Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Waiting Game

The Friday Blog is an eclectic mix of interesting ideas with no particular theme and is intended as a bit of fun.

Waiters (a cover all descriptor for anyone serving table at a restaurant). 

The concept that waiters should not be noticed takes away one of the best parts of any dining experience.  I have to confess at this point that I don’t have servants at home so my only chance I have of living the life of the super rich is when I visit a restaurant.  This means the waiter becomes Jeeves to my Wooster. Eating out becomes dining out.  I have a restaurant experience rather than a fuel stop. 

It is important to get into the mindset of a ‘Chap’ that has a servant at this point.  I have created a set of criteria upon which to judge staff.  You should of course decide on your own since you will naturally have different requirements to myself.  The following are merely for reference and should not be adopted as a national standard, with certification, an annual award ceremony, and opportunity to be nominated for a Hall of Fame.  That would not be appropriate.  This is highly personal since this is my waiter and not everyone else’s (at least when they are waiting my table). You may consider some of these criteria to be unnecessary or unfair in which case I refer you to my previous statement.

Score each criterion between 1 and 10
  1. Degree of Frenchness ( 1 no Frenchness – 10 French)
  2. Polished shoes (1 has never used polish – 10 shiny)
  3. Waiterisms ( 1 mechanic  – 10 Array of flourishes)
  4. Solomnier ( 1 Gushing –  10 Serious and Professional)
  5. Sommelier ( 1 Struggles with a cork – 10 sniffs the cork once extracted from the bottle)  Placing the bottle between the knees and pulling the cork , with sound effects gets double points.
  6. Eyebrow manipulation ( 1 no use of the eye brows – 10 uses the eye brows in communication)
  7. Bowing ( 1 small head nods – 10 proper dipping down with arm flourish)
  8. Acknowledgement ( 1 regards me as a commodity – 10 Treats me as a full VIP guest)
  9. Address ( 1 grunts  – 10 Always calls me ‘Sir’)
  10. Door ( 1 No exit strategy – 10 Opens the door to show me out)

The score is turned into a percentage and is used to determine the tip which must always be in cash and placed in the hand of my waiter as a sign of appreciation and respect.

The game can be adapted for use in other circumstances like with your gardener, groom or bus driver! Enjoy.

The power from getting started

How often do we want to achieve more but as soon as we realise this is what we want we become stuck in inertia.  Getting started is the hardest thing to overcome. To get to the next level of attainment we need to harness the power from getting started.

For some reason on a visit to Canada I found myself mounted on a huge horse.  Both the horse and I were fixated upon the stable wall in front of us.  It’s not that this particular stable wall was very interesting or that it was any different from any other stable wall anywhere in the world.  It’s just that I had never been on a horse before and had no idea how to get it to move and the horse was quite happy where it was.  A state of inertia.

At this point my motivation to move off towards the remarkable views of the Rocky Mountains was very high.  My family hurled abuse at my riding skills as they ambled off into the distance. I tried the ‘clicking’ noise and a ‘giddy up’, both of which were obviously lost in translation because the horse continued to stare at the stable wall.  I thought about taking a gung ho, razzmatazz, big launch approach, with the full slapping of the reigns, heels spurring the animal on, as seen in cowboy films.  This, however, presented too much of a risk; what if it got up too much momentum and I couldn’t control it?  So we continued to look at the wall, which was beginning to look the best option, after all it was hot outside and I didn’t really want to go horse trekking. I started to make up the excuses for not doing anything.

Big deep breath.  No one looking.  Grasping the reins, I kicked the beast hard in the ribs, hurled abuse at it and off we went, down the trail in a cloud of dust.  I believe that technically we were doing a ‘rising trot’. Not that it had much to do with me.  The horse seemed to go up as I was coming down causing spinal impaction and a need for dental work, but, we were moving and rapidly catching everyone else.   I think I was even generally steering our direction of travel.

Getting started gives you the power to move forward.  Sometimes it takes courage to overcome inertia, it may take time for others to want to join you on your journey and when they do it may be a bumpy ride.  If you take the risk then new possibilities will always open up. 

You may be asking ‘was the horse riding worth the effort and the risk?’; most certainly it was.  I saw the Rockies from a different perspective; we had a great day out.  I even learned new communication skills, most notably, how to swear in horse!

I don’t want to flash my pants!

Once organisations have discovered that delivering what their customer has ordered is the first step towards giving them a great experience, then they are ready to take the next step.  At this point they usually ask what further services can be offered to potential customers to differentiate themselves from their competitors; which quickly becomes a list of features and benefits.

Let me give you an example:

This weekend, my son was showing off his new phone.  It was the size and weight of a brick.  I suddenly realised why there is a fashion amongst young men to exhibit the top few inches of their pants (considering the number of times Calvin Klein and Dolce and Gabbana waistbands have been flashed at me and I hadn’t realised why!).  It is because their phones are so heavy that gravity is continually pulling their trousers towards the ground!  It’s nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with technology.  Keen to find out more I asked him to explain why his phone was so much better than mine.

Apparently it can wake him up in the morning, when he can check Twitter, Facebook and his e-mails before he gets out of bed. He can set off for University guided by GPS and use the internet, which considering he cycles to lectures must be dangerous.  Texts are no problem using the tiny keyboard, and anything of visual interest can be attached as a photo or video. He can even video-call me via Skype if I’m online. 

Is this is what all new phones are like? Is this is what I am to expect when I change my handset?

I started to hyperventilate.  I only want to make phone calls! An answer machine is useful but I don’t want all these other things.  I want to use my phone to talk; if I wanted to text I’d buy a typewriter.  Most importantly I don’t want the world to know that my underpants are from Asda-Walmart, made by George!

To compound the issue, my phone provider recently offered me 300 free texts per month.  I told them I really only wanted a contract for making phone calls, so they could knock off the 300 texts and do me an even better deal.  Alas, I was told they didn’t do this and I would have to have the service, texts and all.  

Often organisations fail to distinguish between customer service and customer experience.  They give their customer the service whether or not they want it.  They operate from their perspective rather than viewing the interaction from their customer’s perspective. Only when they are able to put themselves in my position and tailor what they can offer to what I want are they attending to my customer experience.  So a phone that is just a phone… is this too much to ask for?

Welcome to the shadow side

Hooray! Whoopee-do! Hosanna! Gadzooks! …and other such excited exclamations are rarely heard when it is suggested that we ought to make a change.  More usually, we experience the cautious agreement that something should be done.  There will be many people nodding their heads in approval while their eyes tell you a very different story.  At this point the ‘shadow-side’ becomes mobilised, outwardly in support while inwardly organising their defence.

The ‘not in my back yard’ defence demonstrates this well.  People often declare their support ‘in principle’ of;  nuclear power stations, refuse dumps, wind farms, youth clubs, mental health units etc… but‘This is not a suitable place, we believe there are better options’

Equally effective is the ‘timing ploy’.  This is a double-defence move.  It starts with questioning the need to start now; ‘This is not the right time, after all we are up to our eyes with work, there are a number of other initiatives that we are involved with at the present time’

This is often linked to the ‘delay strategy’ where there is a need for more information or research before we can proceed.

I particularly like the more subtle ‘deflection response’.  In this, the shadow-side suggests that they are being thwarted by the actions or inactivity of others; ‘We have everything in place to move forward but the finance department/procurement/our customer/the patient/legal/health and safety team have some issues to resolve before we can work out what we will do.’

These ‘deflectors’ like to claim the support of the ‘authority figure’, the more obscure or unchallengeable the better; ‘I’m sure ‘they’ would wholeheartedly support what we want to achieve but I’m sure this would not be the way they would want to do it.’  Take note of how this infers that they have the ear of authority and are the custodian of their views.  The shadow-side is now controlling the higher moral ground!

I’ve started to compile a collection of shadow-side defence strategies to share with you.  If there are others you’d like share, then give them a title, send them to us and we’ll add them to the list.  

Free energy for all – Nikola Tesla

 There are few people who have changed the world to such an extent and yet have become confined to relative obscurity than Tesla.  You would not be reading this had Tesla not invented alternating current (AC) as a means of producing and distributing electricity.  He quite literally has powered the world for over a century.

Born in Serbia in 1856, he emigrated to America in 1884 where he found employment with Edison for one year until Edison failed to pay him for work he had done repairing machinery and they parted company. 

Tesla went on to become renowned for his electrical inventions that were far ahead of their time.  He created alternating current power generation, alternating current transmission, radio, auto ignition, the first hydro-electric power station at Niagara Falls, fluorescent tubes, a version of the X-ray, the Induction Motor, Tesla Coil, Bladeless Turbine, and Laser Beam to name but a few.

As a consequence of his work on the wireless transmission of energy through the earth he was theoretically able to transmit energy to light a bulb anywhere on the planet without the use of wires.  His dream was to give ‘free energy to all’ and, financed by JP Morgan, he built a magnifying transmitter at Wardenclyffe on Long Island between 1901 and 1905 designed to broadcast both signals and power.  Morgan pulled the plug on the project with the comment ‘If anyone can draw the power, where do we put the meter?’

This technology even went as far as testing an electric car which used no batteries, just transmitted energy and an 80 horsepower alternating current motor.  It drove around for a week, often at speeds up to 90mph.

A Paradigmeer is not someone who just invents something; they are people who think differently, they change the rules and make a difference to our lives as a result.  On all these counts, Tesla is undoubtedly a Master Paradigmeer. 

He also encountered the establishment, those people who had most to lose from everyone else’s gain.  The utility companies, oil companies and their patrons like JP Morgan didn’t want Tesla to succeed in his dream and did everything in their power to stop it happening.  They were so successful that Tesla’s notes have been lost to top secret vaults and aspects of his scientific reasoning discredited after his death in 1943.

Tesla’s time will come again.  He transformed the world in the last century with his mastery of electricity, there is every chance that he will transform the world in this century when his know-how on free ‘single point energy’ becomes more widely exploited by scientists and engineers as the lack of fossil fuels forces a change. Bring it on!

Nothing like a good metaphor…

I just love writing a blog! 

Nothing exists before you start; there is an empty hole in cyber space which is just about to be filled with thoughts in the form of words or images.  Before you start there is a void which appears somewhere between your ears.  Here is complete and utter stillness with no thoughts or self talk, a blankness which can only usually be achieved through years of meditative practice.  This is a starting point where creativity will shape that which is going to happen.
My friend and brilliant script writer Mark Greenop calls it the ‘search for a unique point of departure’ which will illuminate the way people see their world because we enable them to look at their situation from a new perspective.  With a play we might let them see themselves or aspects of their character or behaviour which might allow them to realise that there might be a different way to do something.  With a blog it is a cheerful rant which may spark an idea, deep learning or a new approach.
Some 20 years ago I stayed in Lidingö an island suburb of Stockholm in Sweden.  As I was shown around we passed the Town Hall.  It was a small hut from where 15 people ran the whole municipality.  Even then it struck me as amazing that so few people managed such a complex operation.  Yet now, as I visit some massive organisations in the course of my work I’m struck by the sheer number of people who are involved with running the business.  How many meetings do they attend which are about running the organisation.  How many departments exist to simply enable the organisation to function or to make sure people do what they are supposed to do?
What if an NHS Leader decided to write a blog about say delivering health care (as opposed to ill health care) in a newly formed community where there was no existing provision?  Or the Chief Executive of a power company could start afresh with working out how to fuel our homes?  What would they write?  What if you could start again with a blank piece paper – would you end up with what you have now? 
OK, so maybe we can’t all have the luxury of starting from scratch – there are ‘existing structures’ and ‘people need their jobs’ and ‘this is the way we do things round here’ and all those other reasons that maintain the status quo. 
But what if we could? – just imagine it for a minute; what if we could, like the Blogger, start from nothing? What would be in your blog?  What would your service, business or organisation look like? Is there something in there you like? Something you could adopt within your existing service, something you could integrate into your world or expel from your practices?
Blogging as a metaphor, now where did that come from?

7 Deftly Sins

It stands to reason that if the Medieval Church decided that there were seven sins that people found so compelling and distracting from their spiritual journey, then these must be very powerful human motivators. They were seen as barriers which would limit self and societal improvement.  These seem an ideal candidate for a rethink.  Like any set of rules they have developed over time, been refined, and then embedded.  What if we were to flip them, deftly redefine them and harness their power as motivators for innovation?

Sin 1 – Wrath:  ‘Intense anger (usually on an epic scale)’

‘Modern psychologists view anger as a primary, natural and mature emotion experienced by all human beings at times’. Are you truly satisfied with where you or your organisation is right now? No? Well why not get ‘angry’ about it?   Anger can mobilize psychological resources for corrective action.   Why just accept ‘the way things are’, just because others have a vested interest in things remaining the same? What’s really in the best interests of us, our business, our customers, our employees and the like?

Sin 2 – Greed: ‘The desire to possess more than one needs or deserves.’

Is it wrong to believe there could be more?  We don’t necessarily have to focus on personal attainment but why not focus on the users of your service?  Or greedily consuming ideas from blogs or conferences or being greedy for developing skills or education.

Sin 3 – Sloth: ‘Aversion to work or exertion; laziness; indolence’

Taking the time to do ‘sloth’ for one day a week has been shown to enable people to recharge their batteries and repair the damage done by stress.  What nonsense we hear from people who claim to work hard and play hard all the time.  This only means they are constantly knackered, stressed, burned out and of little use when it comes to spotting great ideas and innovation.  Are they fit for work?

Sin 4 – Pride:  ‘A sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect’

If an organisation could say that all the people involved had a love for their own excellence wouldn’t that be brilliant?  Each taking a personal responsibility to be the best they could be.

Sin 5 – Envy:  ‘A feeling of discontent and resentment aroused by and in conjunction with desire for the possessions or qualities of another’

Having attended many awards ceremonies in my time, I am always surprised by the attitudes of some of the runners-up.  They’re envious alright, but this is manifested in ‘sulking’ and malcontent, rather than in direct and constructive action.  They should be rubbing shoulders with the very best and eliciting inspiration and ideas from them.  ‘Let’s get envious’ should be our motto, but as a driver of positive action towards achieving excellence.

Sin 6 – Gluttony: ‘Habitual and excessive over-indulgence’

Hang on a minute!  What if the excess was good for you? ‘It works, so let’s have some more.’  If changing something improves the situation, ‘let’s have some more’.  You’ve given your customer a great experience, ‘let’s have some more’.  If you’ve praised someone for giving you a great customer experience, ‘do it some more’.

Sin 7 – Lust: ‘An intense desire or craving’

Let’s get passionate about what we are doing. Eagerness, enthusiasm, and energy are needed by the bucketful if we are to embrace innovation.  Amazingly they are also addictive; when you meet passionate people you can’t help but feed off their energy and commitment. 

Taking these primary drivers of moral depravity and making them a force for innovation is a great example of changing ancient truly embedded rules.  I’m looking forward to finding an organisation which has adopted them as their corporate values! Now wouldn’t that be fun?

Exactly what it says on the tin…?

There is a great TV ad for Ronseal Woodcare products which has the strap line ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’.  If only that were true of all the products and services we buy.  How often do we fail to get the delivery we were expecting, when we were expecting it and to the standard we wanted?  There is no way an organisation can work towards giving their customers a great experience if they can’t do ‘exactly what they’ve said on their tin’.  This has to be the very bare minimum starting point for any customer experience.
Yet this fact seems to have passed them by.  Take the phone company who I contracted to reinstall the connection to my new home. They took my order, arranged the date and sorted a contract.  I had clearly told them they would have to send an engineer to fit a phone socket because there was no longer one in the property.  A few weeks later when they rang to check on my experience so far and to make the arrangements at this point I was told that if the connection didn’t work at the appointed switch on date then I could call them to arrange an engineer’s visit.  How would I know it hadn’t worked, I had no socket to connect a phone to?  I had asked for an engineer’s visit at the time I made the contract with them and now I am told this could only happen if the connection couldn’t be done from the exchange, which they wouldn’t know until they switched me on. Why won’t they believe me when I tell them it won’t work because I have no socket!  My phone line would not be delivered at the arranged time to any standard.  I had a negative customer experience.
It is easy to spot the customer focus of an organisation by playing a simple game.  We call it the ‘Blame Game’.  All you do is listen to the reasons given for the failure in delivery.  Have a go yourselves, it’s a lot of fun. Here are some examples to get you started:
‘The system’s down’.
‘We deliver in your area on a Thursday.’  ‘I’m not there on a Thursday’ I reply.  ‘In that case you will have to make arrangements to be there so we can deliver.’
‘We are not authorised to tell you how to complain.’
‘It is not possible to tell you the name of our Chief Executive.’
‘‘They’ haven’t filled in the field.’
This tells you loud and clear that people are wedded to a process which is far more important than you, the customer. 
They have likely been given targets for implementing the process.  They are accountable for their role in the process – not for the way they help their customer.  Thus ‘the process’ is the customer experience. 
So let’s have some honesty.  Don’t talk about how focused you are on the customer experience if you really mean your team is focused on service delivery. 
Let’s all understand that delivering ‘exactly what it says on your tin’ has to be the very minimum standard for any customer experience.

A New Tent?

I had one of those Antics moments in March 2008 when Terminal 5 (T5), the £4.3 billion new terminal at Heathrow Airport, was opened. Heralded as a brilliant technological project it quickly turned into a passenger nightmare with the simple addition of people.

Much of this ambitious project’s time was spent on getting the technology and the building right and since perceived as overlooking the needs of the people who were responsible for implementation and meeting customer expectations.

As travellers joined ever lengthening queues and their luggage disappeared into the bowels of the building, not to return for weeks, one frustrated woman gave her reaction to a broadcaster. Her analysis was short, incisive and insightful: “New tent, same circus”
This fantastic phrase struck a chord, one second was all it took.  From this has come a whole raft of new ideas about organisational change. 
How many ‘New Tents’ do we come across?  Ok, when an organisation moves into a new building this is literally a ‘New Tent’.  We were working with a Hospital Trust on a Patient Experience Programme.  There was a reluctance to embark on the work because the hospital buildings were old and the new hospital would only be ready for occupation in phases over the following three years.  The argument was that the most appropriate time to work on improving the patient experience would be following the move. 
If you move the people who you know have bad habits, poor mindsets and weak performance into a new hospital are you sure they will do something different?  What would really change?  I believe the result of moving into the new buildings would simply be a ‘New Tent, Same Circus’ scenario because the mindsets would remain the same. 
I witnessed the aftermath of doing this in a new-build school in Dorset.  It was a brilliant building, everything teachers, pupils and parents could wish for.  As I sat in their new school hall watching the children getting ready for the activity we were delivering, my heart sank.  Their behaviour was appalling.  I mean the teachers. They were tired, not caring, not taking responsibility for the children and preparing them to learn.  They had simply moved old habits and attitudes from their old failing school into a brilliant new tent.  Having trained teachers and taught for 12 years I know what I should have seen.
New Tent doesn’t have to be literal; any change process, technology, systems or premises creates a New Tent.  And new tents are important – we need to move these things forward too. But how often do the architects of this change achieve the benefits they envisaged at the outset?  
I often ask people if they have been through a restructure or change process recently, and of course all of them have.  Sadly, when I enquire how it went they rarely report that it was brilliant.  What does it take to achieve a New Tent and a New Circus?

Taking a risk…

I’d like to thank my good friend Mike Rix for the following brilliant historical example.  It shows the best of Paradigmeering from the English Army, especially since the risks associated with failure were so high.  On the flip side the French brilliantly demonstrated the antithesis of Paradigmeering and suffered the consequences.
In 1346 the English led by Edward III were fighting in France.  On Saturday 26th August, 1346 the Frankish Knights had caught the English Army at Crecy in northern France, with a view to annihilating the English invaders.  Their confidence was quite justified, since they hadn’t been beaten in battle for 300 years and were considered (particularly by themselves) to be the best fighting force that had ever existed.  Heavily armoured knights on horseback vastly outnumbering the English peasant army, it would be a walkover.  In fact they were so confident of success that they didn’t begin the battle ‘til 3:00 in the afternoon because they wanted to have lunch before they started. 
The English had a new weapon, not tried or tested in a major battle before, their longbows.  This low tech solution was all that stood before them and the most technologically advanced war machine of the day. 
The result was unexpected, especially by the Frankish Knights, and probably by the English too.  10,000 French knights lost their lives to the English arrows.
The English hadn’t played by the assumed rules of engagement.  This so infuriated King Philip VI of France, that he complained to the Pope about the ‘un-chivalrous English tactics’.
The English had shifted the paradigm of battle but alas the French mindset did not change accordingly and the whole scenario was repeated 40 years later at the battle of Poitier and famously again at the battle of Agincourt 70 years later!
It is easy to understand the mindset of the Frankish knights since they were highly successful and were continually improving their ‘technology’ with thicker armour plate and stronger horses.   It is difficult to turn your back on that which had been hitherto so successful and consider alternatives which fly in the face of all your experience and learning.
So how had the English managed this?  What prompted the English to risk all on the longbow?  Who persuaded Phillip III to break with convention?  As the leader he was prepared to take the risk, one which could have cost him his life.  How many leaders today are this committed to innovation?