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

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Being the best average or building a different scale

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I just finished reading Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce By Daniel M. Cable. While the book caught me by surprise, because it did not deal at all with what I thought it was going to, I found it to be an insightful book finally delivering a framework that connects “strategy” to “HR” or “OB”. This connection is something I was hoping all through my MBA to discuss but was disappointed again and again how our professor failed to make. Cable takes the idea of “people are our company’s most valuable asset” and connects it to actual concepts like strategy, measurement and execution, taking it out of the fluffy-pink wrapping-paper into actual deliverables and business concepts like marketing, competitive advantage, measurement and costs.

What I loved most about this book is its approach that emphasizes two main concepts that I have repeatedly emphasized in this blog as well. Averages and best practices on one hand and priorities on the other hand.

First, Cable really emphasizes that trying to be the best in same way like everybody else is insane. This is the gist of this idea:

Nowadays, most organizations claim that their people are their competitive advantage. But most organizations build workforces that really are not very different from their competitors’. Most organizations, it turns out, treat their people just about the same as most other organizations. In fact, companies deliberately benchmark their people practices to the industry average. Not surprisingly, there is nothing particularly distinctive about most organizations’ workforces and nothing the organization produces is particularly noteworthy from a customer standpoint—nothing very strange. Put these together, and what situation do you have? You have organizations hoping to achieve extraordinary results with a solidly ordinary, normal workforce.

Yesterday, I read Paul Hebert great post asking people to call BS on normal distribution:

But… what if your organization doesn’t follow a normal distribution?  Then everything following that assumption is just wrong. I’m thinking that the “normal” distribution is the wrong thing to look at when designing influence, reward and recognition programs.  I’m thinking we’ve been looking at this all wrong for 100 years.

And what he wrote in reply to a comment of mine on this post:

Averages and standard deviations are the tools of six sigma and minimizing variability. I’ve preached that those types of tools don’t apply in the human world – we are infinitely variable – and that is where our value is. It’s not in getting everyone to be the same, act the same and perform the same – it’s getting people to act, perform differently – and the power law curve is the perfect idea in that instance.

Hebert’s post connects the idea of best practices and averages. People are unique and special. Trying to make them all fit into some “average person” company plan is insane. This is why many of the most successful companies out there actually don’t take on people who already work in the industry (one great example, is southwest airlines). If you want to be different, you have to act different. And this has to happen deliberately. The same goes for companies as wholes. You have to plan to be deliberately different. Again, from Cable:

If your workforce systems are just like everyone else’s, it would be silly to expect any unique value or special sauce from your workforce. Serviceable, standard, normal systems that do not make employees say, “Wow!” result in a serviceable, standard, normal workforce that does not make customers say, “Wow!” Your methods for dealing with your workforce should be definitely out of the ordinary and unexpected; unusual or striking; slightly odd or even a bit weird. Your people systems need to be as strange as the workforce you hope to create.

This is the myth of best practices: You will probably not be able to imitate your way to greatness. Your own strange systems have to be created around the obsessions and unique abilities you need from your workforce.

It’s really unlikely that you can build a strange workforce if your organization deals with the workforce the same way as other organizations do. It is delusional to expect your employees to be extraordinary and differentiate your organization if your employee systems are basically the same as other organizations.

Second, business in general and strategy in particular is about making priorities. Your true ability as a manager, a leader, an innovator, as a winner, is best shown when you have to make difficult choices that have tough consequences. Here, again, a few quotes:

When the going gets tough and you get busy, it will be hard to be strange without discipline because strange demands a lot more energy than just being like everyone else.

All jobs are not created equal. Nothing personal, but some jobs are more important to executing your strategy than other jobs. You already know this in your heart, of course. But it is currently not in vogue to say it out loud or do anything about it. Most companies want to treat all employees as if they are somehow equally important, all unique flowers to be cultivated equally… The heretical take-away here is that leaders should prioritize jobs and invest the most time, energy, and money into the positions where a strange workforce has the most leverage to make their strategies go

Getting a competitive advantage needs to be hard, or it wouldn’t be a sustained competitive advantage. The fact that it is hard to create a distinctive system that brings together the right group of people who are strangely focused on what customers care about means that organizations succeeding in this domain will gain a competitive advantage. These organizations will rise to greatness because this is the foundation of value creation, it is hard to do, and it is hard to imitate…

And I ask you. What are the tough choices you made in the last day, week, month or year to become special? What did you give up in order to be different? What did it cost you? Are you just trying to be the best average or are you trying to create a whole new scale? These questions are equally important on the personal and professional levels. I know I am trying to answer them every day. What about you?

Elad

Making learning a priority

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A few days ago Ron Ashkenas wrote on HBR.org a post titled: Don’t Let Your Next Crisis Go to Waste. In it, Ashkenas claims that organizations should learn to harness the spirit and energy of a crisis to “normal” times:

The reality is that despite our best intentions, most people (and organizations) can’t sustain the energy of a crisis environment. If the challenges go on for too long they start to become routine. People who stay with it either get burnt out, cynical, or disheartened; and for those not involved on a day-to-day basis, the crisis fades into the background.

Ashkenas then goes on to suggest two steps that will allow organizations to harness the power of the crisis. One of them is post-crisis learning:

Organize a post-crisis learning clinic. Include the key people who were involved — from your team, other parts of your organization, and even outside parties. Take stock of what you learned: What was done differently? What new patterns or innovations were sparked by the crisis? And most importantly, what new ways of working — individually or collectively — should be continued?

While I am all for de-briefing, learning from mistakes and constantly questioning assumptions and practices, I find the argument a bit contradictory. If, as Ashkenas claims, post crisis, energy levels go down, how organizing “a post-crisis learning clinic” is supposed to leverage the energy and spirit created by the crisis?

I an interesting study, Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson or Harvard Business School, studied how medical teams in hospital adapted to a new system for conducting surgeries. One of the conclusions of this study, is that learning was much more effective in real-time than post-hoc. When the surgical team emerged themselves in a process of learning during the actual surgery, they were able to learn and improve for the next surgery more effectively than by doing a post-surgery learning clinic.

Crisis is the hardest time to focus on learning, improving and thinking about the future. But it turns out this is the best time to do it. Like all issues of strategy, becoming a learning and improving organization is about prioritizing. The hardest time to engage in learning – during the crisis – is the most effective time. It means you, as a manager, need to make some tough choices. If you ask me, improving the learning capabilities of your team or organizations is, in the long-run, much more important than the current crisis.

Elad

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Compromise or tradeoff?

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Two seemingly unrelated posts I read this week made me think again about an issue that I think is at the heart of business strategy and leadership. Tradeoffs and priorities.

In the first post, Hugh MacLeod describes the decision Howard Schultz of Starbucks tells about in his book, Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Build a Company One Cup at a Time. Sometime in the 1980’s it was a really bad year for coffee crops. Starbucks had to make a choice. Either raise prices or start using cheaper coffee. Research said that using poorer coffee will only be felt by 10% of customers (as a non-coffee drinker, this number surprised me a little) while raising prices would be felt by all costumers. This is how Hugh described what happened:

The accountants, predictably, recommended that they go with the cheaper coffee option. Numbers don’t lie etc, it was better to tick off 10% of their customers than 100% etc, cheaper coffee was the “obvious” thing to do etc etc.

Howard didn’t do that in the end. Instead, he raised the prices accordingly, and left a note in every store, telling people why his company was forced to regretfully raise their prices. And he also told them about the option he could’ve taken but chose not to i.e. cheapen the coffee.

And you know what? The customers understood his reasoning, and stood by the business.

Eventually wholesale coffee prices came down again, allowing Starbuck’s to lower their prices as well. The company weathered the storm and the brand ended up all the stronger for it. Life was good again.

Sorry, Bean Counters. Numbers do lie. Sometimes pathologically so…

The other post was written by Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan on HBR.org. they describe what they call “Proud to be Cheap: The “Secret Sauce” of Low-Cost Winners”. Most companies engage in cost cutting and try to reduce costs. But some companies, Katzenbacha and Khan claim, have it as part of their D.N.A:

In a nutshell, it is a culture that is “proud to be cheap” in good times and bad. Their people cut erasers in half, turn off the lights when they leave the building, bring their lunch to work, fly in the back of the bus, and stay in Day’s Inns. More important, they are always on the alert for ways do things on the job more cheaply, without compromising quality and service standards. Nothing is wasted, nothing is redundant, and nothing is overlooked when it comes to doing it on the cheap.

These seem to be two very different stories. But actually, they are the same. It is the stuff success is made of. Tradeoffs. Priorities. Consistency. Average is the most dangerous path. If you do something, go all the way. Pure you heart into it. Make everything about your concept. Build the decision around it. Sure, at times it might not seem like a good idea. At times, everybody will tell you that you need to settle. That principles are good but they don’t provide a living or they don’t satisfy the shareholders they will say. I think it is all nonsense. Ignore Everybody.

The problem with stories about companies’ strategies and CEO’s decisions is that sometimes they seem distant. How many of us are going to be CEO or make decisions that have so much impact? In this case? Every day. Every one of us makes many choices every day. And each of these choices could be comprise or could be a tradeoff. What will your next decision be?

Elad

<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0788195336?ie=UTF8&tag=thecompaadvan-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0788195336″>Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Build a Company One Cup at a Time</a><img src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thecompaadvan-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0788195336&#8243; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;”

What you don’t stand for

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I was reading an article titled building Your Company’s Vision By James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras (the authors of Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies), when I came across this quote:

The point is that a great company decides for itself what values it holds to be core, largely independent of the current environment, competitive requirements, or management fads. Clearly, then, there is no universally right set of core values. A company need not have as its core value customer service (Sony doesn’t) or respect for the individual (Disney doesn’t) or quality (Wal-Mart stores doesn’t) or market focus (Hp Doesn’t) or teamwork (Nordstrom doesn’t). A company might have operating practices and business strategies around those qualities without having them at the essence of its being. Furthermore, great companies need not have likeable or humanistic core values, although many do. The key is not what core values an organization has but that it has core values at all.

I love this quote. Many reasons. The main reason – it exemplifies the fact that sometimes what you are not, is just as important as what you are. What isn’t there can often trump what is. The point is that it is not only about choosing some core values. It is about making the choice to begin with thus excluding other choices. Making a deliberate decision to say – this is what I am, which means I am not something else.

We have, in the westernized world, a culture built around stories of great success. Of people who did it all. And we get a sense that we can have it all. But we can’t. Nobody, be it company or individual, ever does everything well. It is those who choose, make tradeoffs and focus that become the best.

I think people easily forget this. This is why you have so many value statements about core values that are not worth the paper they are written on. It is easy to say these are the values I want to stand for. It is easy to say we will focus on customer service. It is much harder to admit that the values we stand for mean that we don’t stand for other things. That our focus on customer service has to come on the expense of something else.

So, what do you, your team or your company stand for? what don’t you stand for?

Elad

Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies<img src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thecompaadvan-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0060566108&#8243; width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />

Kill it!

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I was reading a post by Auren Hoffman on the Summation Blog yesterday. Here is a short excerpt:

The hardest thing to do at a company is to kill things. Companies are all about building things, not destroying them. When your company is growing, you add lots of things to build the company: employees, investors, products, features, meetings, benefits, processes, reports, code, and more. While it does not come natural for a company (or any organization) to toss things out, every so often you need to look at everything and focus on getting rid of things that are no longer needed, important, or helping the company grow.

So true. You need to kill things (and early) because business (and life) is about tradeoffs. You cannot do everything. You cannot serve everybody. You cannot make everybody happy. You can try, but it is a futile attempt. Trying to focus on a few important products that serve specific customers makes much more sense and is much easier to accomplish. Not killing things leads to mediocrity which is the most poisonous concept for every business. It is a great idea to try a lot of new things, but the trick is to choose those that align with you core values, message, strategy or goal (choose one of the above).

What was a great idea yesterday is not always still a good idea. We know that but we still stand there and look at it and have fuzzy nostalgic feelings about it. I have seen it happen many times. In my work in the Israeli Air-force courses for commanders I helped introduce many new ideas and processes along the years. We would come up with a new way to do an exercise or a new activity that gave the participants an understanding of their role as managers and leaders. And then we went and made that part of the regular process of the course. However, after a few courses, suddenly, this novelty, which worked so well in the beginning, stopped working.

It stopped working for many reasons. It was not new anymore. People got used to it. People learned to tweak the system. Or the times just changed and it was irrelevant. And when somebody offered to change it there was this immediate opposition. Because it used to work. But when you ask people for the reasons and the rational for doing it in that particular way their answer is not the original goal of the idea. Their answer is: because that is how it always used to be. Just like the five monkeys.

A few days ago Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote a post on the HBR blog about why winning streaks end:

“Winners become sinners when confidence turns into complacency and arrogance”

Not killing things is the manifestation of complacency and arrogance. Don’t let it get the better of you…

Elad

Comparing or not comparing – on the difference between excellence and success

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Photo by Aloshbennett

There is a difference between success and excellence.

Success is often measured by comparison to others. Excellence, on the other hand, is all about being the best we can be and maximizing our gifts, talents and abilities to perform at our highest potential

This quote is from a post by Jon Gordon and is definitely one of the most captivating posts I have read recently.

I am a big believer in consternating on ourselves and not on anybody else. It is not that we should ignore all the others, but we should just not focus on them so much. Being the best and doing the best we can is much more important. This is something I am sure about when it comes to the personal life, but I am more and more convinced, it is also relevant to the business-professional life as well.

You probably would not believe me, so I will refer to others, smarter than me. The first, Anthony Tjan, from the Harvard Business Review blog, writing about what looking at others might do to a company:

Most small businesses think that big companies have limitless resources and tons of money, and accordingly can do whatever they want. At the same time, most large companies think that all small ones are entrepreneurial, acting quickly, and bursting with creativity. Neither of these common beliefs is true. Most big companies do not throw a lot of resources at every project, and most small companies tend to become stagnant when they are through with their initial, entrepreneurial stage

Second, from the Manifesto: “Hit the Ground Running” by Jason Jennings:

Dos and don’ts of america’s best new CEOs

The Don’ts – Don’t study the competition.

Managers are fascinated with figuring out what the competition has up their sleeve. Most of the time, though, studying of the competition isn’t really justified. It’s simply an exercise in saying “See, we don’t suck as much as they do.”

According to the best new CEOs, studying the competition won’t help you to hit the ground running.

I find these ideas so true. So much of our studies in the MBA is outward focused. What are our competitors are doing? How can we imitate them? What are the benchmarks and best practices of the industry? Let’s analyse our competitors…

I am not saying doing all of these things is not important. It might be very important. I am just saying that it is good to try and sometime focus on excellence. On being the best at what we are doing. On giving the best effort we can give. With no relation to what others are doing.

If you look at some of the best successes in the last few years, they come from companies that looked at the market and did not ask themselves – how do we compare? How can we do what are competitors are doing, just differently or better?

It came from companies that reinvented the game. That left the confines of the industry and created new industries where they excel. Itunes; Google; Twitter; Iphone; are just some of the examples that spring to my mind.

It is time for us to excel. What did you do today in order to excel, not only succeeded.

Elad