Isn’t it time your company got some haters?

Photo by recycledstardust

About a week ago, Matthew Rhoden wrote a post on HBR.org called: “Create Brand Superfans”. The idea in a nutshell, if I understand correctly, is as follows: Customer satisfaction is a lagging indicator which you can’t based future strategy on. The next level of customer satisfaction is turning customers into advocates. A customer turned advocate supports the brand, actively promotes the brand and is emotionally attached to the brand.

All well and good. My problem started with the prescriptions for action which constricted of three things: 1. Silence detractors. 2. Build a solid and positive customer experience. 3. Offer extraordinary experience. Specifically, I had a problem with prescription number one which Rhoden describes this way:

Silence detractors. Develop an environment where customers will not want to talk badly about a brand. I once spoke with an executive who said his goal was to “not have customers hate us.” Identify and prioritize customer pockets with a high concentration of negativity, and allocate resources to fix the root issues. In other words, to get your customer-experience house in order you must honestly focus on your most common complaints [Emphasis added]

Really? Have customers not hate us? Is that your strategy in order to make zealous advocates of your brand? Can we really talk today about silencing anybody? Seriously?

If I was asked to suggest someone with a way to transform customers into advocates, I would suggest exactly the opposite. Find ways to make specific customers hate you. Don’t waste time on fighting them, just on making their hate greater. Because their hate probably means other customers love you. Having haters means you are making something unique or strange.

In a great post about how overcome the fear of being bold Olivia Mitchell quotes Oren Harri who says:

Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity

Not having haters is a full proof strategy for mediocrity. And when you provide mediocrity, you can sure as hell give up on prescription number two and three: Positive customer experience and extraordinary experience – they are both the opposite of mediocrity. Bret L. Simmons writes in a blog post toady:

If you are going to have high expectations of yourself and others, there is no way you can make everyone happy. High expectations by definition means you have to take risks and try some things you’ve never done before, or make changes to established methods in search of continual improvement. When you take risks, some things are not going to work as well as you thought they might, and from time to time, they might even suck.

I hate to go to obvious example but look at Apple. Can you truly say everybody loves Apple? That nobody hates them? Of course not. Actually, some of their most salient value propositions are the ones that are most ridiculed. And if there was ever a company that had advocates in its consumers… I am not saying that companies should not listen to their customers or should not improve products and services. However, trying to make everybody happy (not to talk about silencing haters) is a sure proof way to not being remarkable. Seth Godin wrote a while back in post called The forces of mediocrity:

Maybe it should be, “the forces for mediocrity”…

There’s a myth that all you need to do is outline your vision and prove it’s right—then, quite suddenly, people will line up and support you.

In fact, the opposite is true. Remarkable visions and genuine insight are always met with resistance. And when you start to make progress, your efforts are met with even more resistance. Products, services, career paths… whatever it is, the forces for mediocrity will align to stop you, forgiving no errors and never backing down until it’s over.

Such resistance should be relished and not fought against. It is a clear sign you are on the right way. You can’t make everybody happy. Ever!

Does your company or brand have haters? If not, why not? What should you do to make some?

Elad

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Capitalism, unions, equality, the fallacy of the average and mediocrity

Photo by finsec

A short caveat: while this post is not totally unrelated to my regular line of writing, it does somewhat detaches from my usual subject matter and is focused more on personal doubts, questions and thoughts and less on practical implications.

 

I see myself a capitalist. I believe in its basic premises. And while my views have become less extreme in the last few years and I do think there is a need to rethink and change some of the basic practical behaviors we derive from the concept, it is still a part of how I define my world views.

Within this framework I have always wondered about the idea of work unions. On a very shallow level it seems incompatible with the some of the ideas I used to think capitalism represented, so in my younger years I immediately thought of unions as something wrong. However, over the years I understood the importance of mechanisms that will put some balance into the capitalist system so it will not undo itself. Having said that, maybe because of my biased viewpoint, wherever I looked I saw unions resisting change and progress, upholding stupid rules (see this Gates talk on TED for some examples) and keeping the interests of the top quartile of employees instead of those who actually need protection. This has always bothered me.

Lately, because of current political and economic issues in Israel, I have been thinking about this issue quite a bit. This week, while listening to a freakeconomics podcast about the negotiations between the NFL league and the players union (negotiations, many of the players themselves are not privy to) I came to a realization that what troubles me about unions is something that has been troubling me about other fields as well. The misuse of the idea of equality. I have written before (see also here):

Equality is an important concept in many aspects of life, especially in the legal field, I know so well, as a former lawyer. But in real life, because equality is intertwined into our thinking DNA it is used in ways that many times hinders excellence. All men are not born equal. Whoever tells you that is lying. All man should deserve an equal opportunity to excel, to be happy and to use their comparative advantage. That is the truth. And there is a big difference between the two.

In western societies, equality is part of the ethos. People fought for the right of equality for ages and it is so commonplace and understood (even if not completely practiced) we regard it as a given right. The quotation “All men are created equal” is arguably the best-known phrase in any of America’s political documents. And if all men are created equal, they should be treated as equal in the workplace as well. And they think as themselves as equal. And this creates problems. Because we are not equal. We are unique. Special. With different talents, skills, perspectives, life experiences, likes and dislikes. And that means that treating us as if we are the same is wrong.

In the case of unions, the idea of equality means that unions can act like all workers are equal. If they are equal, they can talk about the average worker. It is a classic case of the fallacy of the average. Because of everybody is equal and we are taking care of the average worker we are losing the individuality. And that is the fastest way to mediocrity.

In Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing, Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe write:

That’s what Aristotle meant when he said that practical wisdom as opposed to a universal rule was necessary because of the priority of the particular. A wise person knows how to do the right thing, in the right way, with this person, in this situation. To be wise, we need cognitive and perceptual machinery that picks up on similarities without being blind to differences.

I am not an expert on the issue of unions, their history and their contribution to society. I am also not against the idea that workers should be protected to some degree and have a right to be represented. I do resent the fact that some unions focus their attention on keeping the status quo and base their thinking on a misconception of equality that leads to a discussion of averages. In general, the work of any leader, political, business, union or other, is to balance similarities and differences. I am not sure that many of the union leaders or those that sit with them to the table of negotiations are actively thinking of this balance. What will happen if both sides of a labor dispute (or even better, prior to the dispute) will start doing just that? Isn’t it worth a try?

Elad

Re-visiting priorities

Photo by Jonas B

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Yesterday I was reading a blog post on HBR.org by Alexandra Samuel about the five unsolved problems of social media. Here is a quote describing one these problems:

Information overload: RSS started as a way to aggregate all the streams of content we found online, but today we’re more likely to be drowned in a river of feeds — not to mention e-mail, texts, updates, voicemail transcriptions….need I go on? We’ve got great tools for creating, finding, organizing and viewing content, but very little to help us thin out and manage the volume of information that now flows online. The challenge of information overload and attention management isn’t just a technical problem, but some better tools would sure help.

As far as I see it, there is no tool which will make priorities for you. We can have an endless amount of tools to help us organize, filter and present information, but I personally don’t see a tool that will replace human judgment and ability, but more importantly, need, to prioritize. One blog post after that, I read another HBR.org blog post, this time by Ron Ashkenas called, The Problem with Priorities:

Despite the realization that they had too much on their plates (and too many cards on the wall), this leadership team still struggled with narrowing their focus. Many felt that everything was important and nothing could be dropped without serious consequences. But if everything is called a priority, then nothing is. In fact, what’s worse is that people at lower levels, faced with the impossible task of trying to respond to everything, end up deciding what is important based on their more limited sense of the company’s strategy and their ability to get things done. By not clarifying the few key priorities, leadership teams unintentionally delegate priority-setting to their people. And then they wonder why everyone isn’t on the same page.

Here is what I wrote a while back:

Every time I gave that workshop there was a least one person who would come up to me and tell me: “Look, I am swamped. I just have too many things to do and not enough time”. I always gave those people the same response: “You don’t have a time problem, you have a priorities problem”.

Because time-management is about choosing your priorities, being consistent with them over time and accepting that this process will inherently include some tradeoffs. There will be things you will not be able to do. But until you get your priorities straight you will face problems.

Yes, we have more information than we ever had. Yes, our workloads are bigger. Yes, due to the recession we are doing a job that two people did before. It does not matter. Time is limited. We can only spend it every day on certain things.  The question is, do we want to make an impact on a few things or create mediocrity in a lot of things.

Priorities are a risk. There is a chance that our choice will be the wrong one. We think that if we do a little of everything, we will mitigate that risk. But as the risk of a making a bad choice goes down, the risk of being unfocused goes up.  Guess which one is more important?

And if you are a manager of people I ask you – where are your people in your priorities? What are you trading off in order to be a great manager for them? Because you cannot be that great manager without putting time and effort into the process. No online digital tool will ever take away that piece of judgment from you.

Elad

Initial thoughts after Seth Godin’s #Linchpin launch presentation

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Today I attended Seth Godin’s launch of his new book – Linchpin. I am in the process of reading the book and I guess I will write about it a lot in the next few days/weeks, but for the mean time, I just wanted to share some quotes from the presentation that especially resonated with me. Many times during the presentation and going through the book I felt that many of the things I write about in this blog are explained by Godin (better of course, it is, after all, Seth Godin).

Should managers transform employees into Artists?

One of the main themes Godin talks about is the idea of Art. Not art in the meaning we all think about, but Art as anything creative, new, that changes the world and connects people. And one of the main things about artists is, as Godin put it today’s presentation is that they do their work without rules or manuals. This resonated with me as in the last few weeks I have been advocating here that managers should stop trying to create rules (also see here) with the original post being inspired, but Godin himself.

In his talk today Godin showed me another aspect of the same idea. If managers stop trying to create rules they will help take away some of excuses employees make against being remarkable and help them become … Linchpins (I urge you to look for the dictionary definition or better yet, buy the book). We need more workers who are artists. Godin points a finger to each and every one of us to take up the cause and become an artist (or Linchpins or Geniuses). I point my finger to managers. If there is one person who can help your employees become a Linchpin it is you. So why don’t you start by stopping with the rules. As Godin said today:

If you can write down what you do I can find someone else to do it cheaper.

How do you make sure your employees can not be replaced by someone cheaper? What will happen if you help them transform into something indispensable?

Don’t ignore them if they fit in, better yet – don’t let them fit in

Another saying that deeply resonated with me in today’s presentation was this sentence:

The reason they want you to fit in is that then they can ignore you!

Now Godin meant this sentence to say that you should not fit in. You should try to become indispensable, a Linchpin. It made me think of something else. This is what I wrote a while back about how managers ignore those who are doing OK:

Managers concentrate on trying to “help” the struggling workers. Those who under perform. They think to themselves, hey – that guy who is doing OK doesn’t need me, he is doing OK. So they ignore him and work with the struggling guy. How does that make that make the “OK guy” feel? What is the message that this kind of behaviour sends to him? How does this affect his perception?

What is the problem with this scenario? Not only is the “OK guy” not being recognized, he is also doing OK. OK is not enough. A manager’s job is to make him excel. Average, is not enough. Helping employees excel starts by noticing and letting our employees know that we noticed. This is the basic elements of employee engagement and employee recognition.

Godin got it just right. We ignore those who fit the mold. We let them stay in their mediocrity and put our efforts somewhere else. If you are a cog doing its job, I, the manager, can ignore you. I want peace and quiet. And when employees only get management attention when they are out of line, they start doing everything they can to not be noticed by management – that means no risks, not extraordinary thing. Mediocrity. Management failure.

Elad

Is good enough good enough?

In the last few days I was thinking a lot about the question of good enough.

When do you give up and just stop improving whatever it is your working on and when do you try to create something remarkable and different?

Two references for my thoughts. First, Seth Godin, who writes:

You end up, if you’re talented, with something good enough.

Is that enough? Is good enough enough to win? To change the game? To reinvent your organization and your career? In a crowded market, when all the competition is good enough, not much happens.

Good enough is beyond reproach. It’s safe at the same time it represents quality. Good enough demonstrates effort and insight and ability. People rarely get fired for good enough, which is a shame.

I must admit, I love this approach. Too many little things in life are just plain mediocre. Just because somebody decided that the service, or the design or the product should be only OK. If we really want to make a change, we should not settle for good enough, only for great. To many things are so mediocre, when they should not be.

But then, I think about the importance of picking your battles. And I am reminded, like I so often do, that there are no complete truths in life. Check this post, by Karlyn Morissette:

All too often in higher ed, we get bogged down seeking perfection, when something that is good enough will do just as well.  I can tell horror stories about tying up hours of time from five or six employees in search of the perfect Facebook Ad.  Yes, you heard me right – FACEBOOK AD.  The picture had to be designed just right and the copy had to be written and edited and it had to be mocked up so the client could see what it would actually look like in Facebook, etc.  It was absolutely ridiculous.

All of us have been there. We spend too much time on things that are not really important. Actually when I worked at a law firm, I guess that about 30% of my time was spent on perfecting things that had no real influence in the outcome. How the document looks, if the paper came out of the printer a little smeared, etc. Not that it is not important to produce perfect work. We just need to be realistic sometimes and understand that sometimes, good enough is good enough because it is more important to do stuff than to do them perfectly.

You might think that the question is, how do you decide? Which, I agree, is a very important question. But I actually think there is a question which is even more important. Do you stop to consider? Whatever you decide to go with perfection or good enough is not as important as actually stopping, and taking the time to make that a conscious decision. To weigh the consequences of each path. Don’t do things automatically or just because this is the way everybody does it here. Stop and think. Do I demand perfection? Why? Am I settling for good enough? Why?

I think that most of the time, you would find that the question, is more important than the answer.

Elad