On Purpose

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On Purpose
Delivering a branded customer experience people love
By Shaun Smith & Andy Milligan
Kogan Page – £19.99

Sectioned into three very distinct parts (Stand up, Stand Out & Stand Firm), this book espouses many a dictum one needs to both know and fundamentally embrace when it comes to customer relations and erm, business. Reason being, the twain do meet. Constantly in fact. And it is this constantly, that authors Shaun Smith and Andy Mulligan herein discuss and dissect.

But, as in most cases, there is always a flip side to nigh every argument.

In chapter seven (‘Distinctive Employee Experience’) under the sub-heading ‘Hire for DNA not MBA,’ they rather emphatically write: ”Hiring the right people for your culture is vital. Robert Stephens said, ‘I hire for the customer experience I want.’ We have a saying when we advise clients: ‘hire for DNA not MBA.’ By this we mean find the people who fit your culture rather than the best qualified or most experienced candidate. You can train someone in what they don’t know but it is much harder to get them to behave in a way that is alien to their personality.”

There is clearly, many a philosophical nugget of wisdom (and perhaps truth) in the above; but lest it be said: most people who go to work, let alone into business for the sake of business, primarily do so for ONE reason and ONE reason only: TO MAKE MONEY (STOOPID).

While it is indeed, perfectly acceptable and obvious to quote: ”hiring the right people for your culture is vital” (one wouldn’t readily invite a window cleaner to fly the daily twelve o’clock shuttle between Gatwick and Helsinki for instance); it isn’t necessarily plausible to write: ”You can train someone in what they don’t know but it is much harder to get them to behave in a way that is alien to their personality.”

With regards the work place, I don’t necessarily agree.

Would anyone in their right state of mind, really want to sell car insurance for forty-five years? I absolutely wouldn’t have thought so. Personally, I wouldn’t even want to sell car insurance for forty-five minutes.

Furthermore, what may initially appear alien, might not always remain so. When one first gets into a car on their very first driving lesson, everything is alien. But after a mere few hours, everything eventually falls into some sort of place. Naturally, the need has to be there to actually want to overcome what may at first seem alien or different, but at the end of the day; behavior and (to a certain degree) economics, go hand in hand. So had Messrs. Smith and Milligan written: ”is is much harder to get them to understand in a way that is alien to their personality,” then for me, the horse would’ve been more on the right course. More applicable if you will.

Suffice to say, it is relatively easy to play devil’s advocate in such cases, especially when it comes to business per se, economics and, dare I say it, bankers – a medium within modern society, who, through every fault of their own, appear to have taken on a mantle akin to that of waking up next to Helmut Göering every other morning. Thus, indirectly shedding tentative light upon the slight apologetic tone which appear’s peppered throughout these 272 pages.

One need look no further than the Introduction of No Purpose – Delivering a branded customer experience people love: ”Every business must serve a social purpose.’ These are not the words of a social campaigner or a politician; they are the words of a banker, Ashok Vaswani, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Retail and Business Banking at Barclays, one of the world’s largest banks. Barclays has been involved in at least one major trading scandal and holds the dubious honour of the most fined bank in Britain.”

Hmm, why immediately come so clean (so very quickly)?

Especially, when in the very next paragraph, the authors continue with: ”but it isn’t just the banks that have lost their way; it is now critical for any business to demonstrate it has a purpose before, and beyond, profit; that it seeks to improve the lives of its customers as a primary goal. Failure to have such a purpose, to be clear about it and to ensure it directs everything you do, will lose customers, employees and ultimately business value. Purpose drives profits.”

Purpose does indeed drive profit.

As well as most kinds of behavior which may at first, appear alien. Admittedly, each of the twelve chapters do go some way in illustrating how to succeed within a particular forum, which in and of themselves, are oft presented by way of interviews with purpose driven business types such as Vernon Hill (Metro Bank), Gav Thomson (giffgaff) and John Forrest (Premier Inn).

While the case studies include anyone and everyone from IKEA to London 2012 Olympics to O2 to Zappos. I’m not sure I entirely agree with Patrick Dempsey OBE, Managing Director of Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants (”to define a purpose that will galvanize the entire organization is a leap of faith and requires strong leadership, but it also requires the clear and compelling process outlined in this book if you are to embark on this incredible journey”), but there certainly a number of things that can be gleaned from this very well structured, although far too idealistic persuasion of a publication.

David Marx

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