Business musings

Articles and thoughts about Business Excellence

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Business Excellence  Leadership  Performance Improvement  

Do What You Say You Will Do When You Say You Will Do It

Also known as…


I know, you’re looking at this thinking, “That’s an entirely unmemorable acronym!” and I agree. It’s completely forgettable and unpronounceable in fact! Except, the person who introduced me to this acronym was one of my university lecturers who also happened to be Welsh. So, when he first wrote the acronym on the board, we all assumed he was writing in Welsh! But, for all its superficial forgetableness, the unusual nature of the acronym has enabled me to remember it all these years later.

So why am I introducing dwysywd wysysdi to you now?

On the surface, dwysywd wysywdi looks rather innocuous. What’s the worst that happens if you don’t dwysywd wysywdi? Nothing? No big deal,right? In reality, when you don’t dwysywd wysywdi, it’s rare that nothing happens. Generally a lot happens—but it’s probably not the stuff you want to! From people losing trust in you, to customers walking away, to losing that promotion. Dwysywd wysywdi is a critical skill in all areas of life. (more…)

For my 30th birthday a couple of years ago, my family joined together to give me a TAG Heuer watch, which I absolutely love. From a design and brand perspective, it’s perfect and it makes me smile each and every day—just as good design should.

Sadly however, it has needed to be serviced by TAG Heuer twice under warranty—both for minor faults but still not really what you’d expect from a luxury watch.

Yet, it may surprise you but it’s not the fact that I’ve had to send it back twice that bothers me. No—it’s the fact that when I put it in the post I know that I won’t get it back until around three weeks later. Three weeks! That’s three weeks wearing my old watch which is missing its bezel, has a worn surface, and generally looks very old and tired. Three weeks without my TAG.

Ignoring the fact I shouldn’t have to send it away in the first place, the fact that it takes three weeks to turn around—when the only issue is a minute speck of dust under the glass—is simply unacceptable.

And the strange thing is that, however much you spend on a watch, this situation doesn’t change. Whether you spend £100, £1,000, £10,000 or £100,000 on a Rotary, Breitling, Rolex or Omega, you’re still looking at a 3 week wait—even with next day delivery at both ends!

Maybe the watchmakers expect you to own several expensive watches: “Oh, I’ll just wear my spare Rolex today.” Or maybe they just don’t care.

I suspect, however, that it’s more likely they have simply accepted that this is how it’s always been. Just as sofas normally take 10 weeks to deliver, taking 3 weeks to fix your watch is just the way it is.

But my guess would also be that if they were to assess the value chain through which the watch itself passes, I can’t imagine that it would take a total of more than four hours to complete the work needed to remove said speck of dust…

  • Send postage- and insurance-paid envelope to customer
  • Customer posts watch to service centre with next day delivery
  • Receive watch at centre
  • Assessment of watch carried out
  • Disassemble watch
  • Fix watch
  • Reassemble watch
  • Return watch to customer with next day delivery

However, having experienced TAG Heuer’s online watch status system (which only gives minimal updates at best!), this is my best guess at what actually happens…

  • Send postage- and insurance-paid envelope to customer
  • Customer posts watch to service centre with next day delivery
  • Receive watch at centre
  • Enter watch onto computer system
  • Put watch on shelf
  • Wait a bit
  • Take watch off shelf
  • Assessment of watch carried out
  • Update computer system and order new parts
  • Put watch back on shelf
  • Wait for parts to arrive
  • Take watch off shelf again
  • Disassemble watch
  • Fix watch with new parts
  • Reassemble watch
  • Update computer system again
  • Put watch back on shelf
  • Wait a bit
  • Return watch to customer with next day delivery

To double check my theory, I also had a look at TAG Heuer’s website.  Although a full service has the potential to take longer, even allowing for an hour’s ultrasonic vibration cleaning, I would be surprised if such a service would take longer than four to six hours. And, in my case, no cost estimates were needed nor did TAG need to contact me as the watch was under warranty. I was similarly astounded to read that TAG Heuer’s master watchmakers can “draw from a stock of thousands of items,” suggesting that they don’t even need to order the parts as they are all held on site!

From experience, the fact that even a simple, pressurised battery change takes the same amount of time as a more serious issue also suggests that the length of time involved is not caused by the quantity of work but rather an ineffective process. And, quite possibly, a lack of motivation by the watchmakers concerned to change this situation.

Until such a point in time as the manufacturers concerned decide that lightening quick after sales service is a key differentiator and opportunity to create competitive advantage, it would seem that, as consumers, we’re just going to have to keep that cheap Casio in the draw for emergencies. Or alternatively, wear our spare Rolex, darling!

I’m constantly amazed by the lack of focus that many organisations and managers have on the future. ‘Now’ seems to be such a pressing priority that it is often the only thing thing that really seems to matter. To survive and thrive in the long term however, organisations need to be ambidextrous: able to exploit the now while simultaneously exploring and adapting to the future.

From a human perspective, the Oxford Dictionary defines ambidextrous as being “able to use the right and left hands equally well.” Natural ambidexterity is rare: one study of just under 8,000 children found that only 1.1% were reported as being mixed-handed. However, ambidexterity can confer certain advantages and to be highly skilled in some activities—such as touch typing and playing the piano—it is vital.

Within organisations the situation is not dissimilar. The term organisational ambidexterity was first coined by Professor Robert Duncan in 1976. Typically, organisational ambidexterity refers to the ability of an organisation to balance exploration and exploitation equally well. Again, this is not an easy skill to master—tension exists between these two “fundamentally different learning activities” and each places different demands upon an organisation. (more…)

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Business Excellence  Leadership  


Cars don’t end up on the scrap heap by accident. The rust that started as a couple of specks over the wheel arches. The chipped windscreen that was never repaired or replaced. The engine that hasn’t been serviced in years.

These cars have owners who, like Penny, decided they’d take what they could get from the car now without thinking about the value it could give them in the future—if they just looked after it a little better.

The decision may not have been a conscious one and the driver was happy as long as the car started each morning and got them to where they needed to be. Until, of course, the occasional cough, splutter and engine complaint turned into a hefty bill from the garage or, at worst, a failure to start every single day! A car that once held value and purpose has suddenly become a car useful only for parts.

The thing is, the organisational equivalent of this is happening up and down the country every single day. These organisations still work. They still start up every morning. But check engine lights are on.

The loss of a long-standing and loyal customer. Failure to win a new contract. High staff turnover or increasing absence.

But the organisation still works, so why should anybody worry?

Companies, management teams, and staff sometimes focus so much on starting the business every morning, they forget the organisation itself needs a little bit of tender loving care.

Gradually, the strength of a business model weakens, the market shifts, the brand becomes outdated, and the proposition gets muddied.

Eventually, a competitor draws alongside your rusty, clunky, unreliable business with their sleek, polished and purring motor, and you realise with horror that you can no longer compete. As they pull away, your organisation is smoked and left for dust.

Although Sheldon is known for his pedanticism, in the case of the check engine light he has a point. Several episodes later, Penny says: “The check engine light is fine. It’s still blinking away. It’s the stupid engine that stopped working! It cost me almost $1,200 to fix it!”

Don’t be Penny within your organisation. Decide to keep up with technology. Ensure your strategy and business model remain effective. Make good use of effective performance measures to spot trouble before it starts. Have a strong vision. Invest in your people. Develop your products, service and brand.

Do this and your organisation will remain competitive for the long haul. The Sheldon’s of this world will never be able to say, “Did you once again ignore your check engine light?” and you will never repeat the immortal words of Penny, “No, Mr. smarty-pants. I ignored the fill gas tank light!”

For those of you who use Facebook and Twitter, you’re likely to have come across the story of Lily Robinson, Sainsbury’s and why Tiger Bread should really be called Giraffe Bread. In case this internet sensation happens to have passed you by, allow me to tell you the story.

How a bread changed its spots

Photos of the letter exchange between Lily Robinson and Sainsbury's. The photo on the left shows Lily's letter with her biro drawings at the bottom. The photo on the left shows a child's hand (Lily's) holding a letter from Chris King at Sainsbury's flat against a table.

In May 2011, Lily Robinson (age 3 ½) wrote to Sainsbury’s to ask them:

Why is tiger bread c\alled tiger bread? It should be c\alled giraffe bread.

Chris King (who at the time worked in Sainsbury’s customer service team) replied to Lily saying:

Thanks so much for your letter. I think renaming tiger bread giraffe bread is a brilliant idea – it looks much more like the blotches on a giraffe than the stripes on a tiger, doesn’t it?

It is called tiger bread because the first baker who made it a looong time ago thought it looked stripey like a tiger. Maybe they were a bit silly.

I really liked reading your letter so I thought I would send you a little present. I’ve put a £3 gift card in with this letter, if you ask your mum or dad to take you to Sainsbury’s you could use it to buy some of your own tiger bread (and maybe if mum and dad say its OK you can get some sweeties too!).

Chris King (age 27 & 1/3)

I first came across this exchange via a post on Facebook last week and it certainly made me smile! Personally, I’m a big fan of Sainsbury’s anyway but this only added to my delight. And I am certainly not alone!

The letters first appeared online in June of last year when Lucy Robinson (Lily’s mum) posted to her blog Lily’s letter followed by Sainsbury’s response. The letters quickly went viral both last year and again this month. Bloggers have written about them; the photos have been shared on Facebook literally tens of thousands of times; the topic has trended on Twitter; Sainsbury’s say that “phone calls from customers mentioned the exchange and commended us for this great piece of customer service”; and BBC News, Huffington Post UK, The Sun and This is Money have all run articles about the story. This simple exchange has certainly made a big impact. To such an extent that Sainsbury’s have today announced that they are renaming their Tiger Bread to Giraffe Bread and will be seeing how it goes.

Screen capture of a tweet by @sainsburys. The tweet reads, "We're renaming #tigerbread to #giraffebread thanks to Lily Robinson. RT if you'll be looking for it instore"

A tiger story of my very own

Reading Lily’s story reminded me of one of my own childhood experiences.

I’m sure many of you know and love Kellogg’s Frosties and Tony the Tiger. One of the promotions Kellogg’s ran when I was a child featured a set of four Tony the Tiger water games. By collecting tokens from Kellogg’s packs, you could send off for a small plastic game that you filled with water. To play the game, you pumped buttons at the bottom that caused either small plastic rings or balls to rise through the water, hopefully landing on hooks or in holes that were your targets.

I diligently collected tokens for such a game and sent them off, receiving one of the four games shortly after. So excited was I by this gift that I wrote a letter to Tony the Tiger thanking him for my present. In what was to me a completely surprising twist of events, I then received another parcel with a letter from Kellogg’s saying how pleased they were to hear from me and, as a show of their appreciation, here were the complete set of four games just for me.

Much like Chris King’s response to Lily’s letter, this was such a simple act on Kellogg’s behalf but it is something that has made a big difference. As a child, I was thrilled to receive the games and Tony the Tiger seemed like the kindest tiger in the world. With age came the realisation that it was in fact Kellogg’s who had been thoughtful and generous but the story has stuck. Kellogg’s actions had such an impact on me that this is a story I continue to re-tell more than 20 years later (just ask Matt!).

When Smarties failed to have the answer

In contrast, I read an article last week featuring Lily Robinson’s story in which the author said:

When I mentioned this story to my wife (@Jilltovey) she told me about the time when she, aged 8 or 9, wrote to Smarties to ask them why they had the answer and was sent a curt reply telling her it was “just a marketing slogan”.

Again, the story has lasted.

Simple acts of kindness lead to customer delight

I’m sure we all have our own stories of great customer experience and times when brands have let us down. What has struck me reading about Lily’s story and being reminded of my own however, is how simple the acts are that make a lasting impact. It would be easy to dismiss a child’s letter or to send a stock response (just as Smarties did) but by taking a little time to respond to the child in a way they relate to, Sainsbury’s and Kellogg’s have both not only made two children (and their parents) very happy but have also created lasting memories and stories to tell for years to come. Isn’t this how we should be treating all our customers, both young and old? Reaching out to them where they are and delighting them in every interaction we have?


Officially opened in April 2000, Crocus is an online garden centre offering over 4,000 different plant varieties – the biggest choice of plants in the UK. Loved by both top garden designers and amateurs alike and a regular at the Chelsea Flower Show, Crocus has an enviable reputation and has won many awards, not only for its gardens and plants but also for best practice in business.

Whilst Crocus normally only retails online or through its wholesale outlet, it opens its doors to the public on four special days throughout the year. The first of these days for 2011 was held Saturday just gone (16 April) so I headed off to Windlesham for a girls’ day out.

Crocus Open Day

I had planned to track down some bargain plants and to have a day discovering what goes on behind the scenes but I also found myself being wowed by best practice in business and amazed by just how much we can learn from the logistics involved in growing and selling plants!

Much of what I gleaned was by and large thanks to a tour given by Mark Fane (one of the founders of Crocus) and Mark Straver (a top plantsman and member of the wholesale team).

Learning from plants

Aka process driven excellence

The organic nature of growing and selling plants creates a business model that is inherently dependent upon planning and logistics to an extent that is somewhat unusual within other business contexts. A plant is not a product that can be quickly manufactured and plucked from a shelf in a warehouse. Rather, it is a growing entity that literally has a life of its own, subject to nature and innumerable other factors.

To produce prize winning plants for Chelsea, the growing process must ideally begin almost a year in advance. Throughout the year, plants are juggled between the outdoors and 10 polytunnels each with slightly different climactic conditions (or even sent abroad to Spain as in the case of the 2010 Telegraph Garden) to maintain, speed up or slow down their growth as necessary, ensuring that they are in peak condition for the all important show dates. For the online store and wholesale, stocks must be carefully managed, rare and unusual plant requests sourced from around the world, buying trends predicted in advance and much, much more. To thrive and succeed in this industry, excellence in planning and logistics are an absolute must.

The challenges of Chelsea

Aka innovation and project management

The Chelsea Flower Show itself intensifies this need for excellence and Crocus’ results speak for themselves: in the last 9 years, they have won 3 Best in Shows and 11 gold medals for gardens that they have built and grown plants for.

Project management is vital and Crocus are now in talks with the Telegraph to begin planning their 2012/2013 gardens. In the 20 days running up to the opening of the Chelsea Flower Show, an entire garden (including hard landscaping and fully grown trees) must be built and planted from scratch.

Year on year Crocus perfect and hone their project management skills and develop innovative ways to manage the logistics involved. In April of this year, work began at the Crocus nursery to build the dry stone walls for the Telegraph Garden, ensuring that the sections can simply be transported to Chelsea and pieced together, potentially saving huge amounts of time on building the walls from scratch. Luciano Giubbilei (this year’s Laurent-Perrier garden designer) also visited Crocus to position the trees for his garden in advance, ensuring that they can simply be planted in their desired location at Chelsea and valuable time is not wasted. And this is just the tip of the project management and planning iceberg!

In an article published by the Telegraph, April 2009, Mark Fane described himself as “the control freaks’ control freak” and the author observed that “Those who don’t have Fane’s quasi-military discipline are often seen planting frantically the night before”. It is precisely such planning and discipline that wins awards!

Subject to the elements

Aka disaster contingency planning

Another factor that is intensified and brought into sharp focus by the organic nature of plants is the need for disaster contingency planning. To ensure that Crocus can supply exactly the right quantity of plants in peak condition for the dates of the Chelsea Flower Show, they are currently growing around 8,000-10,000 plants for this year’s show (for a garden requiring 30 specimens of a particular plant, Crocus will grow 100). Any plants not used in the show can be sold to consumers once they are ready.

Crocus also carefully monitor their polytunnels for signs of pests or disease – perils that become more of a problem in a warmer environment. Fans are used to ensure air circulation and at the first signs of any potential problems, action is taken. Any large scale problems of this kind that had not been nipped in the bud early (excuse the pun!) could be disastrous.

For a business that is dependent upon its living, growing products, the discipline of anticipating potential problems and ensuring that contingency plans are either already in place or can be quickly actioned is another absolute must.

Winning awards

Aka end-to-end excellence

And finally, as evidenced by Crocus’ award-winning Chelsea pedigree, Crocus are in the business of creating and delivering excellence. However, their attention to detail doesn’t just start and end with either plants or gardens; rather, it extends throughout their business.

Not long after they started out, Crocus won the Best Commerce Site Award in 2001, beating the likes of In the same year, they won the small business category of the Sunday Telegraph’s @chievement Award, alongside other category winners such as and And more recently, they have also collected a design award for their custom-designed packaging.

Crocus deliver excellence in customer service throughout their shopping experience and are rightly proud of the fact that their return rate is currently under 1%. Whilst their success and reputation are enviable, once you begin to look behind the scenes these results are also understandable. Excellence in business really does make a difference and we could all learn a great deal from the lessons Crocus has to teach us.

To keep in touch with Crocus’ journey to Chelsea, check out their Chelsea Flower Show blog

Update 25 May 2011

More excellent results for Crocus as they are the proud winners of not only two Gold Medals at Chelsea (one each for their two gardens) but also Best in Show!

Photographs of Crocus' Daily Telegraph garden and Laurent-Perrier garden at Chelsea Flower Show 2011

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Business Excellence  Our News  

As an assessor for the Midlands Excellence Awards, one of the perks I received was a complimentary ticket to the Awards ceremony, which I attended last Thursday. It was a great evening, which around 1200 people attended, representing many companies from across the region and beyond.


A variety of awards were given out, ranging from the specialist awards to the main Midlands Excellence Award (which was won by the Hanley Economic Building Society). Congratulations to the Hanley Economic Building Society and to the other companies that were highly commended, re-accredited and also to those organisations that were recognised as Ambassadors of Excellence. The awards represent a huge amount of hard work and resulting improvement by both the companies that won and by all the other companies that entered.

Keynote Speech

James Cracknell was an interesting and amusing keynote speaker as he gave an account of his Olympic experience and his subsequent adventures with Ben Fogle (which you may have seen on television).

The thing that struck me most in James’ speech was his honesty about both his strengths and his weaknesses. He was modest of his own achievements and very self-aware with respect to both himself and his own performance.

One of the observations he made that particularly stayed with me was his admission that his main failure during the Amundsen Omega3 South Pole Race was his inability to admit to the team that he was struggling as they were nearing the end of the race. Within a short race, such as James’ Olympic successes, he observed that it was possible just to push through the pain, whereas in a race the length of the South Pole Race, this just wasn’t physically possible.

Together, the team had agreed to help each other out if they were struggling; whilst this increased the load on the other teammates, it was actually the team that won or lost, not the individual. They were only as strong as their weakest member. James explained that by trying to be strong he had actually weakened the team (and potentially lost the team first place).

I respected his honesty, and also wondered what model of ‘performance’ we use within organisations. Is organisational performance about a sprint to the finish or does organisational performance actually have more in common with competitive team endurance races? I wonder if we have much to learn from these experiences.

Overall, a great night and one that I hope to be able to attend again next year.


Businesses tend to go through periods of change and periods of stability as they grow and develop. Many businesses will be inclined to gravitate around a position of stability once they find what works best, whether this be what works best for their strategy, their products and services, or any other part of the business.

However, the challenge remains that, even if the strategies or solutions a business has employed have been effective, they operate in a world of constant change. As a result, something that used to work won’t necessarily carry on working. Something that works well at the moment will reach a point of needing new strategies and new solutions.

Whilst it can be hard to face the fact that something might not be working as well as it once did, the sooner the reality is faced, the sooner changes can be made to improve the situation and restore your business to its position of excellence.

At the beginning of 2010, could you challenge yourself to take an honest look at your business or department? Is it the best it could be? What could work better? And how can you make your business even better for your staff, your customers and yourself?

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Business Excellence  

Business excellence isn’t about being the ‘perfect’ business. And it isn’t about always getting everything right.

But nor is it accepting and maintaining the status quo.

Rather, business excellence is about the continual striving to develop and improve our businesses, one step at a time.

It is a mindset that says, “Whatever and wherever my business is right now, it can be better, and it will be better.”

And so that’s what we do: we take each element of our business, assess it, and improve it.   We listen to our customers, we listen to our staff, we listen to people in the know, and then we act.

Again, and again, and again.

And the result?business_excellence_image
We have more loyal customers, more involved staff, better products/services, more efficient operations, more awareness of what is going on around us in the market place.

Our businesses start to become stronger, more competitive, better.

That’s real world business excellence!

Posted by Matt Stocker, stored in: Business Excellence  

I recently came across a blog post titled “What if Carlsberg did redundancies?” by Lou Burrows, who, when faced with having to make redundancies at her company, helped her team completely rethink their approach by asking the question “If Carlsberg did redundancies, what would they do?”

Though redundancy is not something that anyone would wish for, by asking the question and looking at what could be possible, it opened up new innovative thought and freedom from previous expectations.

It really got us thinking. It would be like their adverts – somehow it would all be okay, people would get new jobs (probably better ones), they’d get the best looking references in the world, they’d be introduced to their next employer, we’d all manage to stay friends and people would feel happy and confident when they left. Oh yes, and everyone left behind would be fine about the changes. And we’d all have a leaving do together with speeches and music – a real celebration of our time together.

By asking the question, “What if Carlsberg did redundancies…?” they discovered a new benchmark. They managed to provide a somewhat different experience for all involved.

We got to the end of the consultation and, though it was not like a Carlsberg ad, we did manage to get pretty close. That question forced us to think through the problem from a different perspective and to go the extra mile just to see what the possibilities really were in this difficult process.

The Power of the “What if…?”

The question was the tool that unlocked the possibilities. Without the question, people’s pre-existing expectations about the situation would have been the most dominant force.

The question is based upon the ‘truth’ that Carlsberg can make things great, whatever they are. That they can take something ordinary we know and love and create something extraordinary; “probably the best…

By taking something we can engage with and allowing us to disengage the ‘practical realities of life’, it allows us to dream. In the land of Carlsberg anything is possible, and it’s all about you and me.

If Carlsberg made your product or delivered your service, what would they do? How would they take something ordinary and make it extraordinary? How would they excite and engage your customers and give them something to talk about for weeks afterward?

The power of the “Why not…?”

The ‘What if…?” question is only powerful if it is translated into a reality of some kind. Therefore, the next question after ‘What if…? must be “Why not…?”

Well, why can’t you? Why can’t you make what you just dreamed a reality? It’s easy to say to ourselves that it’s just not practical, or that no-one else does it, but seriously, why not?

Delivering a leading edge product or service may just give you the market edge. Or in the case of Lou Burrows, delivering redundancies with a difference meant that a tough situation was made a little bit kinder. Although you may not be able to create ‘the best’ or fully deliver your “What if…?” dreams, what if we all tried to get that little bit closer?