Last week the circus was in town, we went; I wish we hadn’t. I knew it was going to be bad when, on the way in, the magic was spoiled by the clown standing outside having a coke and a burger. The tent leaked, the seats we cramped, but the worst thing was that the acts were rubbish. There was an acrobat who did some handstands, a horse rider who did a fancy trot (well she made the horse do it), and a juggler who was good at playing drunk (actually I think he really was smashed so he could get through the monotony of the show).
But worst of all, the whole thing was really expensive. Beef burger rolls were £3, a cup of tea £1.80 and a whirly thing for Matthew, which he claimed he couldn’t do without, was a fiver. It was clear that their purpose was to extract as much money as possible from the audience. They even charged £5 to have a photo taken with a Shetland pony, and yes Matthew needed that too.
A few years ago we were holidaying in Florida and I had the privilege of experiencing Cirqe du Soleil. It was unbelievable. Each act was better than the last: skateboarders, BMX bikers, jugglers, trapeze artists who all performed feats that made the audience gasp. And it cost us a fortune but, strangely, I don’t remember the money, my overriding memory is how quickly the time passed. To me, it was obvious that their purpose was to entertain, be memorable, and be talked about. And I guess they figured that money would look after its-self if they were remarkable.
Right now our economy needs remarkable. We need products that sell globally, businesses that people can be proud to work in, and public services that are the envy of the world. Also I believe people want remarkable in their life; it’s the reason we fall in love, have children, or just go to the movies. And when an organisation provides a fantastic experience, especially when we didn’t expect it, we talk about it, and their reputation grows.
Unfortunately my only remarkable (business transaction) last week was when, Michelle (Clair_michele@yahoo.co.uk), a local caterer made cakes for a course. That’s sad isn’t it? I called my mum to tell her I had a memorable meringue. So how do we get better? We have to start with purpose.
The problem is that the wrong sense of purpose drives the wrong behaviour. Take a simple system like a contact centre. As John Seddon, chief exec of Vanguard, says “people do what you count not what counts.” And because what is typically measured* is calls per hour, talk time and wrap up time (time off the phone) is what is measured the de-facto purpose becomes to do whatever you have to do to get the customers off the phone. An agent can hit his numbers get accolades from his manager whilst at the same time be delivering appalling service. You only have to call BT, British Gas, Sky TV or Vodaphone to experience how it feels to deal with an organisation with a warped sense of purpose.
But the problem of a purpose goes much deeper than contact centres. Our banking system was built on incentive schemes to encourage managers to hit their loan targets. These loans were then bundled up and sold. When they later become toxic they had to be shored up by the banks. At the heart of the banking crisis is poor management thinking, that drove the wrong behaviour. And worst of all they still don’t know what they did wrong, so will likely go on to do the same thing again.
Evidence shows that organisations who define their purpose from the customers perspective service will improve, costs will fall and organisations themselves become remarkable. We have seen this is in housing associations when the purpose is redefined to diagnosing calls correctly, handling and scheduling calls one stop, completing work one stop, doing it quickly and efficiently. In one local council the time to do a repair went from 212 days to 11. The volume of work and costs then fell because the diagnosis was good, the parts were right and tradesmen could complete jobs in one visit. In housing repairs this is the equivalent of doing a quadruple somersault on the trapeze. And according to the customers the transformation was remarkable.
So how to you develop your purpose?
1. Get clear on who the system was set up to serve
a. In housing repairs it’s the tenants
2. Then ask “what are we trying to do for them?”
a. Fix a repair
3. Next “How do they want it done”
a. One stop, quickly, correctly, with no mess and at the most economic cost to the system
4. Now put both pieces of the purpose together
a. Purpose: To Fix a repair, quickly, one stop, correctly, with no mess and at the most economic cost to the system
5. Finally take a measure of how well you achieve your purpose and then get to work fixing the gap.
And though for most folks achieving the above purpose would be good enough, some of you might just want to be remarkable? if so, it’s simple, redefine your purpose; for example “fix repairs” becomes “prevent repairs.” And I don’t know about you, but when I deal with organisations, I’d really like more remarkable in my life.
So what about you? Are you Cirque Du Soleil or cirque du sorry? If the latter, maybe it’s time to redefine your purpose.
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