Isn’t it time your company got some haters?

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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

Emergence of excellence

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Two separate sources talked about the same issue today. Designing the conditions for success.

In planet money, the weekly podcast discussed the issue of job creation. The conclusion, job creation is not about one act of leadership. It is not necessarily about raising taxes (which could work) or lowering taxes (which could also work). It is about creating the optimal conditions in which jobs emerge.

Seth Godin discusses a different issue all together but so similar: customer service. Godin explains that it is not only about the person who actually provides the service, but actually many times, about how the environment was designed:

Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault. Sadly, the complaints rarely make it as far as the overpaid (or possibly overworked) executive who made the bad design decision in the first place. It’s the architecture of service that makes the phone ring and that makes customers leave.

And I ask you, as a manager, what are you doing to design an environment which enables emergence of excellence? Are you focusing on the conditions that support success? Why not?

Elad

What we stand for

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I don’t know if what I am going to do is considered plagiarism or copyright infringement. I don’t think this particular author will see it this way anyway. I honestly don’t care, as the following blog post is so powerful I feel an urge to bring it, in full, here. A few days ago, Seth Godin wrote:

The worst voice of the brand *is* the brand

We either ignore your brand or we judge it, usually with too little information. And when we judge it, we judge it based on the actions of the loudest, meanest, most selfish member of your tribe.

When a zealot advocates violence, outsiders see all members of his tribe as advocates of violence.

When a doctor rips off Medicare, all doctors are seen as less trustworthy.

When a fundamentalist advocates destruction of outsiders, all members of that organization are seen as intolerant.

When a soldier commits freelance violence, all citizens of his nation are seen as violent.

When a car rental franchise rips off a customer, all outlets of the franchise suffer.

Seems obvious, no? I wonder, then, why loyal and earnest members of the tribe hesitate to discipline, ostracize or expel the negative outliers.

“You’re hurting us, this is wrong, we are expelling you.”

What do you stand for?

Godin’s writes mainly (although not exclusively) about marketing. This post, however, is not about marketing or branding. It is, as the last line emphasizes, about what we stand for.

How many times have you stood up and said: “You’re hurting us, this is wrong, we are expelling you”. How many times did you say: “this kind of behavior will not do here”. What are you doing everyday to actively maintain the norms that make you proud of who you are and what you are doing?

For me, management and teamwork boils down to this. When and how to put your foot down against behaviors that go against the team. Of course, “behaviors that go against the team”, should not be confused with “ideas that don’t conform to what we are thinking”. Diversity of opinions, styles, approaches and motivations are welcome. Rudeness, disrespect, bullying, fear of failure and discouragement of effort are not. I think most people could agree on that. Can most people do what it takes to make this a reality? Probably not. Surely most managers I know or heard of can’t. So, what are you waiting for? In some respects, being unique has never been easier.

Elad

Book review: Poke the Box by Seth Godin

I am an avid reader of Seth Godin’s work. Just looking at the size of his tag on this blog you understand that he has been a great inspiration for my writing. Thus, it wouldn’t be hard to conclude that I am very excited with his new project to re-define and re-shape how book publishing is done (the domino project).

One of the first titles is called: Poke the Box. In it, Godin continues his assault on the resistance that is holding us back, which he started in his wonderful book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? The main point of the book is: what would happen if we all took more initiative and just started things? More importantly: what the hell is stopping us? The book praises practical initiative taking, not just for the sake of initiating but for the sake of shipping – delivering a product or idea to the market.

I found three interesting concepts going all through the book:

1. We got the attitude toward failure all wrong. Failure has a bad rep. it is misunderstood and misused. It represents opportunity, learning and improvement. Instead we fear it and try everything in our powers to prevent it. However, not failing means not doing. Or as Godin puts it: “The more you do, the more you fail”. Our aim should be to do, so it should be to also fail. A lot.

If you fail once, and big, you don’t fail the most. The game is over, you’re a failure, you’re busted, you’re in jail. But you don’t fail the most. If you never fail, either you’re really lucky or you haven’t shipped anything. But if you succeed often enough to be given the privilege of failing next time, then you’re on the road to a series of failures. Fail, succeed, fail, fail, fail, succeed—you get the idea. Talk to any successful person. He’ll be happy to fill you in on his long string of failures.

2. Leaders are map makers. People need maps to show them where to go. Literally, in experiments done on lost people, they just walked around in circles. However, you can wait for the map to come or you can create your own map. Are as Godin says: “Please stop waiting for a map. We reward those who draw maps, not those who follow them”. When I say “leaders are map makers” I am not necessarily talking about leaders in the traditional way. I am talking about people who make things happen; who try something new; who take us to a better future by not obeying the rules, because the rule book of the future has not been written yet. They understand that they need to write it as they go along.

If there’s no clear right answer, perhaps the thing you ought to do is something new. Something new is often the right path when the world is complicated.

3. Initiative is also about voice. Godin writes: “Sure, ideas that spread, win, but ideas that don’t get spoken always fail”. Many of most obvious inventions we have today were at some point heresy. When those who thought about them voiced them all hell broke loose (just listen to this podcast to see how it still is happening today in places you wouldn’t even imagine). But if we don’t voice ideas what is the alternative? Nothing. Can we honestly say that is a better thing?

We’re trained to fit in, not to stand out, and the easiest way in the world to fit in is to never initiate. Don’t speak up. If you see something, don’t say anything. In fact, we spend most of our days waiting for permission to start”

Poke the Box is a quick fun read. While it is not ground breaking like some of Godin’s other books (Linchpin for example) it does make you think and doubt some of your previous choices. After reading Linchpin and reading Godin’s blog everyday for the last three years, I did not find a lot of new ideas in the book. That does not mean, that some of the old ideas are not important. If you don’t frequent Godin’s blog you should. And you should also buy the book. Hopefully, it will drive you to poke the box, try and ship.

Elad

Balance, productivity and creativity

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I have been thinking about the issue of balance a lot lately. It shows up in many of my readings and it constantly popping into my head in all kinds of contexts. One of the balances I am particularly interested in is the one between productivity and creativity. The more research is accumulated on these issues, the more we learn that these two important concepts require very different environments in order to thrive. For example, productivity is many times focused on eliminating errors and minimizing noise and mistakes. Creative environments, on the other hand, thrive on such mistakes. As Steven Johnson wonderfully points out in Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

Good ideas are more likely to emerge in environments that contain a certain amount of noise and error.

Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.

The same is true regarding values and norms in working groups. On one hand, harmony is essential in creating enjoyable working environments and can lead to better cooperation. On the other hand, again, from Johnson:

In groups united by shared values and long-term familiarity, conformity and convention tended to dampen any potential creative sparks.

Most organizations need both high productivity and high creativity in order to succeed. The question is how you balance the needs by creating environments that support both.

The thing is, even in each and every one of these worlds it is also a question of balance. The balance of diminishing returns. As Seth Godin writes:

Over time, processes that seek to decrease entropy and create order are valued, but improving them gets more difficult as well. If you’re seeking to make the organized more organized, it’s a tough row to hoe.

Far easier and more productive to create productive chaos, to interrupt, re-create, produce, invent and redefine.

True. At the same time, we need to remember that to much Chaos is also counterproductive. Johnson Reminds us that:

The computer scientist Christopher Langton observed several decades ago that innovative systems have a tendency to gravitate toward the “edge of chaos”: the fertile zone between too much order and too much anarchy.

The question of balance in general and the balance between creativity and productivity is one that fascinates me and I hope to keep exploring it further in the future. In the mean time you should ask yourself – how are you balancing these two concepts? Are you really balancing in a way that contributes value or are you creating a compromise that hurts both?

Would be happy to hear your thoughts.

Elad

Threshold

Photo by Sara. Nel

Seth Godin describes 8 reasons to work:

  1. For the money
  2. To be challenged
  3. For the pleasure/calling of doing the work
  4. For the impact it makes on the world
  5. For the reputation you build in the community
  6. To solve interesting problems
  7. To be part of a group and to experience the mission
  8. To be appreciated

He then asks: “Why do we always focus on the first?”

I think it is the wrong question. We should focus on the first. The question is why do we only focus on the first?

Even the one of the most popular opponent for incentives in the way the business world usually uses them, Dan Pink, claims, in his book, Drive, that while autonomy, mastery and purpose is what really drives people, a prerequisite for that is that people are paid well. Preferably above the average pay.

I think we should think about this question as a threshold. In order to attract goof workers and demand excellence you need your pay to be reasonable. But above a certain point (which I don’t think is very high) more money does not equal better performance. To do that, you need at least one, if not more, of the rest of the items on the list.

By the way. This proposition is not mine. It belongs to the management scholar Herzberg. Here is how I described it in the past:

According to the Two-factor theory (also known as Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory) job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently of each other. Two Factor Theory states that there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction (Motivators, e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility which give positive satisfaction, arising from intrinsic conditions of the job itself, such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth), while a separate set of factors cause dissatisfaction (Hygiene factors, e.g. status, job security, salary and fringe benefits, which do not give positive satisfaction, although dissatisfaction results from their absence. These are extrinsic to the work itself, and include aspects such as company policies, supervisory practices, or wages/salary).

Hygiene factors are things you need to make sure are present to reasonable degree. Otherwise, in many cases, the motivators will have almost no effect.

So, we should focus on money (and other hygiene factors). But we need to make sure they are good enough and focus on making the motivators extraordinary. Then, we raise the chances for the emergence of excellence.

Elad

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Disrespect

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I am a member of a Linkedin group called: “Harvard Business Review – Reader’s Forum” where discussions are being held around topics that appear in HBR. One of these ongoing discussions revolves around the following questions: “Is it beneficial for a company to allow its employees to use social media at work for personal usage? Why?”

I personally not only think it is beneficial, I also think it is inevitable. Many participants, however, disagree. Today, these two comments were added to the discussion:

I strongly discourage such social networking at work, not only it creates distraction at work, it also increases the risk of information security. There are other ways to promote social networking by placing PCs outside the work zone where people can use open internet (and remember not to put chairs there : ) ).

Would you let your workers go visit family and friends and having nice time during office hours….. definitely NO……..then there is no reason we should let this culture permeate through our work culture via any other medium (social networking sites), i agree with (name taken off)… rather that barring such activities all together….. one can keep them for those leisure seconds during work….by making them a part of the leisure zone where one can one can easily curse their work and bosses…

These kinds of comments make me both sad and angry. Not because I disagree with them. It is ok to have conflicting opinions and not everybody should think like me. Moreover, I am sure that there are some circumstances, be they cultural or contextual, where my opinion might be wrong and it will be a good idea to ban social media.

What made me sad and angry is that the people who wrote these comments hold a world view that sees employees as chattel. They see employees as cogs in a machine. What I imagine them thinking to themselves as they write these comments is something like this: “We need to make sure the employees work all the time. We must be productive. If they want to ‘socialize’ they can do it in a cage. Not on our time’.

While this kind of approach might work for certain industries I believe it is not going to work for most. And if in your place of work employees have the potential to access social media , your place of work is probably in the list of places where this kind of approach is not only irrelevant, it is detrimental to the work itself.

Seth Godin wrote in his blog today:

The easiest form of management is to encourage or demand that people do more. The other translation of this phrase is to go faster.

The most important and difficult form of management (verging on leadership) is to encourage people to do better.

I agree. Better. Not faster. Not more. Not cheaper. If we want people to do better, we have to let go of the mechanisms of control designed to stimulate productivity. We have to celebrate and stimulate passion. We have to stop fearing what we don’t know. We have to treat our employees as partners, not as serfs. We have to trust them and enable them to do their work on their own terms and hold them accountable. We should respect them. The comments quoted above show disrespect for other people. And I think disrespect for other people is reason enough for me to be both sad and angry.

Elad

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