Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

Lumpy Snowball of an Organization - delightability

Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

This article was inspired by a recent article in Wired. Dell. EMC. HP. Cisco. These Tech Giants Are the Walking Dead. The author raises interesting points and provoked me to write this article. I hope I similarly provoke others to think, write, and discuss. My comments are not so much about these companies in particular though much of what I say may ring true for them.

More Makers Please and Less Takers
For too long now, many companies have been fixated on the short run. A short-term focus cripples a company, little by little. It is exacerbated when the company’s leadership has an overall attitude of “taking” as opposed to “making”. You witness this mentality in various actions of the corporate playbook including stock buybacks, excessive executive compensation, layoffs timed near earnings reports, tax avoidance, austerity measures, and poorly thought out mergers and acquisitions.

Much of the M&A activity we see is intended to prop up financials as opposed to fundamentally making a stronger innovation culture that can propel the creation of innovative products and services. Value is combined, rearranged, and extracted as opposed to created. Executives and their backers can do extremely well under this scheme, especially in the short run. Employees and society, not so much. Many organizations will eventually suffer in the long run, long after their band of executives have moved on to the next company.

Creating a Culture of Care Within the Organization
Organizations are a bit like human bodies in that you can focus on satisfying short-term cravings, but those decisions often don’t lead to healthy systems or longevity. Companies large and small need to continue to shape and shift their strategies as the business landscape changes,  technology evolves, and customer ecosystems shift.

To survive, they need a longer term focus with short-term actions that don’t harm the organization. To accomplish this, they need engaged employees. They also need customers and communities that care about the company as well as its products and services. When companies are takers and solely focused on the short run, this would-be loyalty can evaporate, if it existed at all.

Size Matters Less than the Ability to Respond
Size alone doesn’t cripple a company. It’s true that being too small you’ll have insufficient resources to make a large impact. But, being too large is not a problem onto itself. The problem is one of responsiveness no matter the size of the organization.

How Would Your Organization Perform in the Logrolling Competition?
Companies wedded to the past lack agility to change their footing quickly. And, that’s bad news since the world outside the organization isn’t static. Imagine a logrolling competition. On one end of the log is a company fixated on the past. On the other side, a more nimble organization, lighter on its feet.

The race begins. As the log spins in the water, both organizations are rolling with it, together. But, then a sudden stop and reversal of direction. The agile opponent responds by shifting their weight, focus, and movement accordingly, whereas the wedded-to-the-past opponent ends up in the water.

The equivalent soaking happens in healthcare, technology, automotive, insurance, financial services, software, food, hospitality, and nearly every industry and sector you can imagine as more nimble startups or even restarts outmaneuver their opponents.

Protecting Yesterday as Though it is Tomorrow
It’s also why you see organizations engage in extreme chest thumping and massive lobbying to protect the enterprise of yesterday. Can you say fossil fuel, cable monopoly, giant food, consumer goods, etc. The giants of industries that become outdated and displaced often have the financial resources to reinvent themselves, if only they had the will.

Unfortunately, their blinders hinder this action. See related post, Don’t Let Your Ideology Blind You to the Facts. The funny thing about the future is that it eventually arrives, whether you’ve prepared for it, or not.

The funny thing about the future is that it eventually arrives, whether you’ve prepared for it, or not.

Building a More Responsive and Increasingly Relevant Organization
A responsive organization that can shape and shift its course, as the world outside changes, is the best insurance against joining the ranks of companies that have lost their mojo or worse. If you want to avoid the lumbering and desperate “Hail Mary” attempts that will eventually exhaust and break the will of your people, then you’ll need to be more mindful of your audiences, inside and outside the organization. You’ll also need to balance the promises you make and keep across these various stakeholders.

One mental model to use in accomplishing this is the Promise Delivery System™ from Chapter 8 of my book, The Experience Design Blueprint. Every organization has a Promise Delivery System by which they make and keep promises (or don’t) to their various stakeholders. Make your Promise Delivery System visible for each stakeholder and you’re on track to building a more responsive and increasingly relevant organization.

The Dreaded Lumpy Snowball
Ignore your Promise Delivery System and you may be unknowingly and unwittingly building a progressively lumpier snowball of an organization. And, we all know how that ends. Sadly, the large lumpy snowball melts in place or breaks under its own weight as people eventually attempt to move it.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

Use the 4 Action Levers to Improve Customer Experiences

Product and Service Village

Products and services don’t invent themselves, not yet anyway. And, their intended audiences rarely self-generate a groundswell of demand. Products and services with even a modicum of complexity require an organization to deliver those products and services over their life cycle. The organization should stand ready to provide assistance to customers from the moment they begin “kicking the tires” to the time they become a customer and hopefully a repeat customer and advocate. Inside the organization, it takes a small village to make all of this come together and to keep it operating smoothly.

Why Villages Need a Chief

Human history has taught us that villages want chiefs. What villagers really seek is a way to resolve disputes, a point person to make and enforce rules, and a source of wisdom. The chief is the supreme leader and organizer that hopefully keeps everybody safe, healthy, and prospering, even amid change and conflict. The chief is the one person accountable for everything, good and bad.

Product Manager as Chief
In many organizations, the product or brand manager is made to be the de facto chief of the product or service village. Think of the arrangement to be more of a central hub in a hub and spoke arrangement that keeps the business flowing around that product or brand. In smaller companies or startups the founder is often this chief.

Worry Might be the Chief’s Biggest Product

image of hub and spoke arrangement for Delightability blog postBut, talk to any product manager in those sorts of arrangements (if you are able to) and you’ll discover that they’re running the busy program and don’t have much time for anything, let alone your conversation. They simply have to worry about everything and everywhere. In many innovation cultures they are also expected to be thought leaders as well as the protective visionary that understands all of the nuances and continuous changes in the business landscape and customer ecosystem. It’s daunting and exhausting, rife with employee burnout, outright failure, and lost potential for employees, organization, and customer alike. If you have been a product manager or worked closely with one, you know what I’m talking about. The to-do list always exceeds the to-done list by a factor of 10 or more. And, worse, few seem to understand or care because they too are running some version of the busy program. In Switch vernacular, this isn’t so much of a people problem as it is a situation problem. The good news is that this is a solvable problem.

It’s time to spark a new conversation

If you’d like to change this, you need to spark a new conversation in your organization. Here is some thinking to accompany you. Any improvement you make to a customer’s experience can be force fit into one of four categories as shown in the figure at the top of this article, namely:

  • more relevant communications
  • improved customer thinking
  • organizational readiness
  • better product and service interactions

If you have my book, The Experience Design Blueprint, reference Figure 7.9 in Ch 7: Improving the Journey. So, your organization needs to build competencies in each of these areas. Expecting all of this to fall on the shoulders of one person is wishful thinking, but chances are it isn’t producing very good results.

Benefits of distributed leadership

Formalizing leadership across the 4 competencies will improve the performance of your product manager. It will increase the firms absorptive capacity, improve the organization’s overall performance, empower employees, and enable the organization and brand to better connect with its intended audiences.

But, that isn’t the only power of the levers. They also serve as a system of checks and balances. After all, you can’t have more relevant communications or better product and service interactions if you don’t have improved customer thinking. And, if your organization isn’t ready or up to the task, then better product and service interactions or more relevant communications will never actually materialize.

The 4 Action Levers give you a way to do mental bookkeeping for making improvements in the areas of more relevant communications, improved customer thinking, organizational readiness, and better product and service interactions.

Compare this to the act of cleaning a four room house by moving all of the mess into one of the rooms. You’ve only shifted the problem temporarily. If you visit the affected room, you’ll notice the problem straight away. If you know classical physics then you also know Newton’s third law states that for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. That is an axiom that applies here. If you invest in activities behind one of the action levers then realize the other levers will be affected, too.

image of lever to gain mechanical advantage - Delightability blog postWhy the Metaphor of Lever
Lever is an intentionally chosen word because with a lever, you amplify a small input force to produce a larger output force. It is a simple machine to gain mechanical advantage. With customer experiences, we can invest small actions into better understanding customers and gain a greater output of Improved Customer Thinking.

Use the 4 Action Levers to identify projects and programs that aim to improve the organization’s ability to deliver more remarkable products and services, build more authentic relationships, and communicate more effectively with intended audiences.

  • Improved Customer Thinking –  Who are the audiences you are concerned with today and in the near future? What do you want them to think, feel, do and remember? Remember audiences can be internal or external to the organization. See related post Customer Schmustomer: Audience Schmaudience. See Project Ideas.
  • More Relevant Communications – What are the communications requirements across initiatives, time, and channels to authentically connect with your intended audiences? Remember that communications also includes internal communications. See Project Ideas.
  • Better Product & Service Interactions –  What are the intended experiences you want your audiences to have over time when dealing with your organization? See Project Ideas.
  • Organizational Readiness – Customer experiences and journeys don’t happen in a vacuum. Organizations must be ready to interact with customers and also be mindful of the behind the scenes operational requirements. What will be needed to get and keep others ready inside and beyond the organization? See Project Ideas.

image of zen stacked rocks for balance and good luck and leading the way - Delightability blog postConcentrate improvements in any one area and you have the potential to make incremental improvements.  But, synchronize improvements in each area and you have the potential to engage employees, create remarkable customer experiences, and smooth your operation. Do this correctly and you’ll still have time to leave early on Fridays, or work less each day as companies in Sweden have recently elected to do.

Recipe #28: Find the Critical to Executions

Reflect on your current and past execution gaps that prevented your organization from being ready to deliver remarkable experiences. As you go forward intentionally designing customer journeys, note what will be required in order to close the execution gaps. These comprise your list of CTEs: critical to execution. As you explore new projects and programs make CTEs part of your organization’s customer experience vernacular.

about the author

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. He authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.  The models in the Experience Design BLUEPRINT are equally relevant to organizations of all types and sizes including start-up entrepreneurs, nonprofits, for-profits, and government.

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

Acceptable Discomfort is Better than None

Acceptable Discomfort is Better than Nonemonster puppet with strings - acceptable discomfort blog post - delightability
Acceptable discomfort is what you tolerate in the spirit of moving forward. In matters of work it might be about a launch, or an initiative. Closer to home it may be about vacationing or home projects on the way to growing old together. Think about the alternative. What if you halted forward progress at each step where you had some discomfort? You would become a puppet master of inaction.

If a particular issue or item is too uncomfortable, then ask yourself why. What does this matter so much to me? Is it so important that you should halt progress? Often, you’ll find that it is more important to move forward than to declare a shutdown. Remember, perfection is the enemy of good enough.

puppet with strings - acceptable discomfort blog post - delightabilityAcceptance does have ramifications, however. It means you might not get to vote on each item, every time. It means you won’t be able to inspect every nail driven, every line of code, every written word. You won’t review every spoken promise and supervise all interactions. It also means that decisions don’t get undecided when somebody on the team voices dissent. It means you’ll move forward even when you don’t have perfect information. And, you’ll likely do so at a pace that is too fast for complete comfort. You’ll trust where previously, you didn’t. But, it’s all going to be OK.

bridge to progress - acceptable discomfort blog post - delightabilityIf we didn’t have acceptable discomfort there would be little progress. Think about the project that never completes, the product that never launches, or the organization that spits and sputters like an old junky engine. Think of the U.S. Congress and the bickering and obstruction that halts human progress and retards the economy.

You’ll get far more done together if you embrace the notion of acceptable discomfort. And, the feelings you’ll share when you reach your destination together will be far better than the feelings you’ll have with inaction.

about the author

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. His latest book project is l’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow.

Connect with Greg on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

small linkedin iconsmall facebook iconsmall twitter icon

 

Greg also authored, The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.  Exercises and mental models in the book will build your confidence in envisioning better possibilities and your competence in making them come true. Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint, that pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 7: Improving the Journey
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight
  • Chapter 15: From Argh to Aha!

See a book summary. Read the book reviews on Amazon. Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.

5 Lessons: Picking Up Passengers on the Train of Progress

Here is the situation. You’ve got some place you’d like to be; a destination yet to be realized. Progress, a big change initiative, the launch of a product or service. Whether you’re the chair, the chief, the executive director, product manager, board member, or some other concerned change maker, you acknowledge you’re not going to get everybody to the destination all by yourself. You’ll need other people to get on board and participate.

Here are 5 lessons to master so that you can all reach the desired destination together.

  1. high speed train in germany - gregory olson - delightabilityOnboarding is Essential

Assuming you all know the destination (that is another article) you’ll be picking up passengers (employees, vendors, partners, members, volunteers, etc.) at various stops. Be mindful that not everyone will be at the same level of awareness. Slow down and help people get on board. The recently boarded are not as familiar. Take time to show them around. You want to avoid cognitive overload, the proverbial drinking from the firehouse, where little is retained. Provide people with communication tools that allow them to slowly get immersed. See the related blog post about transfer and absorption value as key to better storytelling.

be smooth like a washing machine spin cycle - gregory olson - delightability

  1. Maintain Smooth

As you journey together toward your destination, pace and rhythm are key. You don’t want passengers to get thrown off as you approach a corner too fast. You also don’t want a sputtering, inefficient engine. Emulate the smoothness of your washing machine’s spin cycle. In your organization you can establish operating mechanisms to keep things running more smoothly. Like the garbage service or doing laundry at home, operating mechanisms create a regular cycle to keep things from piling up or from being neglected. You’ll retain more passengers on your journey if you avoid abrupt changes, extremes, and neglect. Even a comprehensive strategy pivot can be smooth when thoughtfully handled.

  1. the playground is where ideas live - gregory olson - delightabilityKeep Synchronized

Some people will want to go faster. Others will think the journey is far too slow. Listen to both concerns. Consider ideas can come from anywhere, even the newest passenger. Inviting others to share ideas could shift your perspective for the better. Create a space for that conversation to happen. I call this the playground and it represents the idea zone. Read more about the 3 psychological zones in Ch 12. Remember, ideas are not judged in the playground and not all ideas will advance. But, it is still important for people to have a voice, be respected, listened to, and for their ideas to be considered at an appropriate time. Establish an operating mechanism to screen and advance ideas.

  1. tornadoDon’t Ignore Conditions

There may be cattle on the tracks, a bridge out ahead or another hazard. Trains encounter changing conditions and hazards; so does your organization. Establishing “sensors in the ground” (see Ch 8) can serve as your early warning system, like seismometers that detect shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates. The journey will be smoother for all aboard if you confront reality and don’t pretend your passengers will be unaffected.

  1. diversity as seen through shoes - gregory olson - delightabilityBe Mindful of the Audience

All passengers are not created equally. And, not all of the stakeholders to your organization are either. The women in car number 27 might need a little extra assistance. Same with employee X or customer Y or supplier Z. When we create average experiences for everybody we are destined to be supplanted by somebody more thoughtful to individuals needs and context. Case in point, would you like to wait for a yellow cab or message Uber?

Whether your train of progress is literal or figurative you can go further and reach your destination if you pay attention to these 5 lessons for implementing change. Ignore them and you may might find yourself navigating the journey alone or more likely stuck in a train that never leaves the station.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint that especially pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 7: Improving the Journey
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery Systems
  • Chapter 12: The Three Psychological Zones

See a book summary. Read the book reviews on Amazon. Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor, Oikocredit International.

Inaction is not the Same as Voting NO

image of girl taking ball and going home for taking action blog post - DelightabilityInaction is not the Same as Voting NO
“Waa! Waa! I’m taking my ball and I’m going home. I don’t want to play anymore.” Sounds pretty childish right?

This same childish behavior manifests itself in adulthood, too. It permeates board rooms, teams of all shapes and sizes, nonprofits, for-profits and government alike. You might reflect on the bickering and inaction of the U.S. Congress or ministers and members of Parliament.

It is as though we all want line-item veto and full compliance with
our will and our wants. If we don’t get it then we take our ball and
leave the playground. We mentally vacate. In essence, we are
willing to watch the proverbial glass fall off the counter. We don’t
reach for it in an attempt to save it. And, when it crashes we look
away as others pick up the broken pieces. This is actually worse
than the bystander effect.

hummingbird sitting idle for taking action blog post - DelightabilityEach of us might think that merely being a passive spectator is not the same egregious action of literally pushing the glass off the counter. You might hear yourself saying, “I didn’t push it. I was merely observing.” Yeah, but you didn’t help it either. Actually, your actions, or inaction rather, might possibly have accelerated its crashing descent. In the eyes of a courtroom, you might be found guilty of complicity. In the eyes of humanity, though, you are guilty of something far worse. You may be put in an increasingly irrelevant category of the parasitic do-nothing.

Just like the child that doesn’t get their way, in adulthood you’ll not
get your way most of the time, either. Part of being a good citizen,
neighbor, leader, follower, team member, etc., is moving forward
image of glass half full for taking action blog post - Delightabilitytogether even when you don’t necessarily agree on every nuance. That is called progress. The annuals of human civilization and social progress are marked with such moments of acceptable discomfort. You can either actively participate or apathetically resign yourself, letting others define your future. Your inaction is not the same as your active voice, saying yes or no.

So, get out of your easy chair and get behind something that matters. Whether it is in your neighborhood, school, work, nonprofit, local election or national election. And, if you disagree, actually take a stand and vote no. Don’t be the do-nothing. We all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and our collective community. There are already enough broken glasses everywhere you look. Rather than adding more, let’s save them, and then let’s work together to fill them.

About the Author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Exercises and mental models in the book will build your confidence and competence in envisioning better possibilities and then making them come true, whether you are working alone or alongside a team. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 1: What Makes and Experience?
  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 7: Improving the Journey
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

Focus Focus or Hocus Pocus

From Chapter 10: Bees and Raccoons in, The Experience Design Blueprint: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations.

Focus Focus or Hocus Pocus

copyright bee image from The Experience Design Blueprint by Gregory OlsonAn illusion leaders often face is that people will heroically do the impossible while under continued pressure. The schedule never relaxes and more is piled on until finally bodies give out and minds fatigue. Bees are industrious, attentive animals but you won’t see a bee pulling an all-nighter. They work and then they rest. I’m not sure if they recreate like cats and crows, but it’s interesting to ponder what that might look like. The point is that nature always eventually wins. If you doubt that revisit the section on the wheel of life.

A balanced life doesn’t solely benefit the individuals concerned with maintaining a work life balance; it helps the organization, too. A healthy balance in the organization provides the capacity to:

  • consider and pursue strategic alternatives
  • form and then nurture effective partnerships
  • recruit and cultivate talent
  • research new capabilities
  • explore new opportunities
  • solve nagging old problems
  • develop and then support products and services
  • provide customers with remarkable experiences
  • be thoughtful in making and keeping promises to the various stakeholders

Similar to an individual, if your organization pursues too much with too little, performance suffers. The signs become apparent if you look for them. Execution gaps appear, conversations are not held, scheduled dates slip, personnel leave in search of better neighborhoods, customers defect, etc.

“One cannot manage too many affairs: like pumpkins in the water, one pops up while you try to hold down the other.” Chinese Proverb

If you’ve ever returned from a tradeshow, event, customer visit or vacation to find everybody too busy to hear what you’ve learned, then your firm probably lacks absorptive capacity. Simply put, the mental gas tank is full and cannot take in or effectively make use of additional information, no matter its significance. This is sad and all too common.

Slow Down in Order to Speed Up

Sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. Bees returning to the colony to perform their waggle dance are not ignored, cast aside because of an imminent release, upcoming event, or looming earnings call. People in your organization should not be ignored either, but they are routinely set aside, held up, marginalized, or encouraged to remain silent. This isn’t likely to be formalized, but recognize that it occurs.

No matter if your organization has 10, 100, 1000, 10,000, or 100,000 people, imagine the potential for all of those people to perform better together, always leaving a little time for an informative and effective bee disco.

Recipe #42: Practice Self Reflection

Reflect on your own style. Ask yourself if you are more like the conjurer that chants, “hocus pocus” before you pile more on the organization, or if you’re mindful of results and can be heard chanting, though sometimes silently, “focus, focus.” So, why do we struggle so much when all of this seems to be making sense? For that, let’s turn to Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall.

About the Author

book image of The Experience Design Blueprint from Gregory James Olson - DelightabilityGregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. This excerpt is part of Chapter 10: Bees and Raccoons. If your organization wants to improve its innovation culture and empower high performing teams, then you owe it to yourself to read this chapter. Read the full color print edition or on any Kindle Reader App supported device using the free Kindle Reader application. Already read this book? Thank you, now learn more about Delightability or connect with Gregory on social media.

An Open Letter to City Leaders in the World Community

image of Delightability visiting Toronto - all rights reserved - Gregory Olson

Dear Leader,

Image of City for Open Letter to City - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT by Gregory Olson

As a Mayor, City Manager, or member of City Council you have a special duty that you’re likely ill prepared for. It isn’t running a campaign, debating hot topics like climate change and minimum wage, or being a good partner to those managing city departments and resources. No, those are traditional and evergreen requirements, necessary but, insufficient to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding public.

Image of Crosswalk for Open Letter to City - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT by Gregory Olson

You see, you’re not so much as managing and governing what is these days as you are expected to be concerned with the future of the city. This means innovation. This means growth. It means economic prosperity for every household. This means a safety net for those that need it, whether their home is ablaze, they are a victim of crime, a super storm, or temporarily rendered irrelevant by a divided economy that puts corporate profits ahead of people and the community you govern. It means anticipating what’s next and being proactive, even if you won’t be the direct beneficiary or in office at the time of implementation.

Your city thrives when all people do better. It is up to you to put people and communities first.  This will take courage, loads of courage, especially if people with an alternative agenda helped put you in office. Part of your job is managing multiple stakeholders that don’t have goal congruence. You’ll need to manage expectations between competing stakeholders. Getting it right will take more conversations with more people and continued learning on your part.

Image of German City for Open Letter to City - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT by Gregory Olson

You need to think and act like a designer, a futurist, and a humanist. You’ll need to adopt new mental models and abandon thinking that trapped your predecessors in a bridled past. But, unfortunately it is likely that you’re poorly trained for these new roles. You might be thinking at this point, “I didn’t sign up for this. I’m busy. That is not my job.” If this is what you think, then you would be wrong.

Rise to the occasion, adopt your new badge of courage, and let’s get to work. There is much potential for your city and I have the confidence that you can do good things, you simply need a little help. I’m going to provide some help, some encouragement, and inspiration. There are plenty of people in your own city that can help, too. They are your co-designers, the people that can help write the story history will one day retell. You’ll need to tap into their energy, capacity, and willingness to get involved in civic matters. That is a challenge we’ll come back to later.

Image of German City for Open Letter to City - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT by Gregory Olson

I’ve written The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. It’s a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. There are people working, living, recreating, and passing through your city right now. You and your colleagues have a large task at hand, namely designing better experiences for these people. But, most likely you aren’t even on the same page when it comes to defining an experience, let alone making them come true.

This is the first letter you’ve received from me, but it won’t be the last. I’ll be sharing more. You can get a head start by reading my book. I’m happy to speak with you and members of your extended team. All reasonable people want vibrant, sustainable cities full of happy people. Let’s make that happen.

With sincerity and optimism,
Gregory Olson (reach me on twitter at @fordoers)

About the Author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book to spark conversations among global citizens.  In a brighter future, we all live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Visit Press-Kit to learn more.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory also serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

Learn Like a Featherless Crow and You Will be Ready to Fly

crow image painted on wood - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT - DelightabilityThere is a story I share in my book about a couple of tiny featherless crows that were nudged from the nest, probably prematurely. After a few mishaps and related rescues over the course of several days, I finally witnessed some unusual activity in the far corner of my yard. The little, newly feathered crows were hopping up the bank onto progressively higher rocks, and then jumping off the ledge at the top, honing their flying skills as gravity played its part. It was quite a treasure to see the featherless birds mature and eventually turn their clunky sky jumps into masterful flight. There is a lesson for humans here.

Practice Makes Perfect, Not Training

Like baby crows, we need to practice those things we want to become more proficient in. Training alone seldom provides the opportunity for mastery. Imagine a baby crow sitting through the crow equivalent of flight instruction. Without the hours spent flying (or trying) the real world lessons would come slowly, if ever. Every baby crow starts out a failure, but with much potential for flight.

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” Abraham Lincoln 16th President of the United States, (1809 to 1865)

Hopefully, as you embark on the 2nd half of the year, you begin practicing like a determined featherless crow. Soon, you’ll be flying about wondering why you took so long to begin.

5 Actions for Business Leaders to Help the Company AND the Economy

This Pesky World of Work Has Changed

The world of work has changed and it’s not coming back as we once knew it. Whether you are the chief people officer at the top, leading a department, or forging the way forward as an individual contributor, you’ve by now realized the new normal is not like the last normal.

Forces Beyond Your Control

Some forces acting on your organization are out of your control: industry consolidation, globalization, public policies of all sorts, advances in technology, a flight to values, demand for increased transparency, distrust of government and banks and cable monopolies, shifting workforce demographics, etc.

But, this doesn’t mean you are powerless, ineffective, and should sit on the sidelines. Of course, you could choose to do nothing. But, that usually isn’t a very good option for getting a desirable outcome. Your proverbial ship will eventually hit the reef ahead if you don’t veer port or starboard. You must take action. The annals of company histories are chock full of such victims that witnessed innovation from the sidelines. The marketplace is an unforgiving lover; your’e hot when your’e hot, and forgotten when you’re not. Size or tenure do not insulate you from marketplace realities.

Some Sobering Facts:

  • companies are running leaner than ever
  • employees feel insecure and overworked
  • work is increasingly specialized
  • leaders are forced to do more with less
  • employee engagement has declined and loyalty has evaporated in both directions

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Don’t look to the media, politicians, and economist for answers. You won’t find relevant prescriptions there. What you will find is self serving rhetoric bordering on sensationalism and focused on getting somebody elected or re-elected. They each have an agenda that is unlike yours and certainly not like your customers, employees, vendors, partners, or communities you occupy. The correct prescription is to do what is right for the business and all of its stakeholders. So, what the hell is a business leader to do?

Here are 5 Actions Business Leaders Can Initiate Now

If you are a leader by committing to these 5 actions, you will help your company and the economy at the same time. If you are not the business leader you don’t have to sit on the sidelines while your organization unravels. Consider today the “elbow nudge the leader at work day.” For additional clarity on any of the following 5 actions see the slideshare.net presentation below or my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healther Organizations. Pay particular attention to Chapter 14: The World of Work Has Changed.

  1. Create an innovation neighborhood. Stock it, in part, with outside entrepreneurs. Add fractional talent that you cannot attract for a job, but would still like to work with your organization. Shake things up by adding “entrepreneur seasoning.”
  2. Recognize and abolish your internal innovation hurdle (IIH). It’s really ok that your next business opportunity may only be a $ 20 million business as opposed to a $ 1 billion business. Small is the new big – get used to it and get good at it or you’ll be a Berlin Wall remnant.
  3. Treat people with dignity and respect . Add people to give current employees more capacity. Stop fear mongering tactics, period. Reduce executive pay before shedding employees upon bad news. The raving fans you build start inside your own organization. You are at a disadvantage if you don’t start there.
  4. Adapt your non-discriminatory policy to include the unemployed and especially the long term unemployed and veterans. Reprimand or fire those that break the policy. Go for diversity in everything. If everybody inside your organization looks and acts the same – your organization’s unwinding has already begun.
  5. Be more collaborative by sponsoring, using the talent within, and becoming a resident of co-working spaces.

Need help with any of these or want to discuss? Please get in touch.

3 Easy Lessons from a Home Furnishings Company that Gives a Damn about the Customer Experience

With so many broken and bad experiences and leaders indifferent to correct them, it is truly refreshing when you encounter an organization that breaks free from the herd. I recently encountered, or rather re-encountered, an organization that left me with a very positive brand aftertaste.

Although I’ve walked, biked, and driven by the Room&Board home furnishings store several, OK – hundreds of times, since its opening in my Seattle neighborhood, I’ve never given it much notice. This is partly because I miss the Barnes and Noble bookstore that previously occupied the space, but mostly because I already have a house stuffed full of furniture.

room and board catalog cover image

My numbness to their brand recently began to take shape though. After skimming through their catalog I received in the mail, I landed on the back page. It was here, that made all of the difference. It takes a special kind of company to offer a guarantee that doesn’t expire with hard time bound rules. Room&Board is such a special company. I’d be inclined to visit the store when I find myself in furniture shopping mode again. Here is why:

Our Guarantee
When you shop with Room & Board, you’re also buying the assurance that we’ll be here if you need us. There are no strict, time-limited warranties. We stand behind the quality of our products and the prices we charge. If you’re not completely satisfied with your purchase or any part of your experience, just let us know. We’re here to help.”

room and board catalog back page guarantee image

On the website they go on to explain, “We know that buying furniture for your home is more than just a financial decision. It’s also an emotional investment. From the first sketch to the final product, we work directly with the people who build our furniture, eliminating the middleman and saving you from unnecessary mark-ups. These relationships allow us to bring you the perfect combination of quality materials, craftsmanship, design and price.”

There are 3 immediate lessons to take away from this that you can apply to your own organization:

  1. Some interactions will have more impact than others. For me in this instance, it was a message on the back of a catalog received in the mail. Do you know which touchpoints and channels matter the most to your customers and prospects?
  2. Purchasing decisions are more complex than being purely economic. An important dimension to purchasing decisions is emotion. Room&Board recognizes that customers are making an emotional investment. Do your customer interactions and communications reflect the three dimensions of value (emotional, functional, economic) or are they stuck in a pattern that still believes customers are inherently ruled by logic and reason?
  3. A customer experience philosophy can guide an organizations response, communications, product roadmap, strategy, operations, etc. Does your organization have such a customer centered philosophy to guide you, or are you solely ruled by profits, margins, growth, and share price?

Please reflect on these lessons and this story, no matter the size, type, or shape of your organization. You are slowly becoming either more or less relevant in world full of customers that continues to reward brands and organizations that give a damn about the customer experience. The size of your organization and tenure do not provide you with any immunity from providing bad or broken experiences.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT

For more guidance and self help read my book or reach out if you’d like some help. We’d love to help you build an enduring brand that matters.

Greg Olson is the author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. See the Book and Author Summary PDF or find the book on Amazon.