Relationship Sabotage

Trust is a reciprocal commodity in the future of work. Trust powers collaboration and facilitates exchange in networks. Trust is also reciprocal. Make sure your levels of trust of others are not sabotaging your relationships.

Part of any decision to trust another is an assessment of how they treat us. Trust is reciprocal. We can make finely tuned assessments on how much trust others put in us by simply examining how we interact, how well their goals are aligned to ours and how much reciprocity of trust we experience.

If you start from the assumption that your employees and customers are incipient criminals, it will show itself in your policies and processes. The levels of security and inconvenience that result will be a constant reminder to customers and employees that you don’t trust them.  Even if your levels of protection are in line with your industry peers, you will still bear the consequences of that action in the way your customers and your employees interact with you. Transactions will be more costly, loyalty will be lower and complaints & errors will be harder to resolve because you won’t have the benefit of trust to fall back on.

Are your levels of trust set for the real risks and opportunities in your relationships? Make sure you are not penalising everyone for one individual’s error. Remember if you distrust employees that will flow on to customers and if you distrust customers you employees will experience the consequences. Your customer and employee experience are one experience.

Too many organisations with persistent challenges in lifting engagement or customer advocacy continue to sabotage their key relationship. Make sure you are different. Trust a little more.

The Rise of Effectiveness

In the last century management’s overwhelming focus was efficiency. An industrial mindset influenced our definition of effectiveness to be driven largely by delivering more for less.

The influence was straight forward. The efficiency of a machine is how well it turns inputs into its fixed outputs. If a machine’s quality is stable (a risky but common assumption), then a focus on efficiency works as a proxy for effectiveness. Effectiveness slipped from sight in a period of unmet consumer demand, long growth and expanding global markets. We focused our organisations almost solely on efficiency. When changes in effectiveness were required, they came in the form of new disruptive innovators and innovations that rewrote the quality definition and a focus on efficiency resumed.

Human effectiveness cannot be defined as simply as that of a machine. Our traditional industrial machines turn simple inputs through process steps into fixed outputs. Humans can be reduced to that work too. For many organisations it became the goal of human work to make it fixed, repetitive and predictable. It is not a surprise that they discovered that the quality of this repetitive work was rarely stable. 

Humans are capable of more than machine work. We are also capable of turning complex and diverse inputs into a simple open-ended output, like an action, a decision, a sentence, a service, a piece of knowledge or a song. Suddenly we can’t assume that inputs are consistent, quality is stable and that outputs are known. Our proxy has broken down and we need to return to a more direct focus on effectiveness.

The last decade has seen the slow rise of effectiveness as a management challenge and management grappling with new skills:

  • quality movements, continuous improvement and other disciplines have revisited the assumption around stable quality and even stretched to query whether the predetermined output matches what customers need
  • customer experience, design and similar disciplines have begun to look at the potential to shape new and better effectiveness of our products and experiences. 
  • increasing focus on disruptive innovation has raised the challenge of why the traditional model must break and new strategy models query the narrow focus on efficiency vs other ways to achieve greater effectiveness (see Blue Ocean Strategy, Roger Martin, etc)
  • realisations about the shifting nature of work has caused many to reflect on whether efficiency is the best or at least only model for connected knowledge workers or any other role.
  • consumers questioning the need, quality, sustainability, morality, environmental and social impact of the products of industrial machine models 
  • examining new models of leadership, organisation and development of people that encourage the development of true human effectiveness and realise untapped human potential.
  • rearguard actions to find ever more efficient machines (robots, big data, management algorithms, etc) that can replace humans in increasingly complex roles and work.

Responsive organisations recognise that the proxy of efficiency for effectiveness is fundamentally broken. The skills of efficiency remain relevant but they can no longer replace a focus on effectiveness.

The rise of effectiveness is on us. Our challenge is to adapt our approaches to work to make the most of our opportunities, not just to minimise our waste.

Confusion is the absence of Design

Yesterday I had to deal with an unnecessarily confusing customer experience.  All I wanted to do was pay for my parking.  It was a great reminder that in the absence of design you generate confusion.

Here are some observations on what happens when you forget to design:

  • The insides of this parking machine would fit in a shoebox, but it’s a big machine.  That means that it is actually very hard to keep all the machine in sight at one time. When the interface is confusing, having to scan the whole thing repeatedly to find your next step is hard work.
  • The screen draws your attention but it is not where the action happens. In fact the screen, tells you little of interest and mostly distracts from where the action happens.
  • Every function has a light or a sign which adds to the confusion. The signs look like later additions to improve the usability but the signage is neither consistent nor supports the process the machine requires users to follow.  The range of different coloured lights is distracting.
  • The blue P lit up is prominent, but purely decorative. 
  • The red laser light top left is for museum membership card discounts, a second process step for a small proportion of users, but it is by far the brightest light.
  • The slot for inserting a ticket to pay, the first process step, is a solid yellow light at bottom left. This is the last place anyone looks, especially when the screen shows the slot and you assume that the image shown must be near the screen.
  • The screen is below normal eye height. As there is no shade on the screen, the lights above make it unreadable unless you crouch.  This matters if you want to know what you need to pay or want a receipt and need to push a button below the screen to confirm your request.
  • The paypass reader doesn’t work though it appears to all intents that it does with a shining light. After several failed attempts, I realised that I needed to insert my card.

The odd functional arrangement and the lights create a sense that four separate divisions of Skidata all said ‘we want a bright flashing light and a sign. We want to be prominent’. Politics and engineering determined where the various bits went on the machine rather than any designed order of a customer experience.

For a simple process this is an unnecessarily confusing customer experience. That says to me Skidata and those who installed the machine weren’t designing a customer experience, they just installed a parking payment machine.

The Responsive Bank. Feature article in Q factor Oct 2014

Responding to a disruption and applying the Responsive Organisation principles to financial services

Note: the reference to an MBA in the bio at the end of the article is an error.

The Responsive Bank. Feature article in Q factor Oct 2014

The Outrage Economy


I was brought up to take the good with the bad, to be polite at all times and always see the other person’s position.

I have spent a lifetime unlearning this upbringing. I have been forced to learn the fine art of outrage.

The Outrage Economy

We now live in an outrage economy. Outrage is the only engine of action in many service organisations:

  • want escalation of a slow process? Resort to outrage
  • want a variation in narrow rules? Resort to outrage
  • want the service you paid for? Resort to outrage
  • want to be heard? Resort to outrage
  • want attention? Resort to outrage at scale

Outrage now powers basic interactions. Organisations have taken customer service flexibility away. Employees are constrained, optimised and disempowered. In many cases this means that they are unable to do their jobs. They need customer outrage to be able to escalate, to loosen processes and solve recurrent issues. The only way to get something done is to invoke the customer retention or a complaint resolution process in response to customer outrage. I have even been invited by customer service employees to express greater outrage so that they could help me better. For example “What I am hearing is that if we don’t solve this for you now, your business with us will be at risk. Is that correct?”

This pattern of interaction means organisations are training their customers to resort to outrage with ever increasing speed. You don’t want to go through the IVR again so you had better get outraged now and hope the team leader has more power. If it going to take outrage to fix a process, why not get outraged now.

If the only channel of service that works is social media, then I will rant there first. Some organisations even have pre-emptive outrage on social media with customers complaining about service processes before they start. Social media seems to be the only place many organisations care about their reputation with customers.

Stop the Escalation of Outrage

Nothing goes better because of outrage. Outrage only destroys value. Outrage weakens relationships and destroys brands.

Let’s start looking for ways to solve issues without requiring customers to rant and complain. There are a few simple steps:

  1. Understand how your processes actually work for customers in interactions: Processes that make sense around the board table often fail in human interactions. Requiring a warning that the warranty will be voided if an item has been used inappropriately might be wise when taking an item for repart but it may also sound like a criticism or a threat to a frustrated customer who just wants the item fixed. Follow issues back from the frontline to those distant places in the organisation that cause them.
  2. Give your people the power, resources and support required to do their jobs: You measure their performance. Do you spend as much time measuring how well you support their interactions with customers? In an age of global integrated logistics, does it make sense that you only move things between your locations once a week? If a morning of flights are going to be delayed by fog, advising customers is great but have you planned how you will manage the situation? If calls are unusually high, is it time to put on extra staff or suggest alternatives to resolve the issue? Enabling single point resolution is more than designing a narrow question that a customer must answers yes to confirm that you have solved their needs.
  3. Give your people the discretion to empathise and delight customers: It is really hard to be outraged at someone who is allowed to be human.  Empathy can be the second most important element to de-escalating the situation for an outraged customer. Let your people apologise for genuine errors. Move beyond the platitudes because otherwise we know your aren’t really concerned about our ‘inconvenience’. Give them the freedom to do a little more than needed to fix things pre-emptively.

An organisation that cannot respond to its customer needs fails the sole reason the organisation exists. If your customers are getting even slightly outraged it is time to learn how to become more responsive.

Design not Engineering – healthcare


Photo: The hospital experience – empty of design but full of mismatched furniture.

Recently I visited a hospital accompanying someone through registration for a day procedure. The striking thing about this healthcare experience was that it was engineered for the hospital to achieve outcomes but had a complete absence of any design in the patient experience.

Everyone of the staff were concerned and caring. Yet the healthcare experience felt confusing, difficult, alien and uncomfortable. Everything you encounter is engineered for the hospital’s view of that step in the process. The patient experience in each step or across all the steps was not as well considered.

How the Patient Experience can Improve

Here are some examples:

  • Early Arrival. No certain time: The patient needed to arrive at 7am. Apparently so did everyone else which created a backlog at reception. There was no idea of when the procedure will occur or when the patient may be able to leave. Nobody seemed to know what was happening, but eventually someone admitted how many procedures the doctor has on the day and how long a standard procedure takes. The patient was left to make a series of contingency plans for departure on these few facts.
  • No transparency of process: On arrival we were asked to wait in the room above. Next steps were unclear but the volume of people being registered suggested a wait. After long period of waiting we saw someone pass our door look in and call out down the hall ‘there’s one more’. After more minutes of waiting, we were registered.
  • Non-waiting room:  The waiting room looked like a dumping ground for discarded furniture. There was nothing to do but sit and stare at its walls and furniture. The power points and buttons on walls suggested that it has been designed to be capable of being a room if needed. What had not been included in the design was a comforting & distracting place to wait when awaiting a procedure. 
  • Mysterious Hall Walking: While we waited one surgeon fully dressed in a theatre gown passed our door about 10 times. It occurred about every minute and a half. Either the doctor needed exercise or that process needs to be redesigned. It was hardly comforting for someone waiting for surgery.
  • Registration Then Nursing Station Then Ward: The steps were designed to suit the hospital’s paper work, not a patient’s comfort or even an efficient use of time and effort. Each step involved waiting.  Hotels have realised that check-in, payment and other moments can be redesigned to put the guest in control and get someone quickly to a comfortable place. That change alone improves the experience. Registration could easily have occurred entirely in advance of the visit, especially as it was mostly about payment. 
  • Wasteful Effort: As it happened the ward was opposite the waiting room. In the middle, we walked to the opposite end of the hospital to visit the nursing station and further away still for the nurse to complete her paperwork. 
  • Lack of communication: The people were all concerned and individually helpful but everybody was completing one task and nobody had a full picture or an idea as to what anybody else was doing.Hospitals are notorious for the fact that everyone asks the same questions over and over. While the questions are meant as a safety precaution, they are a constant reminder of the lack of communication.  Without communication, nobody shaped the overall experience and uncertainty continued up until and after the procedure. On departure there was all sorts of confusion caused by lack of communication. I was even required to return to Registration from my car, leaving the post-operative patient behind, so that a form could be signed, only to be told at Registration that I didn’t need to return.

I have been involved in lots of work improving customer experiences. This experience is typical when services have been fractured into individual steps.  The model people have is Adam Smith’s pin factory with a focus purely on specialising and optimising productivity in each discrete step for organisational outcomes. However modern factories are no longer run on this basis. Competitive pressures have meant factories constantly improve, removing waste with focus on coordination of the whole production system, continuous improvement and lean manufacturing.

A poor patient experience not only creates unnecessary issues for a patient, it is wasteful & counterproductive for the organisation and demoralising for all the people involved. Patients want the experience to be quick and effective so give them information and a role in the process. Better patient experiences will reduce the cost and improve the quality of care and the environment for everyone.

Making the Patient Experience Better

The steps for change are simple:

  • Look at the situation through the patient’s eyes
  • Empower the patient with information, understanding and choices
  • Rethink the steps to reduce the waste, backlogs, duplication and effort
  • Improve communication and understanding with everyone involved in the experience; and
  • Empower and enable everyone to deliver the right outcomes and to suggest better ways of working.

Be human

Last week I attended the excellent Products are Hard conference. As excited as I was that a San Francisco event had chosen to run their first event in Melbourne, the day exceeded my expectations with the quality of the local and international speakers and the enthusiastic participation of the audience. After some reflection, here are lessons that I took away from the day:

Success is human: This was the biggest lesson of the day. We often lose the human factors in success in our focus on process, methodology, tools, organisation and technology. Again and again in the day, it was clear human factors are more important to product and startup success. Life is not as easy as a formula, because every team and group of customers differ. If products are hard, it is because people are unpredictable to satisfy, coordinate and influence.

Start with the team: Great products come from great teams. The first idea will be adapted by experimentation, feedback, competition and pivots. Only, a great team will embrace the chaos, have the agility and collaboration required.

CX+Engineering+Product: A great team has the best diverse skills that they can assemble- customer insight and design skills, technical skills to deliver and a broad business skill set to distribute and manage operations for the product. The team should be small (ideally start and stay at teams of 3), have great transparent open communication and not let their role define their contribution or structure of their collaboration.

Assign a customer problem: The best path to success is clarity and engagement. Give the team the autonomy to tackle a whole customer problem. Define value as widely as possible and allow your teams to focus on the whole of the customer problem

Ship, test and learn: Success can’t be predicted. Nobody has a perfect decision making track record. Great products are an evolution from test and learn experiments. You need to embrace this chaos and not cling to fixed ideas. Keep the tests small but gain the advantage of testing often with real customers. Real meaningful data from shipping to customers can focus decisions.

Don’t play safe: Amazing no-fail ideas fail. Tests fail. Teams fail. Businesses fail. The issue is not whether you fail; it is what you learn and how you do differently next time. Playing safe is slow. Protecting against failure builds overhead which slows delivery. The pace of attempts should be high.

Focus on value: Ideas don’t matter. Technology, tools & methodology don’t matter. Not all of the data matters. The best teams focus on results by focusing on the customer actions that create value. That means only doing things that drive value and not being confused by expectations or past patterns of success.

Most of all: If you have the passion of purpose and can share it with others, you don’t need to settle for a compromise existence or other proxies. It won’t become easy, but you will learn much and it will be fulfilling.

Seek out criticism

An absence of criticism is not a good sign.  Seek out the feedback that you are missing.

If you are not receiving regular criticism, then you may be missing out on valuable feedback.  For a leader or an organisation, a lack of feedback usually means one of three things needs to be checked:

  • Listening to the right people:  Talking to fans and supporters is usually easy.  They approach you and are eager to share their praise.  You may need to seek out critics and the disaffected.  Broaden your conversations and start asking for feedback.  Look at the margins and look for information that is being discarded because it is incomplete, inconsistent or inconvenient.
  • Encouraging feedback: We all recognise the signs of a leader or an organisation that asks for feedback but doesn’t want any criticism.  It can be a simple as praise being recorded by you but all complaints must be put in writing by the other person. People know how to respond with caution when they see those signals.  Make sure that your behaviours, systems and processes encourage and celebrate negative feedback as a learning process.  Show how you have responded positively to negative feedback and made changes.  Otherwise negative feedback will be actively concealed or actively discouraged.
  • Stop pleasing everyone:  You can’t satisfy everyone.  People are dissatisfied with every change and every business. Everyone expect you to have a specific & unique point of view.  There is a real danger that you don’t stand for anything, that you might not be taking enough risks, that you aren’t targeted enough and that you are sitting in the safe middle ground.  Hearing the right criticism is an important sign that you are achieving your specific plan.  Being generally good won’t get you where you want to go. 

Voice is a critical component to guide our actions.  We all need to encourage as much positive and negative feedback as we can.

Scaling enterprise sales

Selling to enterprise clients is the new black. However, enterprise sales rarely comes easily.  The challenges highlight where businesses need to innovate to engage enterprise customers.  

With the successes of organisations like Workday, Amazon Web Services, Yammer, and others in selling to enterprises, many entrepreneurs are looking to generate revenue for their start-up by selling to enterprises.  Over recent years I have spoken to many people, keen to sell services to large organisations.  Like all good entrepreneurs they are keen to move fast and scale their businesses.  However, few have invested time and effort in how they will scale their distribution to enterprises.

David Sacks CEO and co-founder of Yammer gave a recent talk to Khosla Ventures that highlighted the challenges of enterprise sales:

  • Enterprise sales aren’t viral.  You might be able to win enterprise users with a click, but money takes sales effort.
  • You need a sales team to get the sale and you can waste a lot of time and money with a poor performing sales team.
  • You need to know your buyer or you can waste a lot of time navigating organisations and dealing with many parties
  • You need to shape your buyer’s perceptions
  • The enterprise rarely has one mind and you may find conflicting agendas, decision rights, etc.  It is not uncommon to have technical, finance, legal and other gatekeepers who need to be satisified before a check is cut by the buyer.

Sacks called for start-ups to put as much effort into innovating distribution as they do their product. Any business to business sales business should do the same.

These lesson reflect what any business to business organisation has known for years.  Enterprise sales is a demanding body contact sport where the rules and the opposing players keep changing.  So how do you do it better than the average depends on how your design your innovative sales model to leverage these insights:

  • Be ready to be right first time.  Enterprise buyers are time poor. If you don’t have your questions or your pitch clear, then don’t expect them to wait for you to sort it out.  These are first impression sales so you want to create and maintain a positive momentum from the get-go.  Plenty of great ideas died at the doorstep because the sales person wasn’t ready to sell.  Make sure your team is capable of delivering the message.  Spray and pray can do more damage to your reputation.  In many cases, there are few buyers of your solution and unlike consumers they rarely forgive.  In a social era, enterprise buyers increasingly know each other and collaborate on insights into vendors.
  • Collaboration is better than going alone.  Leverage internal change agents and partners who can help you understand the organisation, the agendas and find the buyer. Invest time in research before you act. There is enormous power in having someone inside the organisation who can work the system for you and supply you with the right information to go forward. Too many perfect fits fail because meetings don’t get followed up.  Just like internal change agents, partners who have already done the leg work on that or similar organisations are ways to accelerate your efforts.
  • Understand the buyer’s needs.  What your product does is irrelevant.  How much the users love it is irrelevant.  Your feature differences to competitors are irrelevant.  Your analyst ratings are irrelevant.  Don’t confuse the tool with the result.  What matters most to corporate customers is the problem that they are trying to solve today. Make sure your pitch is meeting their strategic needs.
  • Help the organisation understand value by solving their need exceptionally well.  The decision criteria in organisations can be as bewildering as the choice of solutions that the organisation faces.  One thing is clear to every company the amount of money that they are being asked to put out the door.  The better job you do demonstrating real value is a multiple of that specific cost, the easier your sales job is.  We are not talking promises or soft benefits.  We are talking demonstration of real hard value.  If it can’t be demonstrated by a pilot or experiment in the organisation then you will need to invest in case studies with role model global organisations that everyone else wants to copy.
  • Manage a pipeline of sales opportunities:  Enterprise sales take time.  Providing continuity of management over time is important to maximise your chances and minimise waste.  Managing a pipeline enables you to assess continuously where each deal is at, assess prospects of success, kill bad deals quickly and shepherd customers through from suspect to prospect to opportunity to purchase decision to order and then through to implementation.  
  • Plan for and design for servicing of the account to realise value. Winning a licence fee or a service fee is well and good. However, unlike consumers you can rarely leave a enterprise client to its own devices to make the value from your product.  The multiple agendas mean that there will be changes, new questions and always new agendas. If you want to retain and grow their business given all you invested in a sale, treat sales and service as a continuum.  You will need to plan to support your customers to grow the use of your product and leverage that to grow your revenues.

As Sacks argues, you need to innovate in your distribution model. Enterprise sales don’t just happen. If you want to scale, enterprise sales you will need some new magic. My advice is to focus your distribution model innovation on the key issues because a better solution to these issues combining service design and sales will deliver big advantages down the track.