Friday, May 29, 2009



Recent research by Kelly Services in 33 countries indicates that 29 percent of the employees perceive their work as unhealthy. One in eight (13 percent) employees report being sick, while they actually are not. Employees report problems with sleeping and stress due to the lack of recognition at work.


This lack of recognition is actually  very important. It is key to give your employees the feeling that they are needed. And it is relatively easy to recognize people for what they did. It only costs a little bit of time from the manager.

The same applies to the manager himself. He or she really wants to be valued and appreciated as well. In a lot of organizations the attention goes to the leaders and to talent management. But where are the managers?? They are really the glue in any organization and most of the time they feel really being squeezed between the demands of the leadership team on one hand and the frontline on the other.


What can you do? Just ask people whether they need any help, or compliment them for a task well done, or …….. ask them what is going well. What makes them feel pride? The focus on positive aspects is really crucial, because that gives people positive energy.


If employees are feeling good about themselves and their team, they will also vibrate that energy to your partners and customers. And that increases customer satisfaction and loyalty.


72 percent of the employees think the employers should fix these health problems by supplying flexible working hours and sports facilities. While these aspects provide a possibility to better align your energy to your work, I do think it is not solving the cause of the problem.

People really need attention. This attention shows them that they are important and that their contribution is valued. At the same time it gives them the opportunity to learn and to grow.


The ability to learn is one of the key differentiators of your workforce. The faster they adapt to different circumstances, the better your ability to change and to stay ahead of the completion.





I did ask that question to several specialized groups in innovation. The common denominator in the answers is that innovation is the responsibility of a team.  No single person should hold that responsibility. But this is the phase when there is already an idea or an issue to be solved. People agree that all the relevant functions need to be involved.


Okay, but what happens if the idea is implemented. What happens then to the team? Will it be dissolved or …? In the current market it is crucial that innovation is not a one-off activity. The recent developments in the financial markets,  technology,  and politics stress the need for ongoing innovation.


And every employee should be engaged in this process of generating ideas to improve the process and/or to meet  the constantly changing customer needs. Only the leadership team can create an environment where this mindset can grows.


And who should be the main driver in the leadership team? My suggestion would be to nominate the marketing manager as well as the HR manager. The marketing manager is chartered to focus on markets and changing customer needs anyway. So he or she should work on innovation in the broadest sense. Innovation means not only developing new services, but also focussing on the business model or the processes. The HR manager should take care that innovation is in every employee’s goal sheet. And they should make sure that there is a professional follow up and incentive program for handling all the new suggestions.


When I have a coaching client, they usually come to me because they have a problem. Let’s say that the coachee is out of work. He wants a new job, but he also would like support in defining which job/career is an excellent fit to his needs and passion.


One of the coaching tools we use is called the GROW-model. This is quite straightforward and powerful.

G = what are your Goals? What is it that you really want?

R = what is the current Reality? Where do we start from today?

O = what are your Options to achieve that Goal? What are the alternatives?

W = what Will you do? What is your next step?


As a goal the coachee might have two goals, to reduce his current expenses (as he has no income now) as well as to find a new job.

The current reality is that he has high fixed spending on his mortgage and the tuition of his children in the university. He also didn’t like his previous job, so he really wants to make a switch to a different career.

He has many options. His financial needs might force him to reduce spending on dining out, subscriptions to magazines and he might have to sell his SUV and buy a small, energy efficient car. He can start applying to jobs immediately or he can first do some thorough soul-searching.

What will he do? He will start looking for a smaller house. He also will clearly define his passion, his strengths and his life purpose.


From this example it is clear that he has to take two fundamental steps at the same time. He has to lower his expenses and -AT THE SAME TIME- work on defining and targeting his new career.


Due to the current market conditions, most companies are ONLY focusing on reducing their costs. Either through lay-offs or hiring freezes or travel stops etc. They are not focusing their attention on the new, desired, state. What is the real vision they have for their company, which makes them feel excited? How are they going to beat the competition, how are they delighting their customers with their new products and services?

In short, there is no innovation.


The consequence is that there is a negative mindset and fear in the organization. Most employees will have fear that they loose their job. They will not propose new ideas, as that might be risky. They will not grow, as trainings are cancelled. They will not fully use their potential and waste a lot of time with worrying. Clearly this is not an environment, which creates great results.


And when the market conditions are improving, they are NOT in a situation to benefit from it, as their people are disengaged and demotivated. Also they have no new services ready to attract new customers. Their competitors, which have innovated, will win market share quite easily.

So, it would be suggested to apply the GROW-model to your business as well. And to work on your innovation at the same time that you are working on reducing your costs!


Recently two studies from IBM as well as from McKinsey clearly highlight the urgent need to focus on the soft aspects of change, rather than on the hard aspects. This is a must to succeed in today’s ever faster changing environments.


In 2008, a McKinsey survey of 3,199 executives around the world found that only one transformation in three succeeds. Other studies over the past ten years reveal remarkably similar results. It seems that, despite prolific output, the field of change management hasn’t led to more successful change programs.


IBM found that, on average, 41 percent of projects were considered successful in meeting project objectives within planned time, budget and quality constraints, compared to the remaining 59 percent of projects which missed at least one objective or failed entirely.


Although the results from the IBM study are ‘better’, it is clear that the practice of change management needs to improve substantially.


What needs to be done to improve this situation?


McKinsey shares the following nine insights with us.

  1. What motivates you doesn’t motivate most of your employees.
  2. You’re better off letting them write their own story.
  3. It takes a story with both + and – to create real energy.
  4. Leaders believe mistakenly that they already “are the change.”
  5. Influence leaders” aren’t a panacea for making change happen.
  6. Money is the most expensive way to motivate people.
  7. The process and the outcome have got to be fair.
  8. Employees are what they think, feel, and believe in.
  9. Good intentions aren’t enough.


IBM has  four common factors  address their greatest project challenges. When used in combination, these factors provided a synergistic benefit that was even greater than the sum of their individual impacts, resulting in higher rates of project success:


Real Insights, Real Actions

Strive for a full, realistic awareness and understanding of the upcoming challenges and complexities, then follow with actions to address them.

Solid Methods, Solid Benefits

Use a systematic approach to change that is focused on outcomes and closely aligned with formal project management methodology.

Better Skills, Better Change

Leverage resources appropriately to demonstrate top management sponsorship, assign dedicated change managers and empower employees to enact change.

Right Investment, Right Impact

Allocate the right amount for change management by understanding which types of investments can offer the best returns, in terms of greater project success.


It turns out the “soft stuff” is the hardest to get right.

Successful Change Managers have realized that behavioral and cultural change are crucial to project success and are considerably tougher to address than the so-called “hard” factors, such as structure, performance measures and incentives.



Both studies highlight the need to focus on individuals and on what they believe and think. And collectively this is the culture (‘the way things get done over here’), which has a huge impact on the success of any changes or innovations.


So, the individual change process is an integral part of the total change management approach.


Change is personal or it never happens.


 Rule 1: It is a prerequisite that everyone (leaders, managers, employees) changes in order to grow.

Rule 2: People don’t change when we tell them they should. They change when they tell themselves they must.



Key questions for individual change:


  • Why is change necessary?
  • What is the new goal (organization, department, personal)?
  • What is in it for me (benefits, rewards, recognition)?
  • What does it mean for me?
  • What do I have to do differently?
  • What is expected from me?
  • What is my new metric?
  • How can I contribute (share ideas, give feedback, be engaged)?
  • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my ‘new’ work right?
  • Where is support available for me to cope with ongoing change?
  • What excites me in my work?



Hopefully the focus on the soft aspects of change will now get the ProPer attention!




In any service industry the product (i.e. the service) which gets delivered to the customer is the person who delivers the service. The quality of the service is perceived through the behaviour of the person who delivers. So, if you buy consulting services, the quality of the service is identical to the quality of the consultant. If you hire a project manager, it is the way in which he or she performs, which determines your perception of the service itself. The same is true for the maintenance engineer who comes and fixes the hardware problem in your pc or server.


This means that there is huge influence from the people who deliver services on the level of customer satisfaction. This means that it is crucial to make sure that your people are properly trained to perform the requested services, as well as that they are satisfied themselves. A satisfied employee will deliver much better services than an unsatisfied employee.


As a company you can put in a lot of money and effort in your marketing and branding, but it is even more important to make sure that your frontline is enthusiastic and motivated.


The way employees are treated and the example, which senior managers give, is a key indicator for the level of trust in any organization. If there is trust in the mission, vision, processes AND in the people, than your employees will act upon that trust. They will share that good energy with your customers.


So, have a look at the current state of the financial services industry. If the leaders are only involved in whether they can secure their own bonuses, how can you expect the individual bank employee to serve selflessly his or her customers? Trust will be earned by giving the good example.


 What most people tend to overlook in service companies is that the customer identifies your company with the way they are treated by your frontline people.

If they are treated nice, polite and effective, they think you have a great company. And if they are treated with disinterest and no respect the customer has a negative perception about your company.


Let me share with you a recent experience with my golf club. This club is  ranked within the top 20 courses in the country. And they want to be within the top 10. The way a customer experiences this golf club is determined by (of course) the course AND by the employees they meet. The frontline people in the golf club are the shop assistants, the waitresses in the restaurant and the green keepers. Any customer will meet those people.


In the shop there is almost every other week a new assistant. This obviously is not a good sign. Why don’t they want to stay? These new employees don’t know the members and they are trained on the job in the reservation system. This means that it takes very long before my reservation is confirmed. What happens frequently is that I will be put on hold and another employee tries to help. She doesn’t know what I wanted so the whole process starts from the beginning again. This makes me think, why are new employees not trained in their own time, rather than in my time. And as a member I do value the fact that people who see me every week also know me by name. When there are continuously new employees it is obvious that they don’t (get to) know me. It makes their job also more interesting once they build a relationship with the customers.


Okay, enough about the first confrontation. Then we go to the restaurant for a cup of coffee. Most of the time there are not enough waitresses to help me, or better phrased there is nobody. After a while someone shows up, with a bad temper. And it looks like a favour that they are willing to serve us. No smile, no politeness at all. During breaks many employees come behind the bar for some kind of self service. They fetch coffee, drinks etc for themselves. So, it looks like I am the only fool paying for his drinks. Again, there is no manager who trains them and who looks at the operation from a customer point of view.


Then we start to play on the gorgeous course. The course is in excellent condition most of the time. To keep it that way. it is crucial that the green keepers are aware of what the customer experience is of the course. However a green keeper told me that they are not allowed to talk to customers! The reason is that it will cost time. So, no customer engagement and the green keepers do miss this (social) contact with the players.


Any experience with the frontline people is directly associated with the way I perceive the golf club. Although the club invests a lot of money in maintaining the course and the clubhouse as well as in marketing, they do miss the point.  The main driver for the way a customer perceives this golf club is the way they are treated by the frontline people. The frontline is your REAL business card! An investment in employee engagement, customer engagement and training will have a great ROI. Not only financially but also in employee retention and satisfaction as well as in customer satisfaction and loyalty.


It is crucial for service companies to understand that their people are the real assets. They are the real business card of your company. Service innovation is  a waste of resources if you don’t invest in your employees as well.


With all the focus on the financial crisis, lay offs and closure of companies, most organizations tend to forget that innovation is crucial to their survival.

If you don’t make sure that customers will keep on buying your services (now and in the future), you are on a dead-end street. So, you have to make time and resources available for innovation on an ongoing basis.


This innovation has to be SUSTAINABLE, OPEN AND SIGNIFICANT (SOS).


An innovation is sustainable when it focuses on economical, social and environmental benefits. Customers will only buy your services when there is no negative impact on the environment. More and more will they demand green services. Organizations also have a social responsibility for their employees, their neighbours and their community. You also have to create a culture of innovation within your organization. Otherwise the innovation will be a one-off activity and that will not give you sustainable success. All the employees have to be involved in continuously innovating your services, processes and business model.


Given the tremendous pace of change in markets, technologies and industries, it is impossible to have all the know-how and available within your organization to do all the innovation ‘in-house’. Therefore your innovation has to be open. Open to collaboration with relevant parties (government, research institutes, universities) and individuals. These individuals are of course within the organization. It is crucial that the collaboration is cross functional. Diversity of the people involved is also a key requirement. It is very likely that you need expertise from the market as well. More and more there are ‘marketplaces’ like Innocentive where you can connect with knowledgeable individuals.


The innovation needs to be significant as well, it has to be worthy for attention. The service itself can be significant, or the delivery method, or the go to market model. The customer has to get a significant experience from the encounter with your service and the employees who deliver it. A service is also significant when it is meaningful for customers and/or employees.


It is clear that the current market conditions requires an SOS for innovation!



The financial crisis is taking all the headlines. Not only in the news, but also ‘the men in the street’ is talking about it. This is quite understandable; given the impact it has on every individual. Whether you lost your job, lost your money or are worried about the safety of your savings.


However, the more you talk about it, the more energy you attach to it. And things, which you give energy, will grow. This is one of the reasons why a recession will grow and continue.


Also the people are felling worried and uncertain. It is better to focus your energy on positive outcomes. That will make you feel fulfilled and enthusiastic. Instead of focussing on cost cutting or lay offs it is much better to focus on what you do want to achieve. What are goals, which get you, and your employees fired up?


As a leader you are not alone in this task. If you engage your employees you will surprised about their ideas and commitment. That starts by being open (and sometimes even being vulnerable) about the current challenges and asking them what their ideas and suggestions are to claim or regain your position in the market.


Once you have a process in place where you seriously listen to their input and take action on the most promising ones, the employees will be more than happy to support you. In fact, this is what they have been waiting for.


Globally, only 20 percent % of the employees feel that their strengths are in play every day.


This means that 80 % of the employees are not doing what they actually love to do. So, the costs are tremendous both for your organization and for the employees. Organizations pay 100 % in salaries, but they are not fully using the human potential. And the employees feel undervalued, stressed and neglected.


However, more than 90 % of the employees think it is important to be passionate about their work. And in today’s competitive environment your organization really needs a committed, enthusiastic and productive workforce.


This means that focussing on the engagement of your employees is by far the most profitable action you can take under these circumstances!



Last week I had to buy a new pair of running shoes. Because I do run three times per week, I need to buy regularly new shoes. After  a certain mileage the cushioning is not working properly anymore. Most of the time a starting pain in my Achilles heal is the right indicator…


I do go to a specialized shop called Run2Day. They are an example of services which are really designed to fit the customer. First you have to show your old shoes, so they can see how your usage is. Then you have to run a short distance, which is recorded on video. Once that analysis is done, they know what your needs are. Of course they have asked you how many tomes you run and what the distance is. Then they w some models which are suitable for your style. You try them on and you can even run with them outside of the shop to really test how they feel. If needed you can try on other pairs to match them. If you have made a choice, they tape you again on the video camera to see whether you get the right support from the shoe. Finally you make your choice, where you feel quite comfortable with, as you tested the shoes thoroughly.


The person who is helping you is always a professional runner. So he/she knows all about running and all about the shoes. That also gives you a comfortable feeling. They act as a fellow runner, rather than as a salesperson.


This shop and the way the customers are being services is an example of service design with the customer in mind. The customer is the starting point and the endpoint. They have taken much effort to really understand what a customer needs. By doing so they exceed your expectations. Customer involvement is an integral part of their service design and service delivery.



The lay offs are cascading through geographies, regions and countries. It started in the US, Europe is now following and soon it will be in the East. Whether all share the same reason for those lay offs is very doubtful. It looks that many companies gratefully use the financial crisis as an argument to get rid of some people.


The main goal of these lay offs is to have cost savings. This will be the case in the short run. In the long run this might very well be different.  The employees who are ‘allowed’ to stay will have to perform the extra work, which normally the laid off employees would do. This means adding extra hours to an already very busy job. It has also an impact on customers. They used to have e.g. a dedicated account manager who knew them and their business and now he or she is gone. It happened a couple of years ago when I did choose a bank, because I would get a personal account manager. He knew my financial situation, my goals and my challenges. Then he was laid off and I no longer did get a personal account manager. I had to do it online only. This might have saved them some money, but I did leave the bank for that reason.


In cast of lay offs, a lot of attention is given to the people who have to leave. This of course needs to be done. However it is crucial to pay significant attention to the remaining employees as well. They have to do this extra work and they are quite fearful that in the next round it might be their turn. So, they will not come up with great ideas and innovations, because they are afraid that their ideas will be rejected. And hence they lose their job as well. Really the productivity will decrease.


Through research it is very well know that the productivity of services employees will only increase when they are enthusiastic and when they can use their strengths throughout the day. When they are not enthusiastic and when they have to do work which does not give them any sense of fulfilment, their productivity will decline substantially.


So it is crucial to optimally use the passion and the strengths of the remaining employees. Their whole mind is needed to cope with these challenges. Even more than under normal circumstances, as they have to come up with breakthrough ideas to design new business model, services and/or processes. The old model has failed so a NEW perspective is urgently needed. Your frontline people are very well positioned to have this new perspective. They know what is happening the market, they have daily contact with the customers about their changing needs and they know what the competition is doing. This is the time to fuel your frontline!





Last week I had two quite distinct experiences with the customer service offered in retail stores.


In the first store , I was looking at the video cameras, because it would be nice to have a videoblog as well, isn’t it? I was looking whether they had the Flip Video which was featured in the last FC issue. I was the only person in the store, but he didn’t pay any attention, as he started to vacuum clean the entrance. So, I decided not to wait and ask for help. When I told him that I was looking for the Flip Video, he asked me whether I knew the part number, so he could check it in the computer….?! The computer did not know about this product. Then I checked the other cameras. For which he had to open the special display. When he handed me one of the cameras I tried to use it, but it didn’t work. He said that is because the battery is not inserted. As he made no effort to correct this, I stopped my search……..


I have nothing personal against this young man. There is a lot to improve for his boss though. It looks like that all the management effort is geared towards getting the  right products with the right prices and discounts on the shelf. However, it is key to understand that the consumer needs help in buying the electronic articles. Most articles are quite complicated, so it helps me in my buying process when someone shows me how they work. It is like having a test drive. Just looking doesn’t give me the right experience. This means that the young man who helped me needs training. Training is needed on how to socialize with the consumer and on how to showcase the usage of the products. This small investment in time will have a great pay off.


The opposite of this experience was when I visited a new supermarket, which just opened. I was looking for certain products but couldn’t find them. So I asked one of the girls where I could find it. It surprised me that she walked with me to the right place and showed me the article. That was fine. I went ahead with my shopping and I couldn’t find another article, so I asked again. And again she walked with me to the right aisle and shelf. I asked her whether that was not a nuisance, as many customers would be asking her this. She replied that it was very understandable that this happened and that after some time it would no longer be needed, as the customer would know their way around. Another pleasant surprise was when I checked out. Because I had bought for a certain amount I did receive a free box of apples. I liked the apples, but it is hard to take it with you on a bike. So, I asked whether she had another idea. As a response she put the apples for me in a plastic bag, so they would be easier to carry. This store clearly has understood that you have to train your people on the right behaviour. And that pays off!


I just finished reading the new book from Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded. It is a real eye opener and not  for those with a weak heart. After the credit crunch, he says we are very close to the climate crunch.


He makes it clear that the green revolution we need will be the biggest innovation project in history. It will change everything, from what you put into your car to what you see on your electric bill.


This is not going to happen overnight. He sees an important role for governments to facilitate all this. But that will be rather difficult, as most governments tend to favour the interest of the powerful oil and gas lobby. So, this comes back to the willingness of governments, of companies and of individuals to change. And most would like to see that others change first………


This is especially true in this area of energy consumption. People will only buy these new green products and services if they are better and or cheaper than what they have now.


Every major change comes from individuals who share a common vision. And when more people participate the ripple effect will do the rest. It was Gandhi who said “you have to be the change you want to see”. This means that the focus of new services should be to give the customers and consumers the motivation to change their behaviour. Once groups of individuals have changed their own behaviour they will push the governments and companies to do the same.


This also requires a bigger effort from service companies to educate their customers. Until you understand the urgency of the crisis, you will not act differently. This will be an extra challenge for marketing. The sharing of real information is crucial. And then the suppliers should also provide real green products and services. Why am I writing about ‘real’ products. Well it just came out that in Holland energy companies sold green electricity, but provided something else. This is killing for the motivation of consumers.


This all means that educating the public, providers, suppliers and customers about the need to really change to green is a prerequisite for a real change.


Last week my friend from New York arrived in Amsterdam. The checking out lasted longer than other flights which arrived earlier. So I called her and asked what the problem was. It appeared that 2 containers of luggage were missing. Not just a couple of suitcases, but 2 whole containers! And this was a direct flight. How is that possible? How can those be missed?


Okay, you have to accept the fact that it happened. Then she had to register her loss. Because there were so many people involved, she just got a blank form which was not filled out. Only a phone number was written on it. That was her only ‘proof’ of her missing luggage. They could not inform her when her luggage would be arriving, although there are 4 flights daily.


This is the most striking issue of customer service. It can happen that your luggage get lost. But the key information that you need as a customer is when your luggage will be arriving after the incident. As a customer you need to plan for that. Do you have to buy a toothbrush only, or will it last longer and do you need to buy some fresh clothes etc.


The luggage arrived 3 days later! They called early in the morning and asked when they could deliver it. That was fine, but……. We had to stay at home in blocks of 4 hours. That was as narrow as they could plan. 4 Hours, that is half a day! Is it not possible to plan within 1 hour?!


So, the only innovation in the service they provide should be to inform the customer upfront when their missing luggage will be arriving. And then the delivery window should be much tighter. With all the money spend on IT and value chains, this should be really easy. And your customer will be very satisfied, even though they do miss their luggage. It is already a great relief if you know what you can expect.


It is really a clear case of inside out thinking from (most) airlines, that they have not yet fixed this. They don’t take the customer’s experience as the starting point of the service that they provide. It is not rock science to innovate the service with the end in mind. And the end is when the customer will in fact receive his or her luggage.





Currently I am reading the great book ‘ The Power of Design’ from Richard Farson. In his discussion about leadership he says the following: “Love and passion are the organizing forces in leadership and management, overriding technique or skill, just as they are in almost everything that is worthwhile – romance, parenthood, creativity. Leadership is then like being in love”.


Further he discusses the new requirements for leadership. What does today’s manager need to think about?

  1. The paradoxical nature of human affairs.
  2. The necessary conditions for achieving innovation.
  3. An understanding of the true nature of success and failure.
  4. An understanding of the changing workforce.
  5. An appreciation of the new context of work.
  6. A commitment to a new ethics of leadership.
  7. The development of a courageous vision.



This puts a high emphasis on learning and accepting these new qualities and new learnings. But love for learning is a conditio sine qua non for leaders in this marketplace.


The focus of leaders should be on facilitating the professional as well as the personal growth in organizations.

In order to do so, it is very helpful to act according to  a set of leadership principles; These principles are guiding the leaders’ behavior.

These leadership principles cover  the following topics: leadership, change, talent, frontline and sustainability.












































When applying these principles in the day-to-day operations, the leader will be showcasing loving leadership!




There is a lot been written about the importance of the experience economy. That what really counts is the customers’ experience.


When we are talking about the customer, who is really the customer in a service environment?

In a business –to- consumer setting, the customer is the user of your services. For instance the customer is the guest in a hotel, the person whose washing machine is getting repaired, or the man who wants to get a new passport from the government.


In a business-to-business setting things are less obvious. There are more customers involved. You have the ‘decision making unit’ , the business manager who decides to buy your services, The purchasing manager who does the negotiations and the contracts. And of course there is the user of your services. This is also not so clear. If you buy IT services, who is then the user? Is it the CIO, the IT operations manager or the end-user, an office worker, who needs those services? Or take another example, a florist who provides fresh flowers for the reception area and in meeting rooms. Who is there the customer? Is it the receptionist, the people who are attending the meeting or anyone who comes into your reception area? This means that it is really essential for a service provider to have a clear map of who the customer is in which situation and what experience he wants to give them.


There is also another perspective on the business- to- business environment. There are many departments who provide services to internal customers. Examples of these departments are HR, Finance, Logistics, IT, and Administration. What some of them forget is that they are also service providers. The only difference is that their customers are internal customers. However it is just as crucial to give those customers a great experience!  Otherwise discussions about outsourcing or downsizing are getting the most attention.


So, who is your customer and what experience do you want him to get from your services?


The current state of the economy is ideal for making a fresh start. There is so much changing inside and outside of the organization that you need to formulate an adequate response. It was Susan Jeffers who said: “if you do what you did, you get what you got”. This is true ate the personal level as well as at the organizational level.


So, assuming that you want better results, you have to do something differently. And all doing starts with your thinking. This means that ‘fresh’ thinking is required. This applies to all leaders, managers and employees. To make a start with fresh thinking, you can gather a diverse group of people, people from different age groups, race, gender, experience, functions etc. Even better is to reach out for people outside of the company’s boundaries. For instance if you want to cultivate growth, you can involve a farmer or a biologist. If you want to excel at your service delivery, you have to involve your (potential) customers.


Going to seminars outside of the scope that you are used to can give you new ideas (= thoughts), The same applies to reading books about different subjects. Crucial is to be open and suspend your judgement. Remember what Einstein said that you have to solve a problem at a different level than where it originated. This is not a one off activity; you have to create a habit of ‘fresh’ thinking.


Once your thinking is stretched you can and if you really want to excel, you must have a thorough look at your culture. The culture represents basically the shared beliefs in your organization. Beliefs are the dominant thoughts, which you held.


There are different elements of your culture, which you can re-examine:


  1. Purpose: To make as much profit as possible.
  2. Management Style: Managers  give commands to employees on what, when and how to accomplish goals.Managers control employees
  3. Customers: Product-out push. Transaction focussed
  4. Rewards: People are only interested in their salary
  5. Metrics: Mainly financial; profit and shareholder value
  6. Workplace: The standard workplace is defined by managers
  7. Working hours: 9-5, 40 hours per week, on-site
  8. Training: There is limited room for professional development
  9. Information: Info is distributed according to your position


So, maybe you can come up with a purpose, which is truly meaningful for all the stakeholders. Or you can measure the ‘triple’ bottom-line. Or you can share info as freely as possible.

There are so many possibilities and the gains can and will be huge 

But……… you have to start INSIDE first. Start with allowing and stimulating different thoughts from yourself as well as form all people involved.


The New Year started with a challenge. My mother had to go into the hospital urgently. On New Year’s Day I phoned the doctor on duty, because her condition was worsening fast. Fortunately she came rather fast and after my explanation of the situation. She did some investigation and decided that she had to be transported to the hospital. Soon the ambulance came and the medical people started with the diagnosis again. They ‘decided’ to take her to the hospital. In the hospital the expert started with his diagnosis and they took some pictures. After quite a while he talked with us and explained what his conclusion was and that she had to be removed to another hospital. However there were no ambulances available so we had to wait several hours.


Once we arrived in the other hospital, my mother was brought into the first aid department and the whole process started again. We had to wait for a doctor to diagnose her, but it was busy so we waited again several hours. I asked why we had to wait, as it was already clear what the problem was and what the cure was supposed to be. They told me that this was another hospital so they had to start from the beginning all over again. This is quite strange as this hospital was in the same city and belonged to the same group. Why do doctors not accept conclusions from colleagues?


After a couple of hours they confirmed the first diagnosis/conclusion and we had to wait until she could be transported to her room in the hospital. In her room all the people were working very hard and it looked like they had a permanent shortage of qualified help. Some of the nurses were even openly stressed out. But their intent was admirable.


My mother stayed in that room for a week. Nobody told us what the status was and how she was going to be cured. So in every visit I went to the nurses’ room and talk to the nurse what the progress was. I did the same with the doctor on duty. This is how I knew what was going on and what the progress was. The ‘caring’ staff was so busy that they had no time to communicate properly with the patients and/or family. So most visitors for the other patients in the room had no clue what was going on. It was my own initiative and determination, which gave me the necessary information.


All the nurses and doctors were really good, caring people. But the pressure on them was so high that they had not time to communicate properly. When my mother was feeling better just a little bit we were informed within half a day’s notice that she had to go home. The reason was that they her bed for other patients. It seemed that there was a waiting list of patients. The nurse who had to covey me that message was afraid to do so, as she thought herself that it was really not appropriate to send her home now. But her ‘bosses’ ordered her to do so. The nurse felt like she was squeezed between a rock and a hard place. So, we cooperated with her and took my mother home.


In the hospital patients are just people who occupy beds and the caring staff is supposed to manage a fast throughput of those ‘beds’. It has become health business instead of health care. However with some adjustments, especially in the communications between patients, family members and staff a lot can be improved. All parties involved will feel that they are humans and not just numbers or beds. And the impact will be that the work for the staff is more interesting and the patients are aware of their own progress and what the next steps are. Once you know where you are now, what the goal is and what steps you need to take, it is easy to make fast progress.


Health Care is service business and service business is people business!

For the environment………

In most hotel rooms you will find a card in the bathroom, which says:

‘Together we can contribute to improving the environment. We should avoid unnecessary use of water or detergent.

If you leave your towel in the bathtub, we will replace it with another one; if you think you can use it again, please leave it on the towel rail.’


Obviously this sounds good and it triggers me to consciously support the environment. And it does it a positive way. There is no threat in it.

So, it is easy for me to comply and to hang my towel on the rack after usage.


But guess what happens when I return and my room is cleaned? A new one replaces the towel. Well, I thought that must be a mistake. But the next day, the same happens, my towel is replaced again!


What does this mean? Actually two things, which are crucial for implementing any new service.

  1. The people (in this case: the maids who clean the room) who have to deliver the service have to be instructed on the new policy/service. They have to know what has changed, why it has changed and what new behaviour is expected from them. And this has to be checked regularly, until the new behaviour has become a habit. Research indicated that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.
  2. Management has to measure the impact and result of their new procedure.  If they measure the daily amount of towels, which go to the laundry, they should notice any difference. If there is on average no change, they should investigate what the reason is. If they do this they can notice that the only real change has been to put the card in the room. The rest has not changed.


This means that it is crucial to bridge the gap between management and the frontline by clear communication and training. And putting in place the right metrics to monitor the effect of the new policy/service.  

Flying with a top (?) innovative carrier.

Last week  I did fly with Emirates. As they are  number 42 in FC’s top 50, I had high expectations. However it is clear that they look for their innovation towards their airplanes, technologies and procedures, rather than at the customer experience.


The customer experience starts already with checking in. There were long waiting lines and the person checking me in, had not very much experience with tall people who need leg space. Their seats are more close to each other than on other airlines, so the least I needed was an aisles seat. Well after a long wait she finally provided me with an aisles seat. Then we had to wait in the security area before going to the gate. This resulted in huge waiting lines. If they had informed us about this, we would have gone straights to the gate and not waited. Just providing that information would have been very helpful.

As we had a stopover in Dubai we had get to another gate and flight, but we were not informed on which gate we needed to go to. Again a simple action would have increases our satisfaction considerably.


What becomes clear is that they have a limited view of flying, as compared to looking at all the touch points of the customer experience. Innovation is not only product innovation, but also service innovation. For services it is essential to look at the whole picture from start to finish. Where does the customer experience starts and where does it end? As a customer I want to get the right service during my journey, which starts when entering the airport and finishes when I leave the airport again. 


There are huge improvements to be made with just small investments. Providing the right information at the right place is not very costly, as all of this information is already available. It helps a great deal when the airline understands that the start of my journey is already on the ground. When next year Emirates (or any other airline) looks at the entire chain of customer experience, they will be much higher in the top 50!


Last week my car had to have maintenance. I went to a general service provider, so not a brand dealer. They are located close to where I live, the pricing is excellent and the quality is very good. But the best reason to be their customer is the service they provide.

They are open till well after 5 pm and on Saturdays, which is exceptional. They discuss with me what the best and cheapest solution is to certain problems. When they are working on my car, I get a rental car for free! And when I returned with a problem, they immediately helped me out, without any waiting time. There are many customers who like them very well, as it is rather busy at this Saturday morning.

The owner explains to me that he get new customers from dealers who show them their invoices. He is really surprised by the hours, which are charged, as well as with the rates. These dealers even tell him to charge more. But he says that he only charges for the real hours worked and for a reasonable price. Wow, that is an honest businessman who attracts through this ‘simple’ service a lot of customers!


A friend told me quite another story. He had a man over at his house to do the yearly check up of his stove. The guy worked for four hours (!), but couldn’t get the heating up and running again. It was after 7.30 pm, the house was cold; dinner could not be cooked, because there was no gas. He decided to call his boss who had to come over and fix the problem. When the boss checked the installation it became clear that the repair guy had forgotten to turn on the gas again……..?! Then my friend asked to settle the bill, as he wasn’t prepared to pay for the lack of experience of the repair guy. It was clearly a huge mistake on their side. But the boss was not willing to discuss this and he said he would just send an invoice. It goes without saying that my friend was not a happy customer.


This means that the way you treat your customers, your service and behaviour is a real differentiator. This customer service is most of the time even more important than the products, which you deliver.

CUSTOMER SERVICE: nuisance or added value?

Last month I did fly from Paris to Mexico City, where I was supposed to catch the next flight to Puerto Vallarta. Yes. I needed some sun and warmth….

While we were already boarded in Paris and waiting to take off, the message came that there was a delay due to maintenance issues. Well, that is not a problem in itself, as I rather wait than fly with troubles. The delay lasted for more than 1,5 hours.


So, when we arrived at Mexico City I did miss my connection to Puerto Vallarta. Many more people missed their connection. However, nobody told us what to do next. Finally we did find out that we had to go to the customer service office of this particular airline. It was a challenge to find it, as it was located next to the parking garage and there were no signs at all. After searching for a while, we did find the office, or rather the closed door to the office. There was a small sign on it which mentioned that they were only open between 12 and 2 pm. And the current time was 11 pm……! The door was locked so we pushed the button on the intercom and waited. We were surprised that after a while the door opened slightly and a woman asked what she could do for us. Once she received our papers, she went back in, closed the door and we (3 men) were supposed to wait on the corridor. There were no chairs, nothing, just a dark corridor. After more than 30 minutes the door opened again and the lady returned. She had booked us all in a hotel and we were booked on the connecting flights for the next day. Well, that was fine, because we were rather tired anyway.


The next day when I wanted to check in for my flight, they said there was no reservation in my name……… “ I am sorry Sir, you are not booked on this flight”. Then I went straight into the office of the airline for the connecting flight. That was new to them, customers are not allowed in here. But they understood that I was rather determined to get this solved, so finally they helped me out.


What can be learned from this? In my opinion customer service is really crucial to the way in which I perceive the quality of a company. Things can go wrong, we are all human after all. And I rather have the airplane fixed than a crash. Then it would be appropriate to have an open office, which can be easily found and accessed. Maybe even with a waiting area and friendly people who assure me that they will take care of my problems. If they do that in a professional and attentive way, I will even become enthusiastic about their service and tell it to others. Now the opposite is the case.


When I arrived at my home after my holiday, I received a letter from the airline. They apologized for the delay (fine) and credited my frequent flyer card with 2000 miles…… A nice gesture, but I had not asked for that and I don’t care at all about the number of points/miles on my card. So, why not give me a choice between several options? I am wondering what they would do if I didn’t have a frequent flyer card.

What even anointed me more was that the letter was not signed and there was no name of the representative mentioned. It clearly was an automatic process which distributed the letter, rather than a personal approach.


Customer Service can really add a lot of value to the relationship with the customer, even more than from the product or service itself. This means that it should not be treated as a nuisance, a necessary evil in itself!


In many organizations people are encouraged to continue with  ‘business as usual’ and to maintain the status quo. When you think about this, it is quite logical to behave in this way.  The current leaders and managers have risen to their position, because they supported this current way of doing business. And apparently they were good at it, otherwise they would not have been promoted. This means that leaders are really stimulated to stay in their comfort zones.



A lot of organizations see innovation as a side activity to the main business. An activity, which has to be finished, quickly, so they can quickly return to the business as usual. They want innovation to ‘behave’ according to the rules of the existing business.

This conformity will not create a fertile environment for change and innovation. It was Susan Jeffers who said, “if you do what you did you get what you got”. This applies to your business as well. So, if you want different results you need a different approach. Conformity will kill innovation.


Successful innovation requires new rules and forms. Here are some of them.


1.    Innovation is not a one-off activity but needs to be an integral, continuous part of the business culture.

2.    The leader must be willing to leave the zone of comfort for the zone of opportunity.

3.    The team members must be very diverse. Diversity is crucial for creating a vibrant and creative environment.

4.    People must be allowed to think differently and also have the authority to say no. It was George Bernard Shaw who said that all progress is determined by unreasonable people.

5.    The metrics for innovation should be different than the regular metrics. Clayton Christensen said that the need to deliver numbers appears to be a major killer of innovation. The return on innovation is the difference between the return on new innovations and the deterioration of doing nothing.

6.    The scope should be on the long term and not on achieving quarterly results.

7.    People should be intrinsically motivated to innovate. A major driving force is their personal enthusiasm.


When these new rules are applied consistently they will become the new standard, also for the ‘business as usual’. As a matter of fact there will not be a business as usual anymore. Internal and external change is the major driving force in the (business) world today, which requires ongoing innovation.




A lot of organizations still think that change is an exception to the normal situation. They think that the goal is to return to the status quo as soon as possible.


In the IT industry I was used to having two major reorganizations/changes per year and some smaller ones during the year as well. However when I moved to the airline industry they were used to one major change every three or four years. This means that they see change as the exception, even as something that you should minimize. The people in those organizations are thus stimulated not to change and to maintain their current work practices. There was an employee who told me quite frankly that he did the same type of work for almost ten years, even though he had experienced minimal three major changes. He just changed the name of his department, but kept doing exactly the same work. And this is one of the reasons why only one in three change programs succeeds.


This situation occurs quite frequently:

  1. Change is seen as an exception
  2. When change is implemented, there is no change in the behavior of the people.


In the current economic and financial crisis many people think in the same way. That we are now facing some serious challenges, but that ‘things’ will get better and we then will return back to ‘normal’ again. We just have to cut a lot of costs, lay off some people and be careful. And when the market changes we just continue as if nothing has happened.

But this is a major mistake!


The market is changing structurally. Globalization is now really working as it was envisioned many years ago. Technology is facilitating this and technology will continue to change the way work is done. On the management side, people are no longer accepting the greed of their leaders for financial incentives. People also want to be treated as human beings and not as spare parts in a machine. The entire financial system is also changing structurally. The environmental challenges are not temporary setbacks.


All of these challenges require an adequate response. In order to respond adequately you have to understand that:

  1. Change is the new normal
  2. Change implementation will only be successful when people change their behaviors.


This requires a new perspective (there will no longer be a status quo for a long period) and a new mindset (people are the only real differentiator of any organization).


Which leaders are prepared to step out of their comfort zone and instill this new culture of change and innovation??


All the news media are having a very busy time. The election for the next world leader, the credit crunch and  at a distance the climate crunch. There is so much happening and it is very unclear what the outcome will be.


This creates uncertainty with in companies, customers and the general public. Will I keep my job? What is happening to my savings? Will my bank survive?  For how long will this last? Is it wise to invest now?

Banks, which exist today, might be gone tomorrow or be tuned into ownership by the government.


It is impossible for leaders to have all the answers. It is the collective genius of all the employees, which need to be mobilized. This situation has threats, but also provides a lot of opportunities. If you use all the ‘eyes and ears’ of your employees you will clearly find a stimulating direction.


It is even more powerful to create a new movement from the bottom up. The Designers Accord, as mentioned in the recent FC article, is an excellent example for this. This makes the job of a leader easier as well. They just have to make sure that an open attitude towards collaboration within and outside of the organisation is stimulated.


What is needed is innovation, which has a pull from the people involved. This works much better than pushing it from the top.