Tuesday, April 27, 2010


In the April issue of Fast Company there are quite some facts listed about stress.

-       62% of Americans are stressed about work, according to the American Psychological Association.
-       In Sweden mental illness, including stress and anxiety, accounts for 41% of total sick pay, up from 15% in 1990.
-       One in four Americans admits to having taken a “mental-health day” to cope with stress. This costs employers $602 per worker per year.
-       Each year more than 275,000,000 working days are lost in the US because of absenteeism resulting from stress.

This is shocking, both for employees and for employers. So stress makes you feel not good and it costs a lot of money as well.  But what are we doing about it?
It looks like many people think that stress is normal and that you just have to cope with it. What a sad way of looking at stress this is.

In our workshop about stress management we use this definition:
‘Stress is a form of pain which comes to tell me there is something I need to change.’
So, I, the employee, have to give myself a very good look in the mirror and see what is causing my stress and what I can do about it. The same is applicable to the employer, what can (s)he do to reduce stress in the workplace?

The key thing here is to look at what you CAN do as an individual yourself. Blaming others or expecting that others should change first will only increase stress. Why? Simply because we cannot change other people, we can only change ourselves. And then when both the employee and the employer are really open, they can discuss ways to improve the situation.

This is especially important in a service environment, because the customers will immediately notice when you (the person delivering the service) are stressed out. And this will negatively impact the customer experience. This might even mean that your customer will not repeat his business with you. Your customers want to be served by people who are really enthusiastic and passionate and they will notice when you are not REAL, not authentic.

If you want to create a win-win-win situation (for the employee, the employer and the customer) take a look in the MIRROR now and address the root causes of stress.


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I just finished the inspirational book ‘Change By Design’ from Tim Brown. You can feel the passion as Tim describes the difference between being a designer and thinking like a designer.
That passion, like most other passions, is contagious.

For me it was revealing, because it explains why service innovation or service design are still relatively new topics in the business world. I have been working in that area for more than 20 years, but service innovation was always part of marketing or business development. And it was never called that way. And there was no R&D department for services, even though most of the revenue and the profit were provided by services.

That is still the case in many companies. In Western economies services accounts for more than 80% of GDP, but there are not many service companies who have their own ‘innovation labs’.  This is a huge opportunity AND a must as well. A must, because services (and experiences) are the only sustainable way of growing and competing in todays turbulent marketplace.

We all know that only a fool tries to do the same thing over and over again and expects different results. So, there is a MUST for innovation.
Tim Brown says: “In any case predictability leads to boredom and boredom leads to loss of talented people. It also leads to results that rivals find easy to copy. It is better to take an experimental approach: share processes, encourage the collective ownership of ideas, and enable teams to learn from one another.” I couldn’t agree more!!

This creates a management challenge, as a shift is needed from a culture of hierarchy, efficiency and fear to one of risk taking, exploration and freedom. In service companies where people are your product it is imperative to put people first. If you grow your people, you will grow your business! And .......”it is not about ‘us versus them’ or even ‘us on behalf of them’. For the design thinker, it has to be ‘us with them’. <> Innovation needs to be coded into the DNA of a company if it is to have large-scale, long-term impact.” NOW, there is some work to be done!

Therefore it is not a luxury to invest in systemic, design-based innovation that engages PEOPLE – employees, customers, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders – at the deepest level. Hence, people skills like coaching and knowing how to change behaviors, are just as crucial as innovation and design skills.

So, what is really happening? “We are in the midst of an epochal shift in the balance of power as economies evolve from a focus on manufactured products to one that favors services and experiences. Companies are ceding control and coming to see their customers not as ‘end-users’ but rather as participants in a two-way process.”

For service companies it is of utmost importance to structurally and sustainable embed innovation in their businesses. With people at the HEART of this approach.

When are you starting?


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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dear Leaders, You Have To Change Too!

Last week I had a series of interviews with executives from a company which manufactures cancer treatment equipment.
What stood out were two things:
1.    Leaders are not open for personal change.
2.    The new ways of doing business were totally unknown: old practices were the norm.

Unfortunately these issues are very widespread. ‘Unfortunately’ because that heavily impacts the culture and the enthusiasm in an organization as well as its (lack of) competitiveness.

Ad 1 Leaders are not open for personal change.
In 2009 McKinsey published an excellent article: The irrational side of change  management.
Most senior executives understand and generally buy into Ghandi’s famous aphorism, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” They commit themselves to personally role modeling the desired behaviors. And then, in practice, nothing significant changes.

The reason for this is that most executives don’t count themselves among the ones who need to change. How many executives when asked privately will say no to the question, “Are you customer focused?” and yes to the question “Are you a bureaucrat?” Of course, none. The fact is that human beings consistently think they are better than they are—a phenomenon referred to in psychology as a self-serving bias. Consider that 94 percent of men rank themselves in the top half according to male athletic ability. Whereas conventional change-management approaches surmise that top team role modeling is a matter of will or skill, the truth is that the real bottleneck to role modeling is knowing what to change at a personal level.

So, these leaders say that their employees have to change. And if they don’t change fast enough, “they will be fired”. This creates an atmosphere of fear on one hand and a ‘them versus us’ mentality on the other.

There is so much benefit in accepting that you as a leader can and have to change as well. E.g. most leaders have no work-life balance, which negatively impacts their mental, physical and emotional health as well as their families. Even understanding that changing your behaviors is not easy, will positively impacts their perspective on the need for changing employees.

By showing your own commitment to change, you are truly an example, which will be followed.

Ad 2. The new ways of doing business were totally unknown: old practices were the norm.
This proves that we all are creatures of habit and that they (leaders as well as employees) are not willing to get out of our comfort zones. Even a culture is described as ‘ the way we do things around here’.

And that is exactly the core of the problem!!  The circumstances in the outer world are changing faster and faster, but inside we keep on doing business in the traditional, way. These practices are  often ten, twenty, or even thirty years old.
Examples which surfaced during those interviews: R&D never heard about design thinking or open innovation. Sales had no affinity with social media. The culture was solely owned by HR. The CEO had no clear mission, vision and values. The COO wants his direct reports to be available for his calls 7 days/24 hours.

So, it is just a matter of time when the s.h.i.t. will hit the fan. And then the number one solution is to cut costs and lay off employees. This is very sad and a huge waste of resources.

Also here the starting point for change is the acceptance that you (the leader!) can learn something new. For many professions (doctors, lawyers) is is mandatory to follow regularly courses to stay up to date to the latest knowledge and practices.

Wouldn’t it be great (and really necessary!) if business leaders are yearly confronted with these new ways of doing business as well?

So, Dear Leader, when will you look honestly into the miror and start changing yourself??


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