Category Archives: corporate culture

Wiki = better corporate culture and customer experience?

Previously I noted in passing about the article in the New Yorker about Wikipedia–great stuff that has received a lot of attention and brought Wikipedia into the mainstream. Love to know what Wikipedia’s metrics for the last week have shown regarding that attention.

Anyway, I’d also noted that Digital Universe offers a very different approach to collaborative knowledge, social networking etc. As I’m trying to apply the wiki concept to the knowledge management of a global company with extreme complexity, a lot of questions come up regarding the two approaches, one being more or less a self-governing free for all, the other being a collection of portals maintained and controlled by subject matter experts as gate keepers.

Of course the global company in question would prefer the controlled model, it makes them feel much more secure that all hell won’t break loose and it suits their command-and-control style of management to a tee. So at first, I was leaning towards the Digital Universe model, but now…in fact, I’d really like to see them give the wikipedia model a try for these two reasons:

Those using the knowledge base are also those who interface with customers. They know what the most current problems are, what the work-arounds are, what’s needed, what works. They know it like the back of their hand. As Peter Drucker pointed out often enough, the frontline workers are the keepers of truly useful knowledge. They have every reason to make sure the knowledge they have at their fingertips is the best, most correct and most useful. They have every reason to make sure their co-workers also have that information so they don’t have to clean up the mess left behind by someone who did the job poorly the first time. They also have every reason to want the recognition they deserve for the knowledge they’ve acquired. In all of these cases, a wikipedia answers the call.

Further, the customer would prefer that frontline worker have as much useful, applicable and timely information as possible, as quickly as possible. That would mean a quick answer to their problems and that’s pretty much all they want.

So, none of this is rocket science but to get a large, entrenched company to recognize the worth and value of this radically new frontier of shared knowledge and JIT publishing…now there’s some magic.

How threatening is a many-to-many publishing? Maybe pretty dang threatening, it could be a game changer. But in exchange, you’d have fresh energy, real motivation to “get it right,” and direct relationship with excellent frontline customer experience.

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Wiki wiki please

An article by Stacy Schiff in the latest New Yorker does a dandy job of bringing wikipedia into the mainstream, warts and all. Good history, good questions, and good job pointing to co-founder Sanger’s new-and-improved version of collaborative knowledge centers, Digital Universe.

Seems likely that in no time at all, the two approaches will find their home: wikipedia for the casual user on the net, digital universe for academics, professionals, and all who want at least some expert control over content.

Digital Universe is a very interesting concept. I’m looking forward to learning more about it for application in knowledge management for global companies with complex needs.

Strangers to Ourselves

I’m reading Strangers to Ourselves by Timothy Wilson and trying to digest what he’s getting at with his discussion of the “adaptive unconscious.” His theories don’t sound new or ground-breaking at first–after all, notably Malcolm Gladwell has raised the discussion to a more popular level with “Blink,” but Wilson’s approach is a deeper dive with a lot of science behind it.

lobes of the brain

Wilson is interested in finding out what the vast unconscious world in our brains is up to with the 10 million bits of information it’s absorbing every second. That 10 million bits covers everything from making your fingers coordinate with the keyboard to hearing the fan in the background to considering if the scorching sun is frying the vegetable garden out back. In this last instance, it appears that when the unconscious mind has decided that the vegetable garden is indeed at risk, it will hopefully manage to get a message to the conscious mind, even if it is non-verbal and just a “have-to-go-water-the-garden” impulse, one that make me get up and go outside…sometimes before I even realize that I’m out there for this very good and time sensitive reason.

So, like Gladwell, Wilson is giving us lots of reasons to clear defensive thinking, conscious perceptions, pre-conceptions and the like out of the way so our great big unconscious can get some timely information to us on a regular basis.

process-information.jpg
In amongst the studies he cites is this one about people who have suffered damage to left and right lobes, destroying communication between the two. The left lobe controls the right side of the body, the right controls the left. The study involved showing pictures to each eye, with the other one covered, and seeing what information could be communicated about the picture. To the right eye (left brain) they showed a picture of a chicken claw; the participants associated that picture with a chicken.

Next they showed the left eye (right brain) a picture of a snow drift and the participants associated that picture with a shovel. After this, the participants were given their associated results but since the right brain cannot communicate the association of the snow with shovel, the participants didn’t know why they had chosen a shovel.

Here’s the kicker: in the blink of an eye, the left brain (story-telling, conscious part of the brain) came up with a story for the selection of the shovel that combined it with the chicken: the chicken lives in a chicken coop which needs to be cleaned with a shovel. Is this really what happened? No. Is this now what the participant thinks happened? Yes. And that story will be the official story until such time as the individual finds out differently.
Wilson’s point again and again is that the conscious mind is way more fallable than we ever thought and that fallability can lead us as individuals and a part of the collective group to make assumptions and decisions based on information that is simply not correct. The conscious mind’s drive to create a story for what it perceives, whether or not that story is in any way true, is its raison d’etre. And doesn’t every successful marketer and lawyer out there know this instinctively!

The ability of the conscious mind to create stories without getting input from or listening to the unconscious is a bit of a design flaw, it seems to me. It inhibits us from perceiving correctly AND from getting, trusting and using information from our unconscious minds.

Strangers to Ourselves is full of good studies that cause one to consider how we get and process information. Few of us are willing to really listen to our “intuition.” It can’t be measured, it can’t be controlled, its processes are vast, random and unexpected. But when Jack Welch popularizes the notion of managing “from the gut,” whether he knows it or not, or even cares, he’s talking about getting information from the adaptive unconscious.

The more I allow myself to draw from my unconscious, the more interesting my solutions become.  The more spot-on, the more creative, the more unexpected and exciting.  Bringing intuitive solutions into a corporate setting is edgy and exciting!  And often just what’s needed. Dump the old stories.  Allow a new story to emerge!

Don’t get mired.

I’m watching this. I’m sitting with my partner, we’re having a somewhat heated…well, okay, it’s a heated discussion, it’s been a long weekend, we’ve played hard, we’re both tired and maybe ready for a return to the predictability of the work week.

And I’m watching this thing happen. Where I listen and try to understand or more often, try to defend against something I perceive as an attack or a low level threat and before I know it, I’m following that thread, I’m diving down that rat hole, I’m about to get lost on someone else’s path.

rat hole

I’m not saying she doesn’t have very valid points. That’s not where I’m going, that’s not the problem. Where I’m going is this: it’s just so easy to get mired in someone else’s stuff. And if you think it’s easy in a relationship where you get the chance to practice NOT getting mired on a daily basis, if you think that’s easy, well just think about work. Think about entire organizations and how quickly you can get mired in some wacky thing or other simply because someone has data to bolster their argument for this or that and before you know it, you’re on someone else’s path heading in a direction you never even gave much thought to. (I’m not even going to touch on the fact that some highly placed individuals in every company are highly paid precisely because they are able to divert attention at just the right time 😉
It’s easy to get mired. And the more open your mind, the easier it is.

Is this a bad thing? Actually, it’s not necessarily bad. Often it is bad but not necessarily. I hold that if you recognize that change requires time and patience and building a foundation of trust which is based on person A having confidence that person B is listening to them, you may have to get a little mired now and then. You never know, there might be something fabulous in there.

But part of your brain should always be engaged, watching, appraising and making sure you’ve left enough bread crumbs behind to find your way back.

Large companies have a million zillion rat holes. They have entire teams churning out rat holes by the dozen and better software all the time to help them slice and dice ever more finely. And sometimes it seems their entire raison d’etre is to create a complex loop-de-loop where a straight line would suffice.

If my stated goal is to discover the root problem in a company’s failed online support options, for example, there will be a few obvious and easy issues. But they’re obvious and easy–the company in question has likely already thought of them and rejected them or let them die in the “editing table,” the team room (A good discussion of failed attempts to change in corporate settings here).

And that’s where it gets dicey: your job is really to find out the unspoken, unconscious idea they all share about online support. “our customers won’t use it,” “they’re not smart enough to use it,” “we can’t get support for any changes,” and blah blah blah. And before you know what hit you, the metrics and data have your head spinning and you can’t even remember why you brought in.

That’s mired.

Step away from the table. Clear your head. Listen. Not to what they’re “saying,” but to what they’re not saying, or what they’re saying in a million different ways because you know, you know! they’re measuring what they want to prove, not what should happen, not anything at all about where they should go from here.

Untitled

Recently I wrote about the three campuses–Dell, Apple, Microsoft–and what you could glean just from looking at the walls. Dave Pollard discusses a similar sort of observation-centered activitiy: customer anthroplogy. The art and science of observation applied to people in their “end user” environment. very interesting…and encouraging.

Says Pollard:

“What you are looking for is anything that clearly does not work properly or effectively, such as:

* Workarounds: Things people do that the process, tools and facilities obviously were not designed to accommodate, e.g. extra manual worksheets that are maintained because the computer reports don’t do the job.

* User Torture: Evidence of obvious physical or psychological discomfort, e.g. people with phones cradled in their neck because they don’t have headsets.

* Obstacles and Barriers: Signs that people can’t do their job properly because something is physically or procedurally in their way, e.g. people who leave their station for inordinately long times because they need to ‘get approvals’.

* Repurposed Objects: Tools designed for one thing that have been appropriated for something else because no other suitable tool was available, e.g. makeshift doorstops to increase airflow or light in a factory.

* Wear Patterns: Evidence of stress or overuse, e.g. damaged power cords or hinges.

How to Save the World

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Landru

Does anyone remember the Star Trek episode about Landru? Landru was the "God" of a very stifled and inhibited society; they were all about "The Body." Being part of The Body meant you did whatever Landru asked you to do, no matter how ridiculous or tastelessly dressed it required you to be.

The apparent reward for this kind of obediance was one day of utter insanity per year, when everyone went completely nutso and broke all the rules, committing atrocities of every kind, and devolved into drunken debauchery.

the original Landru

Of course Kirk has several good fist fights, and I think Spock pretends to "go over to the dark side," infiltrating the priestly ranks of Landru's caretakers. The usual stuff. Finally, they discover that Landru is a several thousand year old computer designed by a benevolent guy named Landru, but the computer version just keeps running the place with the same old program, the same old functions, the same old routines.

Landru

I'm working with a company right now that has a Landru in place–it's their home-grown knowledge management system. Once upon a time, their system was, like Landru, a pretty good idea–the company was smallish and growing like gangbusters and needed some kind of system for standardizing knowledge across all its parts. But now it's just freakish, and has the attendant priest class and this sort of blind adherence and loyalty, even as the rest of the world has moved onto web based KM, google, intranet 2.0, wikis and what not.

It doesn't have the one-day-a-year free-for-all, which is a shame because in this case, it might actually do them some good.
Where oh where is Captain Kirk when you need him?

kirk and team.JPG

Experience by Design

I’m a consultant in customer experience, support, online strategies, etc. I’ve done gigs at a lot of well-known, and not so well-known companies. And when I first walk down the halls of these companies, I experience a slo-mo process of understanding how the company expresses its culture on its walls, often knowingly, strategically, and consciously. But just as often, painfully unconsciously.

building your vision into the very structure

As I work with the company, I’m usually pretty busy taking in a lot of information–certainly lots more than the myriad reports and workings sessions that are on the schedule. One thing I look for is the palpable link between the look and feel of the inside of a company with its outside, ie the product or service it offers. This link has been remarkably consistent and telling: the “end-user” of the company, the customer, manages to experience–for better or for worse–the core culture of the company, a culture that is expressed internally in its physical details.

However the company “window dresses” their offering, however much it may market its “customer centricity,” in the end, the customer really will–in a million unspoken ways–truly experience the culture of the company and come to a nearly unwavering “impression” of the company based on that unconscious experience. And it will take an extreme make-over to change that impression.

Take, for example, three big names: Microsoft, Dell and Apple. Big complex companies with high visibility and well known business models. All three talk about the customer, all three talk about experience, all three have numerous internal initiatives in place to improve the customer experience–on the box, in the box, online, on the phone, by email, chat, IVR and what have you. They all truly do want the customer to be happy–who wouldn’t? It’s not rocket science to figure out, even if you are a monopoly, that if you ain’t got customers, you ain’t got nothin. (I’ve been in Austin a lot lately).

So, each has expended an enormous amount of energy and money, money, money to make sure the Customer Experience works. They have the latest technology, they have metrics, they have visibility…into what they think matters. And this is where things get a little dicey: what they think matters.

creating the model customer

I’ve been to all three campuses and here’s the news: the difference between them is startling and speaks directly and clearly to the culture of each.

At Microsoft you will see expensive art on the walls and lots of banners proclaiming the latest launch, the latest version, the latest product innovation. These internal promotions are big on team, big on being the best, huge on “evangelism.” You’ll see colorful and smart internal marketing that pumps up the troops with enthusiasm for the next…product.

msft windows.gif

At Dell, you won’t see a lot of art; some but not a lot. There’s most definitely a manufacturing feel to the place, a certain boot-strappiness that eschews glitz in favor of process. But you will see a lot of posters with top leadership announcing the latest push to greatness. A lot of internal marketing about top leadership and a can-do attitude. A lot of internal focus with a linear, top down spin.

At Apple, you’ll see something altogether different from the other two. You’ll see pictures of people who use Apple devices. You’ll see a lot of art, and in fact, the pictures of customers are professional quality portraits of Hollywood or otherwise historical figures who use Mac and who Think Different. It’s cool, it’s inspiring, it’s all so beyond the computing device…because after all, Apple is nothing if not an experience. And experience is all about a subject/object relationship, ie, the customer and the device–a Relationship writ large.

Form Follows Function

It’s spooky to me, once I started to notice this, that the customer “impression” of these companies over time pretty much lines up with what the companies believe about themselves.

MSFT believes its next big thing is going to crush the competition and change the world, it’s the next big thing, it’s microsoft–and that’s what customers perceive as well.

it's the product, stupid!

In fact, customers are exhausted by the next big thing and just want one thing that works well consistently and without an inordinate amount of maintenance. Customers never want to think as much about their OS as Microsoft thinks they do.

Dell is Affordable. It’s all about JIT manufacturing, process, and offering a high tech device to the world for out-of-this-world prices. It’s a supply chain, something most customers know nothing about and don’t want to know about…and yet, in the last year, customers have begun expressing the notion that they are part of a supply chain, the wallet part, and that once they’ve done their part, Dell would prefer they disappear until needed again. A growing percent of Dell customers feel used and uncared for–something, by the way, that most all of the Dell employees I’ve worked with would like to change. They’re good folks, they want to take care of their customers–but there’s an internal engine, a process in place, that makes that damn difficult.

top down--who's the customer?

And then there’s Apple. Apple has managed to package The Relationship. They’ve thought of everything, and everything just works. Apple is so cool, is able to do so much so easily that they underscore ease and simplicity by leaving enough space left for surprises: eye candy, ear candy, all kinds of candy. And it all just pretty much works and keeps working without you, the user, having to do too much to ensure that it works. Apple knows about people, and this focus is palpable in all that they do, from their online store, to the super cool phsyical stores, to their email, their IVR system, the metrics they keep and watch, the relationships they make and tend to in a hundred different ways. Everything about Apple screams relationship. Even the names of their products–iMac, iPod etc–encourage you to relate to your devices in a most personal way.

I don’t want to be a slavish devotee of Apple. In fact, they have made, and will make some blunders, big and small. I don’t like how the iPod mini user manual doesn’t tell you how to switch the damn thing off, for example. But do I care? Not really. It just forces me to relate to my Apple-maniacal friends in order to get tips on how-to. And there you have another brilliant, cohesive aspect to Apple: the community.

Does the look and feel of the campus have anything to do with the look and feel of the final product? I sure don’t know of any studies, but it doesn’t seem like a real stretch to me. Would it help a company that is disconnected from its company to have pictures and videos of their customers scattered around? Real live stuff? Well, it sure couldn’t hurt, and it may be the spark that’s needed.