiction but then what doesn't sometimes.
The article highlights that the "potential impact of neuroscience on management practice is mostly unrealized". This is surprising considering the compelling evidence to support it and this is something ON-Brand Partners is out to change because experience proves that only by recognising how human beings actually work, can we begin to change the mindsets that drive ingrained behaviours.
Basically, people aren't robots and never will be. Yes, demanding compliance ("you must do this") can get short-term gains, but this is not sustainable as people have to believe in what they are doing. And only then will they give you that elusive discretionary effort that every organisation wants, something most commonly known as 'better productivity'. Yes, CEO's, CFO's and COO's, productivity is pretty much nothing more sometimes than making people believe in, or feel good about what they are doing. Humans are as weird as that.
For anyone with an interest in achieving sustainable behavioural change in their organisation, I highly recommend you read these two articles. You'll no doubt see a lot of your own behaviour reflected in them but that's OK because you are only human - perfectly flawed like everyone else, but capable of change.
And one last thing that has dawned on me as I learn more about Neuroscience, is that when people talk about culture change as being about the soft stuff (sometimes, sadly in a derogatory way), I realise that is profoundly wrong. It's not about the 'soft' stuff, it's actually about the 'hard-wired' stuff!
I've come across a few articles lately which talk about leadership for the modern world. Some call it Lateral Leadership, others Enterprise Leadership – the ability to lead and influence, without authority, across increasingly complex organisations. The more I think about it, the more I think about the role of the Frontrunner, and how this unique capability is key.
Like most capabilities, if you’re not born with the natural talent, you can develop it as you go, as long as you know what ‘it’ is!. So here’s a starter for 10 on how anyone can futureproof their leadership skills, and maybe one day become a Frontrunner!
Why does leadership need to change its style?
Well, unless you’ve been living under a rock forever, you’ll have noticed that the world is changing! So is the world of business, and changing at a rate greater than ever before. Whatever aspect you want to look at – technology, information, communication, mobility – it’s all creating an increasingly complex and interconnected business environment.
Leaders therefore are facing new challenges. Challenges that maybe didn’t exist in the past:
So, what sort of leadership is required?
In 2004 Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp talked about Lateral Leadership as ‘getting things done when you are not the boss’, highlighting the need for a more collaborative leader, capable of getting the most out of a team over which they have no formal authority.
More recently, in 2015 The CEB talked about Enterprise Leadership, describing leaders who achieve not only their own objectives, but those of the organisation and others by leading across the organisational network. They do this by ‘give and take’ with their peers, pushing and pulling team contribution, and facilitating as opposed to directing change.
And Deloitte’s in their 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report - ‘Re-writing the rules for the digital age’ – talk about ‘leadership disrupted: pushing the boundaries’. To survive and thrive, leaders need to THINK, ACT and REACT differently – become more agile, more collaborative, more innovative and more brave.
At OBP – we call these leaders Frontrunners.
What does Frontrunning look like in action?
Like the name suggests, the role of the Frontrunner is a leadership role, even if you haven’t got your own team. A Frontrunner is someone who takes the lead, leads by example, walks the talk, champions the cause, and challenges the norms.
The Frontrunner asks for forgiveness not permission, brings energy and life to the conversation, and enables those around them to flourish with confidence.
Whilst the name and the concept is helpful, to get any good at it, you need to know the nuts and bolts – the skills and knowledge that makes someone a good Frontrunner.
So here’s my attempt at describing what the Frontrunner does, and what simple things anyone can do to improve his or her effectiveness.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
So if that’s what Frontrunners do, what do they need to be? Well, if we look deeply into the above, we may find that actually, some of the core foundational skills of being a Frontrunner, are the same as they have always been for being a good leader. And maybe as the world has become faster, and more digitally enabled, we’ve lost sight of what’s important.
The profile of a good Frontrunner looks something like this:
Self-aware – the ability to understand oneself, and all that comes with you
Organisationally savvy – the ability to understand the big picture and how to get things done
Emotionally intelligent – the ability to understand others, their emotions, and be empathetic.
Relationship builder – the ability to communicate and work with others, and establish long lasting trust
Connected – the ability to make powerful connections with others, both face to face and virtually
So if you want to future proof your leadership skills, these 5 core skills are probably a good place to start.
As someone wise once said – “Success is not predicting the future, it’s creating people who can thrive in a future that cannot be predicted.”
Frontrunners both thrive, and develop the ability to thrive in others.
Top Tip references:
It’s not uncommon for people to see the name ON-Brand Partners and think that we’re a marketing company. After all, anytime the word ‘Brand‘ is used, most people straight away think of advertising campaigns, promotions or packaging – something the marketing department usually looks after.
While ON-Brand Partners isn’t a marketing company, we do have brands at our very heart. And most importantly, what those brands promise.
All organisations have a brand, whether it be for a product or a service, that promises their customers something. That promise could be anything from better service, to better quality, to lower prices, to cool new products, to the biggest range and so on. Most organisations then spend significant marketing dollars promoting that brand promise to their customers.
And when you make a promise to your customers, your organisation needs to live up to that promise because customers are more aware and demanding than ever. And if you don’t live up to it, the means by which they can punish you are infinitely greater and more powerful than ever before. Yes social media in particular has become the great megaphone of a generation, who either want to publicly punish, or reward you. And that strongly influences future transactions/purchases from that brand.
Therefore your brand is the most important asset you have, and everything about it must be managed well if it is to survive the disruptive forces that typify today’s commercial world.
“Our brand is what people say about us when we are not in the room.”
Jeff Bezos, Founder and Chairman, Amazon.com
And how do people judge a brand? Well it’s not whether they necessarily like your advertising or not, but a broader combination of all the interactions people have with every person/touchpoint/product from the organisation behind the brand, which influences their perceptions. So every organisation needs to make sure that every touchpoint delivers a consistent experience that matches what is promised.
Matching (or exceeding) customer expectations is what being ‘on-brand’ is all about.
And ultimately, the ability to be ‘on-brand’ is a reflection of the culture an organisation has, that allows it to consistently meet it’s promises, or not.
So back to why we are called ON-Brand Partners. It’s because ultimately we help organisations build the ‘right’ culture to support their brand promise and create the desired customer experience. A culture that allows them to consistently deliver the customer and product experience they need to in a fast changing world. And we do this by getting people engaged and aligned around:
Our approach to culture change ensures it’s not just the marketing department that is that the guardian of the brand but critically, every person that works for the organisation. Essentially everybody becomes ’on-brand’.
This way customers will think and talk positively about your brand, and keep coming back for more. The very reason for your existence.
Also see: ON-Brand Off-Brand: It's the (customer) experience that counts