Are you delivering value? If not, what the hell are you doing?

Image result for valueA couple of years ago, I was visiting with a colleague and we were discussing something with someone who was remote. I had to send this remote person an image on a laptop screen. To do this, I went about an arduous process involving copying the screen image to a graphics app and then cutting the image out, copying that again and pasting it to the email. My friend was watching and asked why I was doing all of this elaborate mess. I responded that I had always done it like this. He then showed me how to use the snipping tool in Windows. I had never seen it or been shown it. It was like I had found the Holy Grail. It was so simple and allowed me to simply cut out whatever I wanted and paste it directly to any document. “Wow” was all I could eek out.

The reason I relay this is that it is a great example of providing value. We hear a lot about value these days but what is it.

There are complex ideas involving the balance between what you pay and what you get but I think it’s simpler than that. Whenever you get something that helps you do something more easily or gets you information that enables you to do achieve something, value has been delivered. When you read something and learn or are inspired, value has been delivered. When you get help that solves a problem, value has been delivered. Whether you pay or not has no bearing on whether it’s valuable or not. It either benefits you (valuable) or it doesn’t (not valuable).

This idea brings up a question. Is what you are doing bringing value? How does what you do or produce help anyone? How is it, like my encounter with the snipping tool, helping someone to achieve something easily, quickly, or more perfectly? It’s clear, value is a service proposition. Helpful is valuable, it’s that simple.

So, if you’re not bringing value with your work, what exactly are you doing? Think about it. Are you delivering value every day in every project and every interaction?

If we want our organizations to be valuable and deliver value, we should all be asking ourselves, every day, “How can I be more helpful? How can I be more valuable?”



I didn’t write this post, Seth Godin did, but it resonated with me so I’m reposting it. It’s almost a poem, and it is spot on s far as what’s necessary for pursuing excellence. Ponder this, make a plan, take action!

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Excellence by Seth Godin



If you knew,

and you could see the world through the eyes of the customer,

and you really cared…

What would you do?

That’s a simple test of creating excellence.

So, if I’m on hold for 56 minutes with Orbitz, does the CEO know? Is that ever a desired outcome?

Does the engineer who shipped a hackable voting machine know that it’s hackable?

The plumber who finished the job and left the hot/cold controls in reverse position… did he care enough?

Excellence cuts through bureaucracy and status quo and excuses and asks a simple question:

What would you do if you knew?


If you want to go to the original, go here …

And don’t stop there, check out all of the other great thought leadership on Godin’s blog site.

Are you clear or cOnfUSinG? Here’s a way to straighten that out.

Image result for clarityWhen customers or employees are unengaged or confused, it can largely be because you haven’t answered some simple questions they may have. You may think you have, but for whatever reason, they didn’t get it.

Answering questions can be more difficult than you think. What we might think answers the question might seem clear but given that people come to us with many different histories and types of experience, what we think is clear and simple might be confused and garbled to them.

One trick used in education is to say the same thing several different ways to try to ensure all of those different perspectives hear what we are saying clearly. Teachers will often say something, write it down, and maybe even have the students demonstrate it as it is described to them. You see, some people are aural, they hear best, some are visual, they do best when they see it, and others are tactile, they need to get active and do it as best they can.  And while all of these might be impractical to do with customers and employees, I think you get my gist.

Next time you are trying to explain something to a customer or employee, don’t walk away assuming they got what you were trying to say, ask them if what you said was clear – don’t ask if they understood, no one wants to say that they didn’t because that’s like saying “nope, I’m an idiot and need you to dumb it down.” When you ask if you’ve been clear, you put the onus for performance on you not them, if you’ve not been clear, you’re the one that’s an idiot and everyone’s okay with that, except for maybe you. So, ask them if you’ve been clear and if they reply that you haven’t, say it again in a different way. Maybe you can make an analogy, or draw a diagram, or write the steps down, or, well, you get the picture.

Giving people certainty and clarity is a surefire path to better relationships and better performance. And being helpful is the best way to show your commitment to their success, and that, my friends, is service, really good service.


If you want to be customer centric, you have to take their walk.

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The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, CA is redefining customer centricity. The entire hospital experience is viewed from a child’s perspective, a sick child’s perspective. Think for a moment, if you were one of these kids, afraid and in pain, what’s something you’d want? You’d probably want to be distracted from all the things troubling you. So that’s just what the designers thought about, distractions kids would enjoy.

Imagine an MRI machine that looks like an aquarium. Imagine rooms decorated like a beach. Imagine starry lights in the shape of animal constellations dotting the roof of your room. Imagine a large electronic screen with animal imagery that moves and changes as you interact with it. Do you think that’s cool? I certainly do and I’m way past being a kid so I’m sure they do. Somebody definitely took the walk of a sick child when they designed this place.

Taking this walk and thinking or rethinking things based on it is what I like to call extreme customer centricity. It’s designing the customer experience with total empathy. It defines what it is to put yourself in the shoes of someone else, feel their pain as best you can, and create ways to make it smooth, easy, and painless.

So what about you as a business leader? Do you know what your customers experience? Do you have a real understanding of what they go through? Do you have a sense of their journey that includes what they encounter prior to and following their interaction with you? It’s not enough to see your customers’ travels as only consisting of their interaction with your company. You must think about the things they think about on the way to you and on their way from you.

Think about the start of their journey. It starts well before they meet you. What decisions must they make? What things do they know? What things don’t they know? What are their fears and struggles? Have you ever walked the walk they take?

And what about the so-called after-experience? What might they have trouble with? Where could they use easy assistance or more information? When might a follow up call be welcome? Have you ever taken your product home and used it like your customers do? Have you called for help? Have you had to navigate problem solving or the request for a part? Again, have you walked their walk?

Maybe its time to take a page from Undercover Boss and play the role of customer. Inasmuch as you can, think like a customer who knows little about you and is looking for your product. What do you have to do to learn about your business and find you? What questions do you have? What frustrations do you have in the process of getting to your business?

Likewise, take your product for a spin. How does it work? Pretend you have a problem and seek out help. How easy is it? Is there any runaround? Is there work you have to do, forms to fill out, codes to write down, etc.? How many times do you have to repeat your story or your account number, serial number, etc.? In short, how much of a pain is it to deal with your company?

If no one in your business does this, there’s not a chance that you’ll really be able to empathize. There’s no way you can understand the pain. There’s no chance of customer centricity much less extreme customer centricity. If you want to understand your customers, take the walk they take.

What’s your purpose, gaining or giving?

Image result for purposeA compelling, noble purpose gives work meaning. With purpose comes energy, passion, and motivation to get out of bed in the morning. And over the long haul of a career, it is an absolute necessity if we want workplaces that don’t become prisons where people drag in on Monday and run out on Friday.

A common purpose can help an organization overcome the bureaucracy and silos that plague so many team efforts. As people shed egos in favor of a common goal, the full potential of the organization can be realized. It’s simply the power of teamwork, people all working in unison toward group success instead of individual success. We’ve all seen it before when we see teams who lack superstars defeat teams loaded with superstars. The mediocre together are better than the great alone.

Why then do so many companies falter on this point? It’s because their purpose isn’t compelling, it isn’t noble, and it’s not visionary or inspiring. So many companies I’ve seen have stated purposes that look noble and inspiring but their actions and priorities do not lead people to want to do the work. Several problems rear their heads in these cases.

  • The hypocrisy of stating a noble purpose but acting in a way counter to it leads employees to lack trust in leadership and to jaded complacency.
  • Setting other, less inspiring goals leads to boredom and task-based, checklist-style work that becomes drudgery rather than the stuff of innovation and creativity born out of striving together to accomplish a mission that will end in a legacy of meaning.
  • When it becomes clear that there is really no serious purposeful meaning behind the company’s work and that it is only to benefit stockholders or top executives, employees mirror the behavior and begin working for themselves instead of passionately working to achieve the mission to make customers’ lives better or to enrich the world in some way.

So how do companies change? How do they move toward real, fulfilling, motivating purposes that will make a long-term difference that goes way beyond shareholder value? It starts with examining the values of the organization. Answering the questions of what the organization stands for, what the organizations believes, and what the organization deems acceptable and unacceptable regardless of performance, this is the first step. Next comes answering the key question of what the organization seeks to do to help others, their employees, customers, investors, and community. Once these questions get answered, a journey can begin to craft a succinct and clear statement or rally cry that unites and engages all people within the organization. From there, it is critical to cascade these words to departments, teams and individuals. It is vital that this cascade of communication be not only words but actions that demonstrate the values behind them.

What about your organization? Does it live by a compelling purpose? Do the words inspire teamwork for something greater than individual gain? Does the purpose live in the actions of the leaders? Do employees truly know the purpose and live the values with each other? Think about it, challenge yourself and those around you to drive for something more meaningful, make change that will leave a legacy and give your employees something to truly be proud of, something they will tell their children and grandchildren they did that went beyond their bank account. Be the rebel today, start asking the tough questions, drive for nobility, drive for meaning, drive for making lives better, today, do it!

Journey maps are good but teaching a way to think might be better.

Related imageWe hear a lot about customer journey mapping these days, and, at risk of irritating many of my friends in the customer experience industry, I have to admit I’ve grown tired of it taking over so much of the customer experience discussion. If you listen to much of the dialogue, you might think journey mapping is the answer to all of the ills customers must endure instead of a diagnostic/design tool that largely addresses process but tends to miss the need for developing and maintaining an employee mindset that allows management of the unique, changing, immediate needs of individual customers.

Don’t get me wrong, I do see value in mapping the path a customer must tread in their trek to success. It is an invaluable tool to help organizations see where there are snags or holes in their customers’ journey such as communication breakdowns or time-consuming, difficult chores that must be tolerated. Mapping journeys has its place, definitely, however, once the process is examined and fixes applied, what’s an employee supposed to do when things don’t stick to the map? To give it another spin, imagine traveling on vacation, you’ve mapped out the best route to avoid tolls and construction but there are always things you can’t plan for. There’s the road construction that, for whatever reason, didn’t show up on your travel app. There’s the accident that gets traffic bottled up. There’s the attraction that, while it didn’t look worthy of your time when you were planning, looks worthy of your time as you pass by it. Managing all of these spur-of-the-moment events requires spur-of-the-moment decision making that isn’t part of the big-picture plan. This is the realm employees live in daily, they are part of the points along the way and they need to know how to not only act in the planned (a.k.a. mapped) moments but how to react to the non-planned moments as well.

Earlier this year I attended a conference where one of the keynote addresses was delivered by the customer experience expert, Bruce Temkin. In his presentation, he talked about something called Customer Journey Thinking to augment journey mapping. He submitted that since today’s customers so highly value individual interactions, employees would be well served by an ability to continuously focus on their place in impacting the individual experience of the journey rather than so much focus on the tasks involved in the larger process. To embed this individual-centric, in-the-moment thinking in the mindsets of employees, Temkin suggests organizations teach their employees to continually ask themselves five questions.

  1. Who is my customer and what are their specific needs?
  2. What is the customer’s real goal; what are they trying to accomplish?
  3. What did they do right before coming to me; what have they had to endure so far?
  4. What will they have to do right after our interaction; what do they have to do next?
  5. What will make them happy right now?

I fell in love with this idea pretty quickly. You can see in the last three critical questions how Temkin carefully puts the employee’s particular vantage point in the context of a larger journey that includes past, present and future.

  1. PAST: Where has this customer been before getting to me and what have they had to do?
  2. FUTURE: What will they have to do next after working with me?
  3. PRESENT: How can I be most helpful in getting them from where they’ve been to where they’ll go?

Teaching employees to ask themselves these things can take your journey mapping efforts to a new level where process improvement goes hand-in-hand with a mindset change where employees adapt to the individual needs of customers that can’t be anticipated in even the best mapping effort. The words “most helpful” say it all. This is where we want employees to be and what customers most want.

The customer experience is more than you think and there’s an opportunity in considering that.

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The customer experience.  Is it just everything the customer experiences with your business or is it something more?  I’m going to go with something more.

Most businesses, at least the ones who are enlightened enough to understand and recognize it, see the customer experience only as the customer’s experience with their company.  However, as customer experience expert James Dodkins notes in his writing, that is a very limited, business-centric view.  It fails to see things from the broader view of what customers have to endure in their experience of reaching their objective, whatever that objective might be.

Take, for example, a vacation trip to New York City and a hotel’s view of the experience. Many traditional thoughts would see the experience as arriving at the hotel, checking in, the room, the restaurant, pool, bar and check out.  All would be the view from inside the hotel so to speak. However, think about it from the customer perspective, there are many other things they have to contend with that fall outside of just the hotel.  They must plan for the weather in New York, pack, decide on all of the things they want to see and do, plan their travel, get from home to the airport or train station, go through travel hell and try to do it as efficiently and effortlessly as possible, get ground transport into the city, etc.  All of that is part of their New York City vacation experience.

So what is the hotel to do, how can they possibly account for so much especially since the vast majority is out of their control? Well, they might not be able to control a lot of what the customer experiences but they can influence things and try to make it better. For example, the hotel could, on their website, have weather updates and a link to see typical weather for the time the customer is traveling.  They could have helpful travel tips like packing ideas, best ground transport from airports and train stations, how to best get through airport security, the list goes on. Perhaps they could offer a service to ship luggage so customers don’t have to worry about it. Imagine a van coming to the customer’s home, picking up their luggage, and upon arrival at the hotel, the luggage is in the customer’s room.

While these are just ideas that might be causing many hoteliers to snort, laugh and make “that’ll never happen” remarks, they illustrate the possibilities for companies everywhere to consider the larger view of what customers must endure in reaching their objectives and what a little creativity might do to make things better and make your business a stand-out leader that customers want to work with.

So I have to ask, has your business looked at the entirety of the journey your customers must travel to reach success or are you still stuck in looking at just what they experience once they touch your company?  How can you extend that view and begin innovating ways to make the extended journey easier and more enjoyable?


Machines or humans? Your choice.

Image result for robot waiterAre you a person who likes to shop online or perhaps go in a store and never talk to anyone? Many people express these sentiments. They just want to get what they want without dealing with someone trying to sell them something or giving them what they think will be bad information. I get it. I am often one of those people too.  And, if you are like this, whether a lot or a little, you probably look forward to the day when more artificial intelligence (AI) takes things over so you never have to deal with the pesky detail of people.

I know a lot of you are sitting back right now relishing this thought. Imagine walking into a store, picking out that pair of pants, walking out of the store with a sensor reading codes on your purchase and deducting the dollars from your bank account having read a chip in your wallet. No muss, no fuss, no dreaded interaction with indifferent service people, time saved, you got what you wanted without any complications or questions.

That all sounds nice to many people. And it makes sense since so many of our purchasing experiences are fraught with what seem like needless complications and unsatisfactory human interactions. Yet, as most of us have experienced, relying on machines can have its own set of complications and dissatisfactions.

Think of all of those times you’ve called a business to get help with something and ended in “dial 1-2-3-4” hell and all you want is to find a way to talk to a breathing human who can answer your simple questions or lead you easily to the thing you want. How about all of the times when a question you have isn’t in the menu of possible options or your question is complicated and multi-layered, you know, if this then that? Will AI work to make this better or worse?

While I think AI has its potential benefits, I do not think it will ever replace humans because humans will always need other humans to deal with all of the gray area that we live and breathe daily. Humans are not black and white, we’re not simply zeroes and ones, we change our minds, we question, we’re complex and unpredictable. I have never seen any machine be able to accurately predict human behavior, no, not even Amazon. I have often got recommendations from Amazon that are way off the mark for me.

Machines can be more precise, they can do things faster and calculate data in a flash, but there’s one thing they can’t do, they can’t feel. A machine cannot know what it is to lose a loved one, to fall in love, to be proud of accomplishments, to take joy in the achievements of children, no, a machine lacks that capacity and that capacity is critical because we humans live in the world of emotion and feeling every day, every hour, every minute. It’s what makes us difficult at times and joyous at others and it takes a human touch to feel with us and understand what we need in the moment. That’s why we breathe that sigh of relief when we get a person on the other end of the phone after we’ve dialed department after department to no avail. We just want someone to understand our plight and help us. No machine can do that because they don’t live, die, cry, and smile with us.

Business needs to take heed and remember this fact. Humans need humans, we feel and we need others to feel with us. We’re social creatures. If you’re a business leader and you’re contemplating or even relishing the idea of getting rid of people in favor of machines, think again. In the long term, people will need people, good people, so start creating the place where good people can thrive, you’re going to need them more than ever.

Stupid manager thinking. Is it infecting your business?

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How effective would your company be if none of your employees showed up tomorrow? The answer is clear, it would be a disaster, yet so many companies treat employees like they are machines in a wheel rather than people whose labor, decisions, and ideas are vital to existence.

Richard Branson puts it all in perspective…

“It should go without saying, if the person who works at your company is 100 percent proud of the brand and you give them tools to do a good job and they are treated well, they’re going to be happy.  If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile.”

Doing things with a smile is really shorthand for delivering great service, which is, of course, the whole reason for your business, to help people, which is , again, the fundamental definition of service. And when your employees deliver great service, well, let’s take it from Branson again…

“Effectively, in the end shareholders do well, the customers do better.”

So, why is it that so many companies do not get this? Why do so many people go to miserable workplaces where they are merely tools for tasks instead of creative thinkers who can make the difference? Is it because leaders fear being shown up? Is it because leaders think they’re always right? Is it because it’s business and business is dog eat dog and not some rainbows-and-unicorns fantasyland?

All of this thinking is S-T-U-P-I-D. Yep, I said it, it’s stupid, ignorant, fill in the blank however you would like. And if you want to get in the groove and start seeing more success all around your business, take heed of these words from Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Superfood Emporium…

“If you want staff to give great service, give great service to staff.”

Read it. Read it again – out loud!

Can you do it? Of course you can. Start TODAY by asking instead of telling, listening instead of talking, praising instead of criticizing, and appreciating instead of taking for granted. Take action to create a workplace where employees feel supported and served so they can support and serve your customers who will then support and serve your business.

How can changing how you think about who’s on your team make you more successful?

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You have probably heard of the Twelfth Man which, in an American football game, refers to the impact of the fans in attendance. Their cheering can inspire the home team to great heights while at the same time making noise that can play a part in undoing the visiting side.

This is a great example of how what we call a team is actually more than just the players on the field.  In fact, when you think for a moment about a major sports franchise, there’s the medical staff, the trainers, the ticket takers, the office staff, the scouts, the vendors providing food in the stands, the list goes on.  And all of these contribute in big and small ways to team success.  If the food is bad, the fans are unhappy, if the scouts don’t do well, the team gets bad information on the other team, if the office staff doesn’t perform, the team may miss paychecks, if the ticket takers don’t do their job, fans get held up which impacts their excitement or some people might get in without paying which impacts revenue, you can see how it all adds up. All of these stakeholders are actually parts of the team, even if only from a distance.

So, think about it, who’s on your team?  What I mean is, who do you consider part of your business’s team? My experience is that many business leaders think of investors or shareholders as their team while line-level managers might think of the people who work for the business as their team like players on the field.  However, aren’t there others you should consider?

Before we answer that question, let’s first think about the endgame of your business. If you’re like most business people, you immediately think of making a profit. And while making a profit is important, it’s not the reason you exist.  Think of it this way, we all have to breathe to live but the purpose of life isn’t to breathe, it is, hopefully, a whole variety of other, nobler things. Likewise, the purpose of business isn’t to just profit, it’s to deliver value and help people achieve objectives. Without delivering something of value, there would be no profit. So, who values from your business? I can think of five parties.

  1. Investors/Shareholders: return on investment
  2. Suppliers: revenue and a market for their goods and services
  3. Employees: a place to do meaningful work, earn a livelihood, and have opportunities to grow and learn
  4. Community: tax base and contributor to the common good
  5. Customers: goods and services that help in achieving objectives

On the flip-side of this, each of these constituents also provide value for the business.

  1. Investors/Shareholders: provide capital
  2. Suppliers: provide resources and tools
  3. Employees: provide labor (physical, intellectual, creative)
  4. Community: provides infrastructure
  5. Customers: provide a market as well as revenue and marketing to spread the word about you

The point is this. Many of us in business think one dimensionally about all of the partnerships necessary for the success of our enterprise and many times that one dimension is investors or shareholders or maybe only our workforce, however, this thinking leaves out so many others who should be considered, so many others who are partners with you.  All of your decisions and the value you provide should take those others into account.  If one suffers, the entire team eventually suffers, or at best, struggles to overcome obstacles presented by the poor partner relationships.

Start thinking of all of your stakeholder constituents as partners on your team and see what changes for you.  How does this thinking change how you treat them? Do you now want to help them to be successful in the same way you hope they help you? Imagine how this symbiotic thinking can change your business.