How strong is your “Alt-CV”?

Paying attention to the things not on a CV can be just as important as the things that are on it

Like most people I like to keep my CV and LinkedIn profile up-to-date. I think my CV and profile do a pretty good job of representing the “work me” – the qualities and experience that you might want to hire me or my company for.

But there’s another side that’s not revealed in the standard CV: it’s what I call my “Alt-CV” – the alternative CV that contains things that rarely, if ever, make it onto a regular CV.

It’s all about me

As I’ve got older, I’ve noticed that some of my contemporaries’ LinkedIn profiles have started to including straplines such as “lady of leisure at retired” and “golf course tester at taking some time out”. With that in mind I decided my headline/summary on my Alt-CV should include things like:

  • Part-time barista – I make a pretty good cappuccino
  • Baker – I’ve started baking my own bread and have to say the results are pretty good
  • Regular contributor to BBC Radio 3 – I regularly email their Essential Classics show in the morning with “playlist suggestions” and occasionally get a shout-out (although for a classical music show that’s probably the wrong term)
  • Guitar collector – I own a total of six guitars and occasionally play them

These are deliberately light-hearted but, whilst they won’t get me hired – although I have deployed an acoustic guitar on a couple of occasions in a work context – they represent some of the things that are important to me.   

Monkey business

A few years ago, I had my first one to one with a member of my new team. I suggested that if we were to discuss development and career progression it should be in the context of what she wanted to do with her life. The result surprised me: “I’d really like to work with wild animals” she said. Barely suppressing a quip that some sales managers in the company were pretty untamed, I said that I couldn’t directly advise on that career path but if that was a personal objective, she ought to see how she could work towards it. Following a reorganisation shortly afterwards I moved to a new team, so my career development advice was apparently short-lived. However, I got an invitation about a year later to the team member’s leaving drinks as she was about to take a three-month sabbatical. At the event she thanked me publicly for giving her the nudge to pursue her ambition: she was about to spend her time volunteering in three different animal sanctuaries in the Far East…

I’d like to be able to say she went on to run a ground-breaking conservation charity but, in fact, she came back after her trip and decided that, whilst it had been immensely enjoyable, she had decided that she didn’t want to pursue that as a life goal after all and went back to her previous job. The last I heard she was still there and considering weekend volunteering at a wildlife centre near her home.


Whilst I don’t claim my career advice in the above example was especially innovative or unique, I was implicitly acknowledging that my colleague had a life outside of work and that that was just as important as her life at work. Allowing people to bring their “whole self” to work is key in helping them feel more fulfilled and engaged and results in better performance, with a knock-on beneficial effect on customers and the bottom line.

NextTen’s Richard Horner has turned this into an approach – the Framework of Champions – that provides a systematic method of helping employees align their own personal purpose with that of the organisation. Companies that have adopted this have reported dramatic improvements in growth rates, financial performance and engagement with some areas showing results inside a month.

Whilst you’ll always find high-performing people who want to keep their work and personal lives entirely separate, there’s much to be gained as a leader and a team-member from having a strong “Alt-CV” and making it visible.

Is democracy all it’s cracked up to be?

The UK’s Brexit debate is about democracy as much as its relationship with Europe. It’s an important debate for workplaces too

If you were trying to get around central London last Saturday, you’d most likely have found 700,000 people getting in your way blocking the route from Park Lane to Parliament Square. The issue that caused this unprecedented turnout was Brexit – an inescapable one if you live in the UK and turn on the news or open a newspaper – and specifically the desire for a second referendum to approve or reject any deal negotiated with the European Union.

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Winston Churchill, 1947

The debate on Brexit has split the country, and it feels that, as much we are debating whether we should be part of the EU or not, we are also debating what democracy means, with specific questions such as:

  • Does a slim majority (52% in favour of leaving versus 48% remaining) mean the matter is settled, once and for all?
  • Did people know what they were voting for and should they have another go now that they are more informed?

and, more importantly…

  • What on earth has this got to do with customer-centricity?

Winston Churchill famously said that “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time” but I feel that in the workplace most bosses only heard the first part of that sentence.

There’s an immense gain to be had from having a workforce that turns up to work feeling that what they do makes a difference and that translates directly into happier customers.

So why is it that most companies are run like tinpot dictatorships?


According to Gallup’s 2017 global workplace survey, “85% of employees are not engaged or actively disengaged at work” with an estimated impact or $7 trillion in lost productivity. So, the business impact should be clear even if we don’t consider customer satisfaction, which would add even more benefits on top of the productivity gains.

But if the economic argument is so blindingly obvious we’re clearly not buying it.


Control freak

Somewhere in our genetic make-up we’re hardwired to be selfish: sharing what you have achieved by hard work, guile or luck with people outside your family/tribal boundaries doesn’t come naturally to us. Business leaders and founders who have built something successful have an innate reluctance to share the fruits of their labours out of fear that others might spoil what they have created.

It takes a maverick to achieve something that goes against the grain. Enter Ricardo Semler, the archetypal maverick leader whose Brazilian engineering group Semco is one of the relatively few companies to be organised on principles of active worker participation and self-determination. With its flat hierarchy, self-determination, and peer-set salaries it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s no denying it works: Semco is still in business and has evolved in the 25 years since Semler’s account of his approach “Maverick” was published – its evolution potentially attributable to its flexible, bottom-up approach.

More equal than others

Increased worker participation doesn’t automatically mean businesses should turn into workers’ cooperatives, but it wouldn’t do too much harm to adopt some of the principles to improve engagement. The John Lewis Partnership is hardly a bastion of socialism, but because the workforce consists of partners, everyone has a share in the success of the business. And it’s no coincidence that John Lewis has high levels of customer satisfaction and advocacy.

If you want to get your people more engaged, there are three things you need in place to increase the level of participation:

1. Articulate a compelling purpose

I can’t overstate the importance of a compelling purpose – your organisation’s why – to unite the organisation and give people a framework in which operate.

2. Change the conversation around leadership

This sounds like a big task but as a leader you can start to shift people’s perception of what being a leader means. If the history of the organisation means that a top-down, objective-driven style is prevalent, you’ll need to actively demonstrate and model a more participative approach and encourage those leaders elsewhere in the organisation who do the same.

3. Provide avenues for people to participate and bring more of themselves to work

We’ve outlined the Framework of Champions elsewhere on The Next Ten Years – once you introduce that you’re instantly raising the level of participation

Protest and survive

Dissenting workers (or members of the public) don’t tend to take to the streets until all other avenues have been exhausted. It’s blindingly obvious that social media now provides a platform for all and sundry to vent their opinions and whilst the manner in which people express those opinions may leave much to be desired, it doesn’t negate the importance of those views.

The challenge for leaders is to detect the conversations: I’m aware of many groups on Facebook for example where disgruntled private groups can express opinions about “the management”. Discovering these might require a degree of detective work – also known as talking to your employees – but, just as companies need to take seriously the feedback from customers on social media, the issues raised by employees are also important. Relying on the annual employee survey just won’t cut it in this day and age.

When people protest about something, it means they care deeply about it, so those who complain about their company aren’t just whingeing, they’re usually doing it because they have a view on something the company is or isn’t doing – and that view is important.

Keeping your ear to the ground and encouraging – polite – debate is as healthy for workplaces as it is for countries.

Ten tell-tale signs that show you’re not that customer-centric

It’s not what you say, it’s what you do (or don’t)

Are you customer-focused, customer-driven or customer-centric? If you’re any of those things that’s probably why you’re reading this, but does the organisation you work for feel the same way?

In our work with CX leads we come across a real tension between what companies say they care about and what they actually do. Very often, the tension is so great that it’s a real disconnect. The result? Wasted effort on customer initiatives that don’t have sufficient momentum and under-realise potential benefits.

So, what can you do about this? It’s best to start with what the organisation does: a good reflection of the environment within which a culture of customer obsession can grow. Here’s my take on the tell-tale signs that will tell you that – unless addressed – getting genuine customer focus to take root will be tough.

1. Customers don’t figure in strategy

This is the obvious one, so let’s get it out of the way first. But before I do, I should say that there is no hard-and-fast rule that says you must have customer focus to have business success. You can build a company that successfully prioritises other things: being faster and/or cheaper than the competition, creating innovative products. And in most cases, you’ll need enough customers to buy your super-cheap or fabulously innovative products so obviously that’s part of any business strategy. But if caring for customers, creating a superior service experience, enabling employees to make customers happy, including customers in your community or other words like that don’t feature in your strategy – and even more critically in the plans and budget allocations that follow – then it’s a good bet that your company is driven by something else.

And that’s fine, but just don’t expect a long CX career there.

2. No-one is curious about customers

One characteristic of successful customer-driven companies is that everyone – from the CEO to the front-line – is interested in what customers think, what they want and what they aspire to. That shows up in a number of ways: senior execs don’t go “back to the floor” once a year, they talk to customers and the people whose day job is to provide a service to them on a weekly or even daily basis.

When you have people in your organisation who are curious about customers, you get ideas and you get genuine conversations about customer outcomes that help you build killer propositions. The converse is that if you don’t come across this quality on a regular basis, your organisation is almost certainly focused elsewhere.

3. One measure is pursued relentlessly

As fellow contributors have argued (here and here) it’s senseless to focus all your efforts on measure of customer satisfaction or customer success when customer behaviour is such a complex thing.

It’s one of the subtler symptoms of a lack of customer focus that a focus on one measure of success – yes, Net Promoter Score I’m talking about you – means that an organisation can kid itself that it’s customer-focused when in fact it’s paying lip-service to customers with one simplistic measure. And when you relentlessly pursue the one measure, people get rewarded on it and then start to influence the measure rather than what the measure tells you.

Life, and customers, are much more complex than that, and your measures should reflect that.

4. Complaints are seen as a problem

Does your organisation have a well-resourced complaints department that deals with customer feedback in a prompt and positive manner? Or is the prevailing view that complaints originate from a few awkward customers who probably weren’t in your target market anyway? If it’s the former then you’re mining the rich seam of customer feedback for some customer-driven improvement but if it’s the latter then that’s another sign that something else is the focus, and it isn’t the customer.

5. Difficult or vulnerable customers are shut out or marginalised

Well, no-one would have this as an explicit strategy but it’s a symptom of having an idealised view of the customer rather than reflecting the messy reality that people find themselves in. One way of testing this is to look at your organisation’s policy for vulnerable customers: does it exist, and if so, is it translated into action that means that customers who don’t fit the “norm” are catered for and treated equivalently? Being customer-centric means being focused on all your potential customers.

6. Social media is not understood

I’m often staggered by the ineptitude of media campaigns generally, particularly where the brand takes a bit of a battering as a result of poor service performance. In these situations, social media appears deaf to customer feedback. So, if you see your organisation failing to respond constructively to grumpy tweets or fractious Facebook posts then there’s a good chance that customer-centricity has failed to take root in your marketing department.

7. Cost-cutting hits the contact centre first

Where a business allocates its budgets is a good indicator of what its priorities are. So, if your contact centre is under pressure to cut costs that’s a sign that customers might not be a priority. But again, this is a subtle sign: spending more on contact centres could mean that your organisation can’t stop customers calling who’d rather not have to sit in a call queue for ages. But if the focus is to cut costs first and then ask why customers are contacting you, it’s a sure sign that cost-saving comes before customer experience.

8. Digital streamlining is everything

Of course, the reason for cutting contact centre costs is usually to direct people online where the chances are that they will receive a slicker, more streamlined service. That’s absolutely the right thing to do. But if your streamlined service is at the expense of human contact to handle exceptions, queries or special assistance then you’re digitally excluding part of your customer base.

9. Silos are indestructible

Despite the protestations of management theorists, organisations today look much like they did 30 or more years ago, with Sales, Marketing, Operations and Finance all with a seat at the top table. I’m not advocating a different way of organising as an essential part of being customer-centric: as far as I’m concerned, we’ll need those functions and disciplines for at least the next 30 years. But if the functions turn into indestructible silos, with no genuine co-operation between them, then customer-driven efficiencies from cross-functional processes are going to be hard to generate.

10. Jerks get promoted

In this article I’ve not focused that much on the creation of a positive, customer-focused culture, possibly because you can’t be that prescriptive about what works. It’s easier to focus on what doesn’t help and I have argued elsewhere that the prevalence of assholes in an organisation can have negative consequences for performance. So, if you’re in an organisation that promotes people despite their negative, self-centred or bullying behaviour then you’re in an organisation that it not committed to employees’ happiness and, without that, customer happiness is likely to be in short supply.

Look on the bright side

Customer-centricity isn’t the only game in town, but if you’re in a role that espouses it whilst your organisation shows signs – as illustrated above – that it’s got different priorities then you could be in for a stressful time.

On the positive side, if it’s genuinely committed to becoming more customer-focused, then any of those ten tell-tale signs will be a great place to start your change initiative.



Harnessing the power of purpose

Vision. Focus. Mission. Drive.

All words we often use to describe the qualities we associate with high performing companies or the people who lead them.

But if I had to pick the one quality that propels an organisation into genuinely high performance, it would be purpose. It encapsulates all the above terms and taps into a deeper motivation to “do the right thing”, whatever that might be.

But what is an organisation’s purpose? Recent conversations and news items – such as the statement by asset manager BlackRock’s Larry Fink that they would only invest in companies that contribute to society and deliver financial performance or risk losing their support, suggests that there is an awareness amongst the most numerically-obsessed that performance means much more than profit, ROCE, or other financial measures.

But it’s not easy.


Bar Italia in London’s Soho is more associated – in my mind at least – with the kind of louche nightlife portrayed in Pulp’s eponymous song – “…I’m fading fast/And it’s nearly dawn…” – than inspiring conversations about purpose, but I recently found myself having such a conversation at the more civilised hour of 11am with Gemma Cropper, MD of social impact consultancy Skating Panda.

I’ve observed and worked with organisations that have a clear purpose and those that have lost it somewhere along the way. In talking to Gemma, it was clear that social purpose is increasingly an area that organisations are interested in as they seek to improve the engagement of both their customers and employees. Often it can be driven by customers: for example, clothing manufacturer Nike had to completely change their supply chain after accusations of sweatshop conditions in some of their suppliers.

Employees will often drive the change and are after something more than a bit of “corporate social responsibility” which, however valid, can look like window dressing for an otherwise unattractive brand.

And with the developments in AI and robotics becoming a threat to jobs in all organisations in the coming years, employees will want to see a clear sense of social purpose in all major change programmes.

It can take years to bed an organisation’s purpose in – those looking for a quick fix will be likely to be disappointed – and if the CEO is only focused on the share price, the chances of success are minimal.

Tacked on

It’s a point echoed by organisational change consultant Belden Menkus in a recent paper where he points out the danger, when trying to re-discover an organisational purpose to differentiate itself from competitors, of it being reduced to a strapline or a shallow communications exercise.

In these cases, a wider social purpose can seem tacked on to an organisation or, even worse, a compliance box to be ticked.

Don’t confuse focus with purpose

What can organisations do to create or recreate a meaning that’s wider than a healthy balance sheet?

The first step is to make sure you’re not confusing purpose with focus. Having a focus on efficiency, sales growth, time-to-market or any other key performance indicator is essential in any high-performing company. Whatever is important to your performance needs to be a focus area for some or all of the people, some or all of the time.

But it’s not the same as purpose. Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you feel good about what you did at the end of the day. And although you may feel awesome about a day in which you shaved 3% off production costs or landed a million-pound sales deal, a life in which that’s all you can see may end up being less rich than it could be.

Understand outcomes

Often an organisation’s social purpose is a direct consequence of its operating model. As a pioneer of low-cost flights, SouthWest Airlines enabled people to connect more easily across a wide geography – the social benefit is easy to see as well as being attractive for customers.

So, an organisation’s purpose primarily needs to grow from an understanding of the outcomes it creates for its customers. And this involves thinking outside the immediate products and services it offers.

I’m privileged to work with a local music education charity – more on that another time – that offers great music lessons in the locality. In that regard, it’s no different from other purveyors of music education but what sets it apart is its purpose to offer a high-quality, rounded and multi-faceted music education to children and young people who otherwise would not have that opportunity. That purpose has propelled it from tiny beginnings to exciting developments that will increase its reach and impact.

The challenge for the charity will be to keep that constancy of purpose as it grows in the coming years.

Just start

Although there is the strong possibility that you may discover that your organisation does exist solely to make a shed-load of money for its directors and shareholders you shouldn’t – as Belden Menkus points out – wait for a directive from above. Start in your team to find out what it is that people feel passionate about in relation to the outcomes of the work you do.

And when you’ve found it, tell others. They might just share the same passion.

Customers first, or employees – do you really need to ask?

I was struck a few years back when I read Herb Kelleher’s excellent account of the growth of SouthWest Airlines that he held the view that customers come second whilst employees come first. Aha! I thought, contrarian thinking from the head of a company renowned for delivering a great customer experience, that’s great! And since I have come across similar statements from Richard Branson and many others  I have tended to repeat this as a piece of received wisdom. Time then to unpack the issue and ask: in a company that wants to provide a great customer experience do customers come first or second?

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