This blog is about the relationship between organizations and the people who work for them. And, it’s dedicated to the millions of people around the world who go to work every day wanting to do a great job.
It’s rare that Michael and I actually go to the movie theatre. ¬†But this past long weekend that’s what we did. ¬†Having heard rave reviews about ‘Gravity’ it seemed the right thing to do on a rainy fall holiday Monday. ¬†So, off we went to see it in IMAX 3D. ¬†Wow! ¬†And, wow!
And in the midst of the wow communication, or the lack of it, plays a critical role in the plot. ¬†So, without giving anything away two lessons:
- When communication fails big – as in global failure of communication technology – it’s bad. ¬†Really, really bad. ¬†And, we are vulnerable whether we’re astronauts or communication professionals. ¬†You need a back up plan. ¬†And maybe another. Do you have yours?
- When communication technology fails, even in the high tech world of outer space exploration, you still need basic information. ¬†Does our hero reach for an iPad? ¬†No. She reaches for manuals – yes, three ring binders. ¬†Technical manuals with coloured covers that instantly tell you what they are for, coloured tabs for the different sections, simple images and little text. Do you have yours?
You might want to take a lesson from “Gravity” and prepare for anything. ¬†Because when anything happens,¬†‘flawless’ communication is more important than ever. ¬†
Well, it turns out you are. ¬†Lots and lots of numbers.
Numbers can be used to diminish and dehumanize. Survivors of the holocaust concentration camps living in Montreal bear the evidence of their experience; numbers tattooed on their inner arm.
As recently as 1996 when the last residential school in Canada closed, First Nations People were stripped of their names and given numbers. “I’m 31″ was an opening line to a testimony I heard¬†while attending the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings here in the spring.¬†And this legacy lives on. “I’m from treaty 5, bordering on 6″. No community name, just numbers.
Or, numbers can be used to celebrate and encourage¬†- sports sweater numbers are so associated with particular players that they get retired¬†[e.g. The Hab's Jean Beliveau's #4], being named “number 1″ , milestone birthdays.
Or, numbers can just be the backdrop to our lives. I remember getting my Social Insurance Number. It was a right of passage. Now I could finally go out and get a real job. No more babysitting for me.
When I got that job one of the first things that happened was that I was assigned an employee number. Now I had all the rights and responsibilities of an employee.
Numbers are still an important part of my life: phone numbers, apartment numbers, passwords [OK numbers and letters], credit card numbers, health insurance numbers, invoice numbers, postal codes, GST/PST numbers, cheque numbers, bank card numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. Nothing special.
Michael and I love to cook. Over the years our beautiful German knives had started to show it. No amount of sharpening was going to bring those blades back. And a cook without functioning knives is no cook at all.
So, off we went with a bundle of knives to visit L’√Čmoulier a very small – not much bigger than a walk in closet – store that specializes in knives. We walked through the door into a different world. A world where Japanese knives of all sizes and shapes line the walls. ¬†They are beautiful and we can’t help but feel that our once majestic knives had never compared.
We were greeted on that cold and rainy November day by the owner. A very young man who very obviously loved knives. He was very knowledgeable and proud of his collection. Many of the knives are designed with him by Japanese artisans for the store. ¬†The prices were staggering $300 to $1,500 or more. One look. One touch. One try and you knew why.
We dumped our lowly knives on the counter. He smiled. And lovingly took each one in his hand. Rather than trying to sell us on new – and trust me Michael and I can be persuaded on these kinds of things – he estimated how much it would cost to sharpen our knives. It was a lot, probably the price of one of the original knives, but what’s a cook without a knife, and we’d get our 5 knives back ‘better than new’.
A week later we come back to see how our humble patients had done. The owner, who by the way I now know is Guillaume de L’Ilse [see here for more on him, his knives and his store], welcomed us warmly and disappeared into the back of the store. ¬†He returned a few minutes later with a small package wrapped like a beautiful gift in a colourful tea towel: our knives. ¬†He gently unrolled the towel and presented each knife to us now gleaming and sharp. He was right they were ‘better than new’.
That was over two years ago.
Very rarely a customer experiences is just so right that you are somehow deeply touched by them. This was one. Thanks Guillaume.
Worth considering what it was about this experience that turned knife sharpening into such a memorable moment.
re¬∑la¬∑tion¬∑ship¬† Noun.¬†¬†1. The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.
trans¬∑ac¬∑tion¬† ¬† ¬†Noun. 1. An instance of buying or selling something, a business deal. ¬†2. The action of conducting business.
In the world of branding, the holy grail is the customer relationship. But for most organizations that relationship falls short. Why? Well because it’s not a relationship at all. ¬†At best it’s a series of transactions. At worst it’s a single transaction.
As long as the last transaction went well from the customer point of view they’ll probably be back. Or, in the case or banks or telecoms, even if the transaction doesn’t go well the cost of getting out of the ‘relationship’ is too high to move. I’ve actually consulted to an organization that had a strategy around inertia. ¬†Oh dear!
So, what’s the difference? ¬†When does a transaction or a series of transactions turn into a relationship.
Well, for me, at least, it’s when it’s personal. ¬†And, by that I don’t mean the overly friendly and creepy call with the aforementioned bank or telecom where they start calling you by your first name or remembering your birthday.
In marketing and internal communications in particular we act as if we can build trust and loyalty on a series of transactions. ¬†I guess if your selling a commodity or a simple product you could think that. There are some branded products I just love. ¬†It will take a lot for me to change. They are on the shelf where I shop, they cost about the same as the competition [or maybe even a little more] and they do what they are supposed to do every time.
But don’t mistake that for a relationship. ¬†The first time I don’t get what I expect I will leave and I won’t look back. Your customers are the same.
Complex products and services are a little different. There will need to be a person-to-person interaction at some point in the customer experience – whether it’s at point of purchase or some time later. And that’s where the potential for relationship happens. And smart companies – like Apple – make sure those interactions are “genius”.
Brand loyalty, can develop when when time after time you experience the brand through empathetic and effective [it must be both] professionals. But, even this is not a relationship to the brand. At best it’s a relationship with your employee or a series of employees.
So, any of you who are out there trying to develop customer relationships with your Brand, you’re missing something pretty fundamental.
Your customers, if they are building relationships, are building them with your employees.
You can’t have one without the other.
The brands that forget this do so at there peril.
What makes some environments platforms for personal and professional success? What makes other environments platforms for certain failure no matter how great the job is? ¬†The answer: Culture and chemistry.
In the past couple of years, I’ve heard story after story of clients hiring execs that end badly and execs making big career changes that end badly. I just read¬†this piece¬†by Daniel Rosensweig about his best career mistake that got me thinking.
Even the best job ¬†description and pay and benefits package in the world aren’t going to make up for a failure to find a match in culture and chemistry. ¬†It’s very personal.
Some people will thrive in a toxic culture with adequate chemistry.
Others will die.
It’s what happens when executive search firms, hiring execs and candidates focus on matching the level, size, scope, role of the job and the pay check to the skills and experience.
On paper it all looks good, but once the candidate is on the job it unravels.
The job may or may not be the dream job. ¬†It just needs to be adequate. ¬†But if the culture and chemistry aren’t right even the best job in the world is doomed to failure.
Don’t underestimate the power of chemistry!
The ethical compass. ¬†It’s elusive. ¬†All to often organizations faced with moral and ethical issues get focused on compliance. We’re pretty good at crafting codes of conduct and business conduct. ¬†It’s big business…
We can learn from the past. ¬†Did you know that Catherine the Great had a code of conduct¬†for her court?
We can learn from each other. ¬†Check out this¬†comparison of codes of conduct for British Petroleum and the Canadian Armed Forces.
We communicate them and an the related policies and programs [whistleblower hotlines, amnesty programs, etc]. ¬†Why?
Well, it could be the¬†discrepancy between the espoused behaviour and reality.¬†It’s got to be more than the¬†“tone from the top”.
- Sucky values suck! My take on a poll on employees’ lack of trust in leadership.
- After 168 years what changed?¬†A look at the events that led to the closing of News of the World.
- From the inside looking out. When the reality and the myth collide at Dell and Apple
Or, ¬†it could be the failure to recognize that:¬†”… the ethical pressures are the same in North America as they are in difficult regions in Latin and South America, North Africa and easter Europe.”¬†[see:¬†Getting back to basics. Who? Why?]
Or… ¬†it could be, as a philosopher I heard a few years ago [and now can't find] said, that we’re taking the focus off of where it should be – individual responsibility and values.
I was reminded of this today in an article about SNC-Lavalin’s challenge in building back its reputation after a series of bribery and corruption charges. ¬† “The challenge is to ensure employees can respond positively to four questions:
- Is this what you’re doing right for the company?
- Is it consistent with the company’s core values?
- Is it both legal and ethical?
- Are you willing to be held accountable for your actions?”
What do you think? ¬†Should we be spending more of our time on developing understanding around these 4 questions than on communicating codes of conduct, policies, and procedures? ¬†Is this the ethical compass we’ve been searching for?
Labour Day; ¬†that last bitter sweet day of summer. ¬†On September 2, summer will officially be behind us even if it doesn’t really end until September 22nd. ¬†
And for many of us ¬†it’s the beginning of a new year a hang over from getting back to school that first day after labour Day. ¬†To me it feel like the beginning of a new work year. ¬†And this may be closer than anything to the original reason for Labour Day. ¬†
“Labour Day has its origins in the¬†labour union¬†movement, specifically the¬†eight-hour day¬†movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest… ¬†The origins of Labour Day in Canada can be traced back to December 1872 when a parade was staged in support of the Toronto Typographical Union’s strike for a 58-hour work-week.”
On Monday, take a minute. ¬†Think about workers around the world – blue or white collar – working 24/7/360 so that you and I can¬†have the life we have. ¬†And, on Tuesday, we’ll all be back to work.
I write a lot – ¬†well over 200 blog posts [here and elsewhere], regular posts on LinkedIn discussion groups and 1,000s of working papers and discussion pieces for clients – and I’m sometimes frustrated by the limits of the English language. ¬†How do you write plainly, crisply and still have the language reflect fresh thinking?
This week I was reminded that English is a living language. Constantly evolving. ¬†Just listen to Prince William outside the doors of St Mary’s Hospital earlier this week and hear him say:
“I’ll remind him of his tardiness when he’s a bit older. I know how long¬†you’ve all been sat here.”
What? ¬†I couldn’t believe my ears. Grammatically incorrect and charming colloquial English at it’s absolute best, spoken by the future King of England.
I know this phrasing well thanks to my family in Yorkshire and favourite characters on Corrie. ¬†And for decades if not centuries, it’s been commonly used in the north of England. Unique. And, that’s where it’s stayed. ¬†But, now it’s been used publicly ¬†by a key member of the English¬†stiff upper lip class and heard around the world. Are we on the verge of hearing this in fashionable circles everywhere? ¬†And from there to a neighbourhood near you.
English may have its limits, but it is a living language. ¬†Social media is increasing the pace of change. ¬†For someone who spends much of their life writing, that’s a very exciting thing.
When you love what you do, you can’t hide it! ¬†And that’s good business.¬†
I get my shoes repaired at¬†Carinthia Shoe Company as I have for over 20 years. It’s run by a 40 something guy who apprenticed there years ago and who obviously loves what he does. ¬†I’ve had cheap shoes repaired there. ¬†And I’ve had outrageously expensive shoes repaired there [let's just say that I have made a very few splurges on shoes or anything else for that matter, but when I do they are doozies].
What I know for sure is that I look forward to going there.¬†It’s a small space. You walk down a few steps from street level. You open the door and a traditional bell jingles over the door. ¬†You’re in another universe.
It looks, and feels, and sounds, and smells like a cobblers’ should but with a little edge. Rock playing – sometimes softly, often not.
There are strange pieces of equipment, paper patterns and gorgeous pieces of leather hanging from the ceiling.¬†There’s¬†glue, and dye, and rubber and eyelets and other small bits of things all organized in little boxes. ¬†You can tell they care about their work space and the shoes they are looking after.
The cobbler, a hip late thirties something, is focused on his latest patient – a pair of gucci’s or gum boots it doesn’t matter. ¬†The patient gets his full attention. He’s not alone. One other person,¬†generally a very young apprentice [man or woman] is working hard nearby.¬†They may talk, but there’s mostly a very competent silence between them.
I may have¬†ideas about what I think I want, but if he thinks it’s not worth it he tells me. ¬†And, if he thinks I’m not treating my shoes well he tells me – like he did today! ¬†And, I know he’s right. Why? ¬†Because I trust him and he’s never steered me wrong. ¬†He knows what he’s doing and he tells it like it is.
This cobbler is the master of this universe and all he surveys. ¬†It’s obvious that he LOVES what he does. ¬†He can’t hide it. ¬†And it shows in the work he does every time!
This past weekend Michael and I headed up to Mount Royal. What was unusual was that we’d started off late, so by the time we’d gotten up to the mountain it was so hot and humid running was just out of the question. So we did a nice long chiwalk instead.
At one point we started noticing things. ¬†Different things. ¬†The woods went from a mass of green to bursting with the colour of wildflowers — wild roses, morning glories, yellow daisies, Queen Anne’s lace, columbine. ¬†The more we looked the more we saw. ¬†Things we hadn’t seen just a few days before.
What had changed? ¬†We’d slowed down.
Another reminder that slowing down is a good thing.
And since, I know many of you are beginning to gear up for your annual planning, take a deep relaxing breath, slow down, and look. Look from different perspectives but especially from your customers’ and your employees’. You my be amazed by what you see and the different opportunities you uncover.