Pruning The Tree

Most of the companies I work with have obvious #value, and a firm strategy for delivering that to their customers. But when you probe, explore and investigate more, you realise that not everything they do adds #value. It’s often worse than that – for some companies, much of what they do is actually distracting customers from seeing or feeling their #value.

By way of explanation, here’s an example of a Christmas present. Last Christmas (there’s a song in there!), I bought my son a #gaming chair – one of those that looks like a racing driver’s seat. Imagine a teenager relaxing and playing on the Sony PS4, scoring footie goals and crashing sports cars, and you get the idea.

I’d read plenty of reviews – which is why I ordered this particular make and model. From the point of ordering, what would add #value to this item is great packaging, careful delivery and clear instructions (for setting up the wireless connectivity, to prevent tripping over cables between different gadgets we’ve hooked up in the den). And yet there were none of those things. The seat was poorly packaged (the lightweight wrapper had to be repaired by the courier); it was dumped outside our front door by the delivery driver; and it was completely devoid of decent set-up instructions. And that’s where the problems started.

We just couldn’t fathom how to get the seat to work, and couldn’t find out how to fix the issue. So we tried to call the manufacturer, to find they were closed right through Christmas and until the New Year. Now here’s the key point. I naturally visited their website, to find it had set-up instructions for pretty much every known device. But I couldn’t search for my device; I had to scroll through pages of irrelevant data to get to what I needed. And when I viewed the company’s YouTube channel, what I found was vanity – lots of showing off about how wonderful the sound and movement experience would be on this device. Both website and channel were bloated by extra content, hiding the most important aspect – getting the darned thing to work (that’s a milder version of the word I actually used on Christmas morning). It was like a fat belly hiding a washboard stomach or (in more polite terms) a tree that needs pruning.

NEW

And that explains this image – it shows all the things that hide #core value. I’m making the point that most companies need to do some pruning – cutting off some of the branches of (a tree or bush) so that it will grow better or look better (or be free of decay or disease). In terms of #value, it’s about reducing yet improving something, by removing parts that are neither necessary nor wanted.

So what should you prune back? First, you need to think about your core #value. Next, you have to decide what is preventing the customer from seeing and feeling that #value. In my experience, #value gets lost somehow; smothered over time by what the market dictates (or you think it wants), and what your people decide the customer needs. It’s the world of extras, add-ons and embellishments. Some add #value, but many just don’t. It’s natural and critical to adapt and improve. But here’s the problem – without starting with a clear definition of your #value, and only adding and doing things that grow that #value, you can end up with something rampant. And then it’s time to prune the tree.

Maybe a hard prune is needed – only you can decide. It’s probably a choice between clipping away with the secateurs, or hacking away with a saw. But whatever you do, don’t panic or regret how sparse and bare the tree will look. See what it’s become in the Spring…


The Rise of Soft Power

I have a strange routine on my daily commute to work. It’s a proper yin and yang – listening to The Today Programme @BBCr4today in the morning, and choosing from my pretty big collection of pop music CDs for the winding and country drive home in the evening (yes, I still listen to CDs. It’s not because I’m low-tech. They sound better than MP3s!)

So I spend some time singing pop songs at the top of my voice, and then the rest reflecting on really powerful journalism and thoughtful business stories. And something on Radio 4 made me think, and then apply the principles to my day job.  It’s about the rise of “soft power”.

Joseph S. Nye (diplomat, political scientist and Professor at Harvard) coined the phrase ‘soft power’ in 1990. Broadly it means promoting positive perceptions of a country’s interests and identity overseas. It’s used to describe the way a country like China is changing the way it influences the world in general. For example, helping the world see a nation’s point of view makes the media king. China is allowing more radio and TV channels (e.g. China Radio International and including those transmitting in foreign-languages) to broadcast regionally and nationally.

If some of the most dominant nations in the world are seeing that a different approach is needed, then we all need to take note. This is about a recognition that:

  • the past allowed CONTROL over people and companies, but
  • the future requires the INFLUENCE of society and business.

And that takes me nicely to the point about leadership and leaders. The #value of a leader used to be derived from their ability to control. In today’s much more complex world, leaders can’t even hope to control everything. So the future #value of a leader will come from something very different – their ability to influence the behaviour of others.

If anyone else is feeling a bit skeptical, thinking that this kind of influence is just an “iron fist in a velvet glove” (meaning it is still control, but disguised as influence) then you’d have a point. But I do think it’s more subtle than that. I’m not going to do justice, in one blog, to the theme of influencing others. But what I do know is that influence requires conscious or unconscious understanding of neuroscience, communication, gravitas, empathy, engagement, coaching and change – and the list goes on.

So if you want to be that #standout leader, take any opportunity you can to practice and perfect your skills in this area. Or just make everything you do become focused on influencing the behaviours of others. The rise of soft power is inevitable, and you’d better start developing yours 🙂


Do More of What You Love

Morning! Put simply, doing what you love creates the most #value. For you. For the people around you. And for where you work.

Here’s my example. Last Friday morning I opened my electronic contact book, which was still on the same page as last week. Eeek. That meant I hadn’t called anyone new, or contacted someone about something new, all week. Even though that is absolutely what I love to do, and it’s where I add most #value.

Why? It’s simple really. For once, everything else I’ve been doing has seemed more important. And some of it is (sometimes!). The people stuff is naturally where I spend my time. The process is necessary if I’m to deliver results. And the politics is what drives many organisations, so practising “political savvy” is how to “get things done”. Where I work has no more politics than anywhere else, but it still takes effort.

But looking at that contact book was still a surprise. It made me realise how easy it is to get diverted from what you love. So this is what I did. I put everything else to one side, and spent just one hour calling people. I had three excellent conversations, and arranged two meetings. That made me smile, and gave me the energy for everything else that day.

For the introverts among you (morning Fi!) picking up the phone, and speaking to people you don’t necessarily know, probably seems like torture. But that’s just my example. What’s yours? What parts of your job give you pleasure? What do you really love to do at work? Will you schedule an hour of your time to do exactly that? Because then you’ll start doing more of what you love. And being happy and adding #value is maybe that simple.


The Centre Of Everything

Ever had a situation when someone made you think? And I mean really think. When you say to yourself – crikey, I hadn’t thought of that. They come up with either a brilliant idea, sparking suggestion, or just point out something you really hadn’t realised. Here are two of my examples:

First, the wonderful Jost from The Henley Partnership pointed out that we had the word “really” in seven of the titles for our 2015 learning events. So, when I’d stopped laughing at my occasional dopey side (I should have spotted that) we immediately changed the wording to something less repetitive and more obvious to the reader.

Second, we were at our Planning Day last week. By the way, that’s a very dull name for an event that’s great fun and brilliantly productive. I’m working on that! We bring together 20 HR and business professionals, from our 25 corporate members, working in groups to magically produce the rabbit from the hat – a programme of masterclass events and learning sessions that develops (fast) the capability of their directors. And one of our special guests made the following observation – “Mark, you don’t have many sessions about customers”. As observations go, it was pretty obvious. But it made me think. So hard that my head hurt. I’d argue that the customer agenda is implicit and even omnipresent. But is it really? Do we need to be very explicit about the fact that the customer is at the centre of everything we do? Otherwise, why do companies exist? What’s the point of doing business? You may define your customers differently, but we all have them. No disrespect to the third sector, or any company where the intent is about simply doing good, but I’m here to serve my customers. And I think most of you are too…

So I need to make sure we signpost the customer agenda, or run more events about that specific topic. Subconscious or conscious, we need the business brain to recognise that customers are the most important item on any agenda (the cognisance), and spend more time developing our ability to deliver the value they want and need (the capability). And then people like me need to spread the word about why customers are so important (the contagion). And hence this blog. I’ll get down from my soapbox now!

And P.S. thanks to the wonderful members of The Henley Partnership, for their wholehearted support and brilliant contributions to what we do. You are valued even more than you realise. Most of my ideas are inspired by yours.  And please keep making me think.


When Relaxation Kills Rapport

Yikes! Apologies for the slightly aggressive sounding blog today, but it helps me make the point. I’m just off the phone to a big motor dealer. I was enquiring about a vehicle they’ve just reduced in price.

Two things. Firstly, I got the usual “we’re getting loads of interest in this car, so I’d better see if it still available” line (we all want something more, if it’s high in demand or scarce, right?). I’m OK with that, mainly because it could actually be true. It’s a great car, at a good price. Secondly, I was asked if I’d been to the garage before, and spoken to any of their salespeople (because I guess each salesperson “owns” their own clients, or has to share commission if the customer has dealt with someone else previously).

Now, I seem to have a decent ability to make people feel relaxed when we’re chatting over the phone. And here’s what happened next. I said I’d only been before to wander around, and hadn’t spoken in detail to anyone. So he decided to laugh, and say that I’m “fair game then”. Ouch. I have visions of a small guy with a big gun. Slightly too aggressive. Unlikely to care about me as his customer.

Unfortunately, he killed our rapport stone dead. Like the animal his mind is hunting. And I don’t like being hunted. I might just turn and bare my teeth. Or at least be more stubborn about the deal we make.

OK, so we were relaxed, he was excited by a possible sale, and it’s just small talk. My point is simple. When involved in sales and service, be careful how much you relax. When relaxed, and without inhibitions, it’s amazing the daft things people say. And you don’t want to #standout for the wrong reasons.