Chapter 6: Bringing The Outside In: When You Introduce Employees To The People They Serve, It Unleashes Super-Performance
We all have customers. Whether we serve people inside our organization or outside, we all have people who benefit from our actions. Connecting employees to how those people feel will turbo-charge performance… more than you can do on your own. Here are eight ways to bring the outside in and boost motivation.
By any measure, Groupon, an online voucher business, was a phenomenal success story. Its name was derived from the words ‘group coupon’ when the company was founded in 2008. On its website it featured discounted gift certificates usable at local or national companies. In 2008 Groupon had just one market – in Chicago. Within two years it served more than 250 markets in North America, Europe, Asia and South America and had 35 million registered users. It was floated on the NASDAQ in 2011.
The founder and CEO of Groupon was Andrew Mason. He was ousted in 2013 after losses that prompted a huge slide in the company’s share price and caused fears that business might be unsustainable. On being sacked he wrote to all of his employees. In a searingly candid memo, he told staff why he had just been fired. He wrote:
‘The events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable. You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance… it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.’
Andrew went on to offer advice to the employees of Groupon. He said:
‘If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!’
Start with the customer! Break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness! Here was Andrew Mason regretting losing sight of something that had enabled him to found a business on a bold vision and grow it rapidly into a global success story. It is also a salutary lesson to all leaders. Always put your ‘customer’ first.
But what does it mean to start with the customer? And who, exactly, is your customer? How do you get employees to put the customer at the centre of their thinking? How do you inspire your team to want to deliver excellent service or products?
In all your communication, you need to be providing your followers with meaning. You do this by helping them to connect to activities and things that matter to them. You have to give them a purpose that matters, you have to create an environment in which there is a sense of belonging, and you have to ensure the right rewards and the right work–life balance. All of these things provide meaning and an emotional context for employees. Providing meaningful work makes a big difference to motivation levels.
An old story illustrates what I mean. Three men are found smashing boulders with iron hammers. When asked what they are doing, the first man says, ‘Breaking big rocks into little rocks.’ The second man says, ‘Feeding my family.’ The third man says, ‘Building a cathedral.’
It is the third man who is the most highly motivated, because he’s the one who feels he has a higher purpose – building something where people can come for solace, to dream or to worship. In this way, he was doing something he regarded as hugely important – he was helping others.
No matter where I have worked – in Africa, Europe, the Middle East or the UK, it has always seemed to me that helping others is one of the single most important values in people’s lives. People with this sense of meaning in their working lives are not only happier and more committed, they are actually better workers. How you as a leader provide this meaning, through all of your communication, is crucial to their commitment and your success. Putting your success – the achievement of financial goals – ahead of what they think is important, is a fatal error.
I can never forget work I did with British Airways employees when testing a new management mission statement. The new statement expressed the desire to be the Number One in world travel. In discussion groups around the world with British Airways staff from many different disciplines, they kept telling me that this mission statement meant nothing to them at all. What got them out of bed was the idea that they helped people to experience the joy of travel. Many of them talked about the personal joy they experienced when watching passengers greet their relatives at airports. When we produced a movie showing people meeting friends, relatives and business colleagues at airports around the world, and then showed it to staff, there was seldom a dry eye in the house.