The newsreader Justin Webb told an amusing story on BBC Radio 4 recently (starts 5 minutes in). He had apparently been brought up by his mother to believe that if you were to ask for anything in The Ritz in a suitably polite manner then – whether you were a guest or not – they would do it for you. One evening he was on his way to a corporate function, suitably smartly dressed, when he realised his top shirt button had come off. Not wishing to arrive looking unkempt he realised he was near the hotel and so went in and asked if it would be possible to replace the missing button. The hotel staff duly obliged and he was ushered into a side room where the shirt was swiftly restored to its former neatness.
Responsible use of data can help
If there’s one thing that gets me going it’s being told I should change my behaviour in order to affect something of global significance. Don’t get me wrong, I recycle religiously, drive a small car and don’t eat a lot of meat but nevertheless my inner libertarian gets worked up when I hear that we should all “do our bit” to combat global warming by making lifestyle choices.
If only it were that simple.
The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is as welcome as it is disturbing. I may not be around when a global temperature rise of 2% causes irreversible damage to the planet, but I’d like to think it could be averted or the effects lessened by limiting the rise to 1.5% as the report recommends.
But we won’t get there by suddenly converting to veganism: concerted effort is required at an international level to reduce CO2 emissions as well as shifting the demand towards goods that have a lower impact.
Customers to the rescue
This isn’t a political publication so I’m not going to say anything about the willful ignorance of some administrations with regard to climate change and whether humans are the cause. Let’s assume that if you’ve got this far you think we could have something to do with it and leave it at that.
This is a customer experience piece though, so what can customers do, and how does customer experience figure in it?
I was heartened to read a piece in Marketing Week that revealed that grocery behemoth Tesco is using marketing data from its loyalty scheme to encourage people to eat more healthily. This is an important issue: obesity is on the rise and the consequences for healthcare – and the economic impacts – are significant. The various initiatives Tesco is undertaking – removing the sweet aisle from the checkout, handing our pieces of fruit to children – should help to nudge their customers towards a healthier choice.
I particularly like their “helpful little swaps” initiative which compares the prices of healthier – and cheaper – alternatives to a customer’s bill. Anything that helps people take more control over their health seems like a good thing to me, even if – to be cynical for a moment – you suspect that the alternatives might make better economic sense for Tesco as well.
Again, this is data driven, as it allowed Tesco to see what worked and what didn’t and whether their customers understood what “healthy” meant in terms of their shopping basket. They could then adjust the mix of promotions accordingly. They have now partnered with TV chef Jamie Oliver, a noted campaigner against unhealthy food to develop exclusive recipe content.
Imagine there’s no future
What’s all this go to do with global warming? We may all be eating healthily but that matters not one jot if the earth is scorching beneath our feet. Exactly! We may hear the exhortations to eat healthily and act more sustainably but – in my view – that’s not enough to make a sufficiently large number of people act differently to significantly shift the dial on health measure or our carbon footprint. (Also, actions to improve personal health have a visible payback: if I eat well I generally look and feel better, so public health campaigns can have some effect. Combating global warming is too easily seen as someone else’s problem: it won’t affect me until it’s too late.)
It strikes me that persuading retailers – possibly working in some form of cooperative alliance – to act to promote goods with a lower carbon footprint would have a bigger impact than trying to dictate to the population at large. Tesco’s use of customer data shows how you can fine tune this type of campaign and use it to commercial advantage.
Enlightened commercial self-interest may just be the best way to keep the planet safe for the next generation.
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.
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.
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.
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.