Radical Meaningful Change is Needed

October’s HBR issue highlights many reoccurring themes generating momentum in the business community at large.  I’m struck and inspired by the radical change that is required to move us from the how into the doing to reinvent a new transparent, customer centric, fully responsible corporate environment and supply chain with a sexy bottom line.

I believe that you will not survive what Rosabeth Moss Kanter refers to as the “new era of end-to-end responsibility” without radically examining the 7 elements that make up your corporate environment and the corporate environment of your entire supply chain.  In It’s Time to Take Full Responsibility, Rosabeth states that “increasingly companies and leaders will be assessed not only on immediate results but also on longer-term impact, the ultimate effects their actions have on societal well-being.”  This trend is growing systemically, fueled by the Golf oil spill and a global recession resulting from a crisis in virtues and values.

Fasten your seat belts because “chains of command will be replaced by circles of influence, business fortresses by collaborative business ecosystems”.  We will see an emergence of leaders without titles and partnerships with competitors to solve social and political complex problems.  In The Transparent Supply Chain, Steve New suggests we “let customers know everything about where our products come from before they discover it first”.  It’s time to treat all of your stakeholders like valued customers including your partners and suppliers; your customer experience is only as good as the sum of it’s parts.  This is the beginning of collective ownership at it’s best.

I am developing a proposed framework to maximize potentiality to prosper through this radical meaningful change, this post is intended to introduce the motivational drivers and initiate the important  dialog that will  further shape the new ideas required to transform today’s practices.  This is part 1 of a new blog series that will explore this proposed framework, one I hope you will follow and participate in.

On a scale from 1-10 how would you rate your companies customer experience?  On that same scale how would you rate the end-to-end supply chain customer experience?

Embrace Your Skeptics!

If you are evangelizing a customer experience transformation you have undoubtedly become intimately familiar with the challenge of attaining collective buy in.  I was recently asked by a “clienteer” about how to best prepare for the anticipated skeptics he was to face while introducing a new strategic customer experience corporate initiative to his organization broadly.  He was on the right path and I don’t think I told him anything he didn’t already know but rather validated his planned, rather unconventional approach.  Historically companies have introduced new initiatives when they are fully baked, presenting what they perceive to be the perfect apple pie right out of the oven that everyone will love, eat up and then bake that same pie on their own.  Only when they present it, the most vocal skeptics start to ask “why pie?” “what is it for?” “I don’t like pie” “I prefer cherry pie” “pie is fattening” “we need cake, not pie” “why didn’t we know you were making pie” “I’m an award winning pie maker, why didn’t you ask for me help?”.  By not involving your employees in the early stages of the process and focusing on attaining collective buy in from conception, many great initiatives never get off the ground and fail due to fear based attacks mixed with some valid overlooked risks and concerns.

John P. Kotter was interviewed in HBR’s October issue on How to Save Good Ideas.  He talks about how we’ve been taught to focus on getting an idea right instead of making sure people understand and support it.  He talks about the “murky land of human nature and group dynamics” and how this colours the way people react to new ideas.  Kotter recommends embracing the naysayers and inviting them to critique your ideas and treating them with respect.  He stresses the importance to never let disagreement become personal.

I have found that this is tough and often counter intuitive for otherwise highly effective leaders that are passionate about how their idea or mission will transform their business.  This comes back to applying “naked” leadership principles, becoming comfortable with the transparency and vulnerability required to introduce ideas in the early stages of development and inviting skeptics to help influence and shape the solution.  This approach will create holistic collective ownership and mitigate having your idea killed by the crowd.

I am not suggesting you bring your idea forward when it is merely sketched on a cocktail napkin; you still need to ensure you bring forward a compelling story to support your idea.  If you are presenting to a group of Accountants as was the “clienteer” I spoke with, you probably should have a solid RIO based story, or if you are presenting to creative audience then you should ensure you have strong visual components to support your story.  Likewise if you are presenting to a highly technical audience you will want to ensure you have a conceptual framework and process roadmap to support your story.  The important take away here is to begin the dialog as early as you can and embrace your toughest skeptics, make them your biggest asset, mastering the art of winning buy-in and attaining collective ownership is a critical leadership skill.

What strategies do you use to deal with skeptics?

The Group of 7: Corporate Environment Insights Report

Now available to download my Group of 7 Corporate Environment Insight Report.   This Insights Report is inspired by last month’s 7 part blog Series focused on the health of your corporate environment.

I am often asked why the same great strategic initiative works for some organizations and fail miserably for others. My answer is always the same; your potential for success is directed mapped to the health of your corporate environment.  Yet unfortunately I do not think I have met a company yet that consciously shapes and determines their corporate environment.  Any meaningful transformation or business decision relies heavily on 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment.  Appropriately named The Group of 7, they are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values.  Whether you are implementing a new IT system, starting a Customer Experience Management Practice, or simply rolling out a new corporate policy, your corporate environment determines the level of effort as well as your potentiality of success.

In this report we explore each element in more depth and then we review the best way to get started depending on some key characteristics of your organization including your level of influence within your organization.  Finally we cover some best practices that will optimize your efforts.

I hope you find this Insights Report enlightening and empowering, providing you with actionable steps to move forward.  Please contact me directly in the event you are interested in discussing this further in context of your organization.

A comprehensive survey to assist you in assessing your corporate environment will be made available next week.

Thank you!

Not a Coincidence – A Leap Forward in Meaningful Solutions

My love for HBR resurfaced today when I received the September 2010 issue in the mail.  My frustration in having to wait so long after it is available online to receive it by mail was overshadowed by my delight in the content that never seems to disappoint.

The HBR cover teaser to this issue’s spotlight entices us with “Why the world needs audacious business solutions”.  I could not turn to the pages fast enough in anticipation, I was pondering if it was a coincidence that “audaciousness” was the theme in the Motivated magazine I recently discovered?  The issue of Motivated inspired a post that was deeply meaningful to me on many levels.  The first article that I read in the HBR spotlight was A New Alliance for Global Change.  Authors Bill Drayton and Valeria Budinich share how corporations and social entrepreneurs can work together to reshape industries and solve the world’s toughest problems. “By forming ‘hybrid value chains’ (HVCs) the for-profit and citizen sectors can together remake global economies and create long lasting social change”.  They explore the possibility that “if you’re not thinking about HVC collaboration, you’ll soon be guilty of strategy malpractice.”  I often write about strategies to maximize your potentiality, HVCs are a win-win proposition that can expand your potentiality exponentially.  Earlier in the summer I said It’s Time for Social Innovation, and HVC is social innovation at it’s best.  Bottom line: The time has come for for-profit companies to explore social innovative strategies and for not-for-profit companies to apply their good intentions to sound for-profit business models.

So it is a coincidence that this HBR spotlight was about the beauty of audaciousness within social innovation?  No, not at all, coincidence is accidental, this is a leap forward in meaningful solutions.

New Series Part 1: Getting Naked with Joe Ames

If you have followed my posts, by now you may have taken note that my favourite book is Getting Naked by Patrick Lencioni.  In fact, you’ll find references to the “naked” approach in posts such as Celebrating the Age of Transparency, Is Vulnerability a Leadership Strength?, Part 5 of 7: Are You Ready to Get Naked?, and The Beauty of Audaciousness.  This book resonated for me like no other. Patrick brilliantly put to words a message and a Getting Naked Service Model that I have passionately come to believe and live by through the course of my career. Not only did it validate my approach, for which many have thought I was crazy, it re-enforced it and further shaped my methods. I advocate that everyone read this book, it is sure to transform your thinking and approach with your customers.

When a book impacts me like this one has it makes me curious to find out how it impacted others that have read it.  What about the “naked” approach resonated with them the most?  How is their approach similar? And how does it differ? Finally, did the book further shape their approach?  I was  also curious to hear examples of how the “naked” approach has enabled barriers they have encountered?  What traits do they admire most in leaders, or more specifically what traits build their trust?

These questions sparked this new blog series, we will explore these questions with some of my fellow “naked” fans.  My first guest is Joe Ames,  Senior Director IT Infrastructure and Development at Lash Group. Joe is an innovative, results oriented leader with a proven record of defining technology strategy and managing large-scale projects.  With notable expertise in assembling teams that drive innovation, efficiency, and business process improvement by aligning technology solutions with business needs. Joe has a demonstrated ability to consistently drive quality and process improvement with the implementation of new technology and process through an open-minded collaborative approach.

Question: What about the “naked” approach resonated with you the most?

Joe: The fundamental idea resonates with me which I summarize as being open and honest with your customers, employees, family, friends and so on. Of the 3 fears the fear of losing the business is the most relevant at present. When companies set aside reality and keep customers at all costs it turns the relationship from one of partnership and value to both parties, to one of order taker and win-lose. Operating from a place where you are comfortable loosing the business is necessary in order to truly be honest with your customers. That doesn’t mean that you treat them poorly, rather, that they know you will give them everything you’ve got every time and will settle up later on the details.

Question: How is your approach similar? And how does it differ? Finally did the book further shape your approach?

Joe: What you see is what you get, I’m an open book so people around me know what I’m thinking and know my opinions. The book and experience have validated that approach, however, it’s also helped me understand that with some finesse and sophistication I can be direct and honest without overstepping boundaries or being rude. Sometimes it’s about the timing and/or the things I choose to concentrate on.

Question: Can you share any examples of how your own flavour of the naked approach has enabled barriers you have encountered?

Joe: A recent example is related to interactions with colleagues internally. As we all get busy with the day to day sometimes we forget to keep each other informed of decisions that are made. In the instance I am thinking of a colleague did just this and while the appearance was that there was intentional withholding of information, direct interaction and real time feedback cleared up the communication issue and reset expectations. Without directly engaging them on the issue it would have been drug out, increased the amount of time to resolution, and eroded the trust we’ve worked so hard to build on the team. It was also an opportunity to talk through the pressure they were getting that wasn’t fully visible to me and provide support.

Question: What traits do you admire most in leaders, or more specifically what traits build your trust?

Joe: This morning I had the opportunity to meet with one of the most effective leaders I have had the pleasure of working with over breakfast and it hit me. Some of the most admirable traits of effective leaders are not only credibility, integrity, and inspiration. Those are the basis of leadership that you can’t lead without. Truly great leaders listen, even when the message is about what they can do differently. They accept that they can be wrong and recognize it and immediately work to make changes. All the while they lead by example.

Huge thanks to Joe for sharing his “naked” insights with us.  I had the pleasure of working with Joe in my previous role as Vice President of Operations at ABSG Canada, a sister company to Lash Group within AmeriSource Bergen.  I have immeasurable respect for Joe, he is fluent in driving meaningful change and a true customer advocate.

Have you read Getting Naked?  If so, please share how this book impacted you?

The Beauty of Audaciousness

Move over HBR and hello Motivated! Just kidding, I love HBR but I found another favourite magazine, if you have not already you must check out the new Summer 2010 Motivated magazine for a mere $5.95 per issue or $19.95 per year (4 issues)!

The theme this month has me spinning with revelations, validations and yes, motivation.  Shevaun Voisin opens with an invitation to explore audacity in a new and refreshing light. Shevaun decouples audacity from ego with the distinction that audacity comes from internal confidence while ego seeks external recognition, the beauty in audacity occurs without ego.  Audacity is the theme of this issue and you will come away with a new appreciation for it’s purpose.  My biggest revelation was accepting that audacity is really about giving courage to your internal fire.

The first article that moved me was Make Some Noise by Silken Laumann.  I highly recommend reading the full article but here are my favourite take-aways:

“Keeping company with dreamers and doers inspires me to keep pushing, to explore my talents and follow my dreams.  It also makes me wonder about our often conflicted relationship with high achievement.”

“For most of us, our greatest battle in living audaciously is our own self doubt.”

“Looking for the right way of moving forward is often a disguise for the fear of moving forward.”

“A talent I have noticed in many of the high achievers and audacious thinkers that I know – they seem completely unaware of just how fabulous their contributions really are.  This isn’t false modesty; merely an understanding that they’ve had opportunities to pursue their greatness, to be audacious in their thinking and their actions, and usually feel pretty blessed to have had the opportunity to pursue their talents.”

Silken is a four-time Olympic medalist, a dreamer and one of Canada’s top inspirational speakers and I am now following her on twitter.

The next article that captivated me was Have the Audacity to be Remarkable, an interview with Seth Godin by Shevaun Voisin.  I’m going to assume you are all familiar with Seth’s perspectives, a day does not pass without him being quoted and no doubt many of you have read Linchpin.  So I will only share my favourite take-away and his closing response.  When asked “What do you feel in your heart you are still destined to accomplish?” Seth responded “I’m skeptical about destiny.  I think we have opportunities, and we take them or we don’t.  I’m hoping that moving forward, I’ll use the leverage I have and take the opportunities that present themselves, as opposed to shrinking from them.”  I could not agree more!

Last, but certainly not least of the most inspiring articles was The Merits of Naked Consulting by the author of my favourite book Getting Naked, Patrick Lencioni.  I dug into the naked way in my recent post Part 5 of 7: Are You Ready to Get Naked? In this article Patrick eloquently describes the power of naked consulting.  “The essence of naked consulting is that clients are more interested in candor, humility and transparency than they are in confidence, authority and perfection.  That’s not to say that competence is irrelevant; clients need to know that we have the knowledge and experience to help them.  But once we’ve reached that level, the best way to differentiate ourselves from competition – not to mention help a client implement the ideas we’re recommending to them – is to be vulnerable with them.”

Being respectfully audacious is not just intended for customer experience management, however it is a business movement that requires audaciousness to gain awareness and momentum.  Have the courage to move from the “how” into “doing” and next time you see someone else exercising their audaciousness, resist negative skepticism and congratulate them for stepping up.   I’m not suggesting you blindly support them, ask the tough questions, while trying to resist protecting the “rules”.

There are a lot of other good reads in this magazine, these are just my personal favourites, it’s worth subscribing!

Part 7: What Are Your Corporate Beliefs?

This is part 7, the final part, of my 7 part series focused on the health of your corporate environment.   This series started with the question, why do some of the best customer experience management strategies and road-maps struggle or worse fail?  The reality is that developing a solid plan and effectively implementing that plan are entirely at the mercy of your corporate environment.  I have developed a Corporate Diagnostic Chart to assess the health of your corporate environment.  It examines the 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment. They are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values. At the end of the series I will post an extensive survey that will further help you diagnose your company’s environment.

Our focus today is on valuesValues govern your corporate beliefs, they provide a higher sense of shared purpose and shape our words and actions.  A companies values reveal what is important to them and their words and actions validate the importance.  Value driven actions and words breed respect and loyalty from your employees and customers.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter from HBR recently posted 10 Essentials for Getting Value from Values, in the post Rosabeth summarizes what smart companies do to bring values to life.  Values tend to be similar from company to company and passive in nature, but that does not mean they do not matter, in fact values can have a very powerful impact on your corporate environment.  There are 3 things I would add to Rosabeth’s post, 1st is to invite your employees to help develop your core values and then again as you tune them along the way.  Your values should be shaped by your aspired customer experience.  The 2nd is to her statement in closing “In short, it’s not the words that make a difference; it’s the conversation.” I agree with this statement but would add “and actions” to the end of the sentence.  Values need to be common dialog and common action. My 3rd add is that your customer experience based values should shape performance reviews and rewards.  Most performance reviews are shaped by corporate, divisional and individual goals, incorporate your values and this will bring further purpose and empowerment to your employees.

Trust is a value that has been profoundly shaken in the business community at large, yet it is what the majority of us and our customers value most.  I could not be a loyal customer to someone I did not trust.  Trust is about integrity and is earned through consistent transparency and confident humility and vulnerability.  ClienteerHub has a powerful video posted The Truth About Trust, smart companies will incorporate values that inspire trust.

There you have it, the 7 key elements of your corporate environment.  This model can be applied to a company of any size regardless of the products and/or services.  It can also be applied at the division and/or team level and even on the individual level.  I would love to hear your perspective.

Next I will be posting an in depth survey to evaluate your corporate environment, stay tuned!

Part 6 of 7: Is Your Company Aware?

Today is part 6 of my 7 part series focused on the health of your corporate environment.   This series all started with the question, why do some of the best customer experience management strategies and road-maps struggle or worse fail?  The reality is that developing a solid plan and effectively implementing that plan are entirely at the mercy of your corporate environment.  I have developed a Corporate Diagnostic Chart to assess the health of your corporate environment.  It examines the 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment. They are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values. At the end of the series I will post an extensive survey that will further help you diagnose your company’s environment.

Our focus today is on awareness.  Awareness governs your corporate capacity to see, seek, share, use (and reuse) honest, open, meaningful information.  It is really the self awareness of a company as well as the collective self awareness of all of it’s employees.  The self awareness of the leaders within a company determines the potentiality of self awareness broadly.   John Baldoni from HBR illustrates this in his blog back in 2009, “To bring people together around a common cause, it is critical that a leader be self aware”.  Awareness also encompasses a company’s collective customer awareness and industry awareness.  (Community awareness is also relevant, this was explored as it’s own element earlier in the series).

How does a company achieve awareness?  The first step is acknowledging the significance of awareness.

Here are some tips for developing awareness and then harnessing it:

Self awareness: In an article from Inc. Chris Musselwhite shares the benefits of self awareness and offers some steps to begin to increase your awareness “…seek feedback on your performance from others by asking good questions and listening without justifying or defending your actions. Remember, organizations benefit far more from leaders who take responsibility for what they don’t know than from leaders who pretend to know it all.”

Customer awareness: In Bruce Tempkin’s The Four Customer Experience Competencies, his 4th competency is “Customer Connectedness”.  The message is simple, embed deep customer insights into all decisions and operations within your company.  Two of his suggestions are great ways to increase your company’s customer awareness, the first is to built a voice of the customer program and the second is to make customer insight widely available to your employees.

Industry awareness: Social media is a great tool to help you keep up to date on industry trends and insights.  Companies have some valid concerns with regards to promoting employees to spend excessive time with the abundance of information to sift through, however by assigning ownership to this responsibility and setting in place guidelines and governance you can share targeted industry intelligence with your leaders and employees that will empower them to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively.

It is important to make all of the intelligence generated from your collective awareness widely available within your company, it is also important to provide guidelines and governance to develop consistency and alignment to all of the other elements in your corporate environment.  To do this I recommend assigning ownership of this to your PMO and ensuring they have the required skills to employ awareness broadly.

Finally, once you have started on your path of corporate awareness, recommend that your employee’s spend 15-30 minutes every day developing awareness.  An enlightened team will out perform exponentially.

“Enlarge your consciousness. If your consciousness is small, you will experience smallness in every department of your life.” – Robert Pante

Stay tuned for the final part of my 7 part series, last but certainly not least is values.  Thank you for following the series, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Part 5 of 7: Are You Ready to Get Naked?

Today is part 5 of my 7 part series focused on the health of your corporate environment.   Why do some of the best customer experience management strategies and road-maps struggle or worse fail?  The reality is that developing a solid plan and effectively implementing that plan are entirely at the mercy of your corporate environment.   In a recent blog I provided a Corporate Diagnostic Chart to assess the health of your corporate environment.  It examines the 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment. They are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values. At the end of the series I will post an extensive survey that will further help you diagnose your company’s environment.

Our focus today is on transparency.  Transparency governs your corporate honesty, openness and vulnerability.  It requires being completely authentic and humble without pretenses with your customers, employees, partners and peers.  It takes courage to practice transparency and we are all susceptible to the fears that go hand and hand with being open and vulnerable.  Patrick Lencioni, author of Getting Naked brilliantly captures the challenges and value of transforming your corporate environment to embrace transparency.

Not only is this ethically the best approach, customer today are demanding it.  The good news is that transparency breeds loyalty.  Not just with your customers, but also with your employees, partners and your peers.   When you pretend to know something, people see right through that, when you cover up mistakes, people feel manipulated.  So why is it so hard to say “I don’t know” or “my apologies, we made a mistake”?  Most will say the reason is fear, fear of disappointing or losing trust, yet ironically owning it, being transparent, builds trust.

That said, there is an art to “telling the kind truth”.  Transparency requires mindfulness and respectful communications in order to be effective.  It does not mean you need to air your dirty laundry for the sake of being fully transparent.   It means being mindful of when you are misleading others.  It also does not mean you have a license to be hurtful or insensitive for the sake of being direct.  It means demonstrating respect and tact in your approach for communicating delicate matters.  A naked approach has a pervasive impact on your corporate communications, culture and values.  This is the most untapped element that has the most potential to foster loyalty.

If you’re skeptical, read Patrick’s book and try it yourself at your next meeting.  I read Patrick’s book in one sitting, it is simple yet powerful.

Bottom line, transparency breeds loyalty.  Yet the practice of transparency is not common, nor is it easy for many to implement.  Consider adopting Patrick’s “Getting Naked” approach as core to your corporate environment.  Provide training and coaching and introduce “naked” dialog into your corporate language.

Next we will explore awareness.  Stay tuned!

Part 4 of 7: Is Your Corporation Socially Responsible?

If you have been following this series you know that I recently posted a Corporate Diagnostic Chart to assess the health of your corporate environment.  It examines the 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment.  They are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values.

This post is part 4, in a 7 part series, where we are exploring each element of the corporate environment in a little more depth.  At the end of the series I will post an extensive survey that will further help you diagnose your company’s environment.

Our focus today is on the 4th element, community.  Your community governs corporate social responsibility (CSR), compassion and development of a higher sense of purpose.  Historically, social responsibility was left to the not-for-profit companies but I am happy to say that is no longer the case, there are many organizations today that are very passionate about giving back to their community in creative meaningful ways.  Investing in a CSR strategy benefits much more than the community, it has a positive impact on your brand, employee experience, customer experience, communications and customer loyalty.  Without as CSR strategy you are more likely to encounter a lack of teamwork and team spirit as well as a general lack of compassion for one another and your customers.

In 2008 Chris McClean of Forrester published  How The World’s Leading Businesses Address Corporate Social Responsibility. Chris says “Corporate behavior is approaching celebrity status. Executive scandals, product recalls, unethical labor practices, and environmental disasters are more closely scrutinized than ever, and the information age does not permit incidents to be swept easily under the rug. As employees, investors, customers, and partners pay more attention to corporate responsibility, companies are responding by strengthening and reporting their efforts related to environmental, social, and economic issues. “

One such company is KPMG, they have made their CSR strategy a priority.  A few years ago Forrester completed a case study on KPMG’s CSR strategy, the study shares that “In 2008, KPMG set a number of corporate wide environmental goals, including a 25% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2010.”  Their CSR strategy is aligned to their vision, mission and values.  “We have a clear vision of the role of KPMG firms. We believe we should use our skills and our resources to become fully involved in finding sustainable solutions to global and local issues, working alongside governments, civil society groups and international agencies. This vision is in line with our values — where we make a commitment to the communities in which we work.” Says Micheal Hastings, Global Head of Citizenship and Diversity, KPMG International.  KPMG has numerous key leadership roles dedicated to corporate citizenship world wide.

Adobe is another company with a demonstrated commitment to the social community.  I think many would be pleasantly surprised to learn the extent to which Adobe has invested in their corporate social responsibility.    “Adobe supports strategic programs and partnerships that help make our communities better, stronger, and more vibrant places in which to live, work, and do business.”  They have community giving programs that include grants, an employee volunteer program and a software donation and training programs.  In addition Adobe has it’s own foundation ” Adobe Youth Voices their global signature philanthropy program designed to provide youth in underserved communities with the critical skills they need to become active and engaged members of their communities and the world at large.” A powerful example of this at play took place on February 5th 2009 when the Adobe Foundation, the Black Eyed Peas and the Entertainment Industry Foundation announced a new partnership to help underserved youth access and learn to use multi-media production tools, including those for video, dance, music and art, to comment on critical issues and spark social change in their communities. The collaboration was highlighted with a benefit concert hosted and performed in Los Angeles by the Black Eyed Peas and other musical artists. This is corporate social  responsibility at it’s best!

Anne Lewnes, SVP Global Marketing at Adobe recently blogged “CSR is a great opportunity for all companies to strengthen their brand and connection to their customers. Companies should choose a cause close to their product and culture, so there is good alignment, and they shouldn’t be shy about promoting their CSR cause to their customers. Our own research has shown that our customers really want to know more about what Adobe is doing in the CSR space, so we’re going to continue to get the word out.”

There a many more companies doing great by their community but where do you start if you have not yet developed a CSR strategy? Or if you do have one and want to improve it, what is the best approach? On the highest level you need to ensure it is aligned to your corporate mission, vision and values.  Here are a few helpful tips to help shape your strategy:

  • Ideally it should leverage your core products or services
  • Invite your employees to actively participate
  • Be sure to consider your employee community, solicit what is important to them, you can extend this to your customers as well
  • Consider what would improve your own internal environment, it is ok to benefit from your CSR strategy
  • Explore partnering with other corporations
  • Develop and invest in your CSR strategy the same way you would approach a for-profit strategy, it is important to measure and validate the impact

Is your company doing anything innovative for it’s community? If so please share!

Part 3 of 7: What Does Your Corporate Culture Reveal?

In a recent blog I provided a Corporate Diagnostic Chart to assess the health of your corporate environment.  It examines the 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment.  They are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values.

This post is part 3, in a 7 part series, where we are exploring each element of the corporate environment in a little more depth.  At the end of the series I will post an extensive survey that will further help you diagnose your company’s environment.

Why do some of the best customer experience management strategies and road-maps struggle or worse fail?  The reality is that developing a solid plan and effectively implementing that plan are entirely at the mercy of your corporate environment.  Your customer experience transformation requires a healthy corporate environment for sustainable results.  What we tend to see today are isolated customer experience grass root efforts that yield results isolated to their area of influence and power.

Our focus today is on the 3rd element, culture.  Your culture governs the authenticity of your business environment as a whole.  In other words, a corporate culture magnifies the gaps across all 7 elements and amplifies what is working well.  You can not fake culture, it is a result of your company’s collective intentions, words and actions.  Typical symptoms of an unhealthy corporate culture are lack of employee pride and motivation, employee segregation and dysfunction, lack of identity, high levels of absenteeism and entitlement issues or the opposite, job security issues.  The financial cost of cultural problems might surprise some leaders, but it is the impact that really needs to be understood.  Poor employee experience = poor customer experience plain and simple.

Let’s go a little deeper on that, poor employee experience = poor customer experience.  So many customer experience management initiatives begin with the voice of the customer, this makes perfect sense but only when you add the voice of the employee do you have the full picture.  I find it painfully ironic that it is usually the customer service department that suffers the lowest employee experience.  I believe this is a result of the actual cost of providing good quality customer service.  When Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh was originally evaluating outsourcing their customer service call center he was smart enough to recognize that the cost savings would come at a much bigger cost.  “As we thought more about it, though, we realized that it wouldn’t be matching our actions to our words. If we were serious about building our brand around being the best in customer service, customer service had to be the whole company, not just a single department.” The take away here is to make employee experience a critical element of your customer experience initiatives.

Back to the broader topic of corporate culture.  Bruce Tempkin’s “#1 new management imperative” is  to “invest in culture as a corporate asset”. I highly recommend reading Tempkin’s The 6 New Management Imparatives. His key message being that culture can amplify the value of your business and needs to be recognized as a real corporate asset, I could not agree more, it truly belongs on the balance sheet.  Bruce shares 4 great ways you can do this: track employee goodwill, develop a voice of the employee program, establish a vocabulary around culture and to actively manage your culture.  “Bottom line: don’t squander your corporate culture asset.”

Adding to Bruce’s “establish a vocabulary around culture”, there are powerful tools and resources available that can truly amplify your culture, establish a common dialog, stimulate open creative communication, and drive awareness and appreciation of all 7 elements of your corporate environment.  For example,  DISC is a model for understanding behavioral styles, it was developed by William Moulton Marston, Ph.D. over 75 years ago, and has become one of the most widely-used models for understanding the behavioral differences in people.  The Language of DISC is a tool that leads to behavioral change, it builds mutual understanding, communication, teamwork, trust and respect among team members.  In application you can tailor the training to shape cultural beliefs that reflect your company core values.

What does your corporate culture reveal?  Does your company recognize culture as a corporate asset?

So far we have explored foundation, communication and culture, next we will explore community.  Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts!

Part 2 or 7: Does Every Company Struggle with Communication?

Yesterday Forrester twittered “half of large companies have an executive focused exclusively on customer experience” from their Forrester Customer Experience Forum 2010 in NYC.  My first thought was “all large companies world wide?” if so that surprises me, in a very pleasant way, but perhaps they meant of the companies attending the forum?  My second thought was “of those companies, how many of them are pleased with the progress they are making?”  The challenge with this question is that most leaders would not have the courage to provide an open answer.

I want to encourage more transparent discussions around the impact the corporate environment is having on customer experience initiatives.  Why do some of the best customer experience management strategies and road-maps struggle or worse fail?  The reality is that developing a solid plan and effectively implementing that plan are entirely at the mercy of your corporate environment.  Your customer experience transformation requires a healthy corporate environment for sustainable results.  What we tend to see today are isolated customer experience grass root efforts that yield results isolated to their area of influence and power.

In a recent blog I provided a Corporate Diagnostic Chart to assess the health of your corporate environment.  It examines the 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment.  They are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values.

It is day 2, in a 7 part series, where I am exploring each element in a little more depth.  At the end of the series I will post an extensive survey that will further help you diagnose your company’s environment.

Today we will focus on the second element, communication.  This element governs knowledge, collective ownership, teamwork,  and respect.  This element is a corporation’s equivalent of the human nervous system, in constant transmission and interpretation of information from multiple sources in numerous forms.  Typical problems are deficient and conflicting information, excessive rumours, a lack of trust and loyalty, poor collaboration and inadequate compliance and governance.  Communication problems resurface in every other element causing additional referral problems.

I have yet to discover a company that does not struggle with communication.  I used the human nervous system analogy for a reason, because frequently people feel information before they process it.  Communication stimulates emotion as does lack of communication.  It is important for leaders to recognize this and face it head on.  I highly recommend that organization should invest in developing a clear communication strategy with extensive training and coaching to all leaders and employees.  As part of this commit to re-occurring communications both written and verbal and stick to them.  Make your communications clear and creative and validate interpretation.

Effective communication is highly dependent on your IT team.  Tools provide you with the means to share, track and reference information to a broad, global audience with ease.  At minimum your company is communicating via email but most are now leveraging their customer relationship management systems, social media tools, knowledge management tools, learning management systems, and  mobile devices all with varying degrees of maturity and results.  This represents an enormous opportunity but it is also highly subject to failure and exorbitant costs without a solid plan and highly skilled execution.

All communications need to reflect your corporate values (the 7th element).  They need to be transparent (the 5th element) and whenever possible they need to be referencable; if it is true that we can only retain 7 pieces of information at a time, then we need a means to remind ourselves.

Finally, an open door policy is a powerful way to effectively acquire the voice of your leaders, employees and customers.  It breeds trust and reduces misinformation.  Of the smart companies that have an open door policy, few think to extend this to their customers, yet it makes perfect sense.

I’ll wrap up today with a great quote to live by:

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
— Winston Churchill

Next up we will explore the 3rd element, culture.  Thanks for reading and please share your thoughts!

Part 1 of 7: What is Your Company’s Basic Potentiality?

Why do some of the best customer experience management strategies and road-maps struggle or worse fail?  The reality is that developing a solid plan and effectively implementing that plan are entirely at the mercy of your corporate environment.  Your customer experience transformation requires a healthy corporate environment for sustainable results.  What we tend to see today are isolated customer experience grass root efforts that yield results isolated to their area of influence and power.

In a recent blog I provided a Corporate Diagnostic Chart to assess the health of your corporate environment.  It examines the 7 key elements that determine the state of your corporate environment.  They are foundation, communication, culture, community, transparency, awareness and values.

Now, in a 7 part series, I will explore each element in a little more depth.  At the end of the series I will post an extensive survey that will further help you diagnose your company’s environment.

Today we will focus on the base element, foundation.  This element governs stability, security, ownership, accountability and basic potentiality.  This is where it all starts, any gaps in your foundation will negatively permeate through all other 6 elements.  Typical gaps are a vague brand, vague mission and vision, dysfunctional leadership, lack of ownership and passion, poor financial results, and challenging sales.  These gaps directly limit your companies potential, it is important to be clear on this, a company can still have very strong perceived success (aka financial results), however they may not even be scratching the surface of their full potential representing a large missed opportunity.

Let’s explore some things you can do to develop a healthy corporate foundation.

Does your company mission and vision have meaning?  Does it accurately articulate your purpose?  If not, refresh them.  If your leadership team and employees don’t know where they are going, that is where they will end up.  And if they can not envision it, then they can not help shape it.  Do not underestimate the importance of a meaningful mission and vision.  Then weave your mission and vision into every other element.

We’ve all seen companies that appear to believe a re-org is the answer to improved financial performance as well as those that seem to re-org just to stir things up.  I’m less concerned with the frequency as I am with the purpose and design.  The authors of HBR’s  The Decision Driven Organization, share six steps to reorganize around decisions.   “First, be clear about which decisions are the most important to your company.  Second, figure out where in the organization those decisions need to be made.  Third, organize your structure around sources of value.  Fourth, figure out the level of authority your decision makers need, and give it to them.  Fifth, adjust other parts of your organizational system to support decision making and execution.  And sixth, equip your managers to make decisions quickly and well.”   This approach gives true meaning to your organizational structure and “ultimately, a company’s value is just the sum of the decisions it makes and executes”.

Finally measure what matters.  What does your company measure to determine performance? For many companies it starts and stops with financial results.  Your measures need to reflect the importance of each element of your corporate environment as well as the outcomes of all of the decisions and it makes and executes.  For example, if customer experience is not reflected in the performance measure of your employees, it will not shape their actions.  Measure and reward what matters most.

Next we will explore communication.

Meaning Driven Business

I recently read Ralph-Christian Ohr’s great guest post The Power of Meaning.  In this post Ralph-Christian explores bringing “meaning” into innovation, recognizing the profound role of emotions in business.  He refers to another post by Tim Leberecht, A New Era of Meaning, a brilliant discussion about the historic opportunity leaders have today to transform the way they do business and provide customers with more value-rich, sustainable, and meaningful products and services.

After exploring numerous provocative perspectives Tim sums it up with the following synopsis:

“Reading all these recent publications, it appears that the term “meaning” (obviously highly elusive anyway) is consistently used in two different ways: one focuses on sensemaking, the social and emotional relevance of products and services (that’s the designer’s perspective represented by Verganti, Vossoughi, and others). The other one is more concerned with meaningful actions, the social impact of brands and their contract with society at large (Haque and others). It is important to establish a clear nomenclature and distinguish these two dimensions of “meaning” in the current debate. Neither dimension is particularly new: The idea of design-driven innovation has been around for a while, and so has the idea of corporate social responsibility. What’s new and interesting, however, is that these two dimensions increasingly converge. You can see more design-for-social-impact-type initiatives emerge and more design-driven innovation that takes social responsibility very seriously. The social media/social marketing/social impact cascade is gaining traction, and product innovation concepts striving for customer-focused meaning are moving to the macro-economic level, providing a template for, that’s right, a new meaning of business.”

Smart companies will embrace the new era of meaning, it won’t be easy but it will be more than worth it.  Ensuring you have a healthy corporate environment is your first essential step in making this transformation.

Tim also presented a powerful quote from John Hagel, which is now my favourite quote “The job of leadership today is not just to make money. It’s to make meaning.”

Is Vulnerability a Leadership Strength?

Absolutely, in fact I would go so far as to stay that this trait transforms customers into loyal supporters and mistakes into creative new pathways.  Yet who teaches you how to be confidently vulnerable and turn failures into fortune?  Anyone I know of that has developed this strength has come into this on their own, it is not something that is taught in any academic environment.  Whether you are a parent, teacher or a business leader, the most powerful lessons you could impart are

1. To develop authenticity in all you do and say at all cost reflective of your values and without ego

2.  To have the courage to fail when you believe strongly in something and the humility to recognize the wealth of learners that failures reveal

We grow and become stronger when we practice vulnerability and take mindful risks of failure.

Patrick Lencioni, author of Getting Naked, refers to this as The Most Important Leadership Trait you Shun in a recent article for the Wall Street Journal.

If more leaders had the courage to practice “getting naked” we would see a dramatic improvement in business environments and ultimately be far more effective at delivering consistent valued customer experience.