Many Hands Make Heavy Work

Having visited the CIPD conference in London a few months ago, and many events and conferences since, something has been bothering me. At the CIPD, I was impressed by the variety of companies exhibiting (including my own Henley Business School). And it confirmed something interesting about the creation of a value proposition – a value proposition that makes a particular company #standout.

It was pretty obvious that the bigger the company, the less #distinctive the proposition. The smaller the company, the more #distinctive they appeared. And by #distinctive, I’m talking about the visuals, the artwork, the brochures, the words and even the people. So why would this be so? Why would bigger companies fail to differentiate themselves? OK, I admit there are lots of reasons, and I am going to focus on just one.

In many situations, big companies have the edge.  It’s clear that when:

  • service is about handling volume, or
  • complex relationships require many interactions between people, or
  • when there is a multi-site environment

many hands indeed make light work. You need many people involved, to deliver the process or service to your chosen markets. Effectively. Efficiently. Economically.

But when it comes to articulating value, many hands make heavy work. Smaller companies have fewer of their own people to convince, and usually someone senior that “birthed the baby” and has a strong view on how their business should be positioned. Bigger companies have structures, systems, stakeholders and sensibilities. These need to be respected. And that takes time, and means lots of people to involve in developing your value proposition.

Getting lots of people involved in defining the value your company offers (and creating your value proposition) makes it tough to produce something distinctive. Different people have different perceptions as to what makes your company valuable to its customers (and they want their view heard). Others lack the bravery to use the emotive language that describes your true points of difference, afraid that shareholders or the general public will react badly to that (think of the recent UK elections, if you want evidence of how fear can mute the debate and make the main parties seem spookily similar, at national and local level). And that’s before you wonder whether enough decision-makers have the superior language capability needed, to articulate company value in a #distinctive way that everyone understands.  That’s a tough ask…

So if you involve lots of people in defining your value, it’ll be heavy and hard work. And the result is that you’ll probably take the safe route. Customers will be eating vanilla ice-cream. Now there are some wonderful varieties of vanilla ice-cream. The challenge is how you get people to taste yours, when all vanilla sounds and looks the same.

But you have to involve your people, right? You need to be seen to do that – to ask for opinions, and generate ideas. And you should be doing that – you want the people involved that see value like a child they nurture. I’m in complete agreement, but its all about when. When should you ask your people for their input? My recommendation is simple. Involve as many people you like in focus groups or meetings to debate your value. Do that early in the process. And listen for the language your people use. Make sure you note and record their precise words and expressions, as they explain how they deliver value to customers (or tell you what they want to do differently). Feel their emotion. Make sure you use lots of that language in your value proposition (but don’t make it wordy). And re-tell their stories. Share their anecdotes.

But never ask a committee to develop the value proposition itself. Otherwise you’ll end up with something pretty neutral. A compromise. A consensus. And collateral (like the exhibition stand) that looks “me too” and “samey”. Instead choose a deliberately diverse group of people and bring them together. People that “get” what you’re trying to do. And lock yourselves in a room. Hire a facilitator and illustrator. And don’t come out until you’re finished. You’ll be amazed by the great results.

That becomes your value proposition. The ice-cream flavour will be at least neapolitan. Or you may have created a whole new flavour. And check out the Dorset Ice Cream @dorseticecream shop in Weymouth. 17 flavours of ice cream, and 7 sorbets. But they #standout because the flavours are #distinctive. That’s what draws in the customer. And my favourite’s the Pimm’s flavour sorbet. You really have to try it…



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