Business musings

Articles and thoughts about Twitter

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Leadership  Psychology  

A little while ago, I wrote about the need to recognise that every organisation is—in reality—the sum of its people and their individual acts. Recently, I came across a presentation by Joe Leech (User Experience Director of cxpartners) that offered some great insights—albeit from a rather different field.

Entitled Using UX to change company culture, the presentation is focused on web design and the problems of being non-customer focused but, broadly, the same challenges and principles apply to becoming people focused. In the second half of the presentation, Joe offers three suggestions on “what to do” to change company culture; I’ve adopted and built upon these here.

Image shows a screen grab from the final slide of Joe Leech's presentation. The text reads, "Encourage empathy. Humanise your words and approach. Tell stories." The words empathy, humanise and stories are highlighted in blue text, rather than black.

1. Encourage empathy

First and foremost, to truly understand your organisation, you need to empathise with people: employees, customers, partners, suppliers, shareholders and more. Put yourself in their shoes and experience the organisation from their perspective. What works really well and where might there be frustrations? How does your experience of the organisation change when viewed from their standpoint?

Tools such as empathy mapping can help, as can stakeholder engagement. Even when you feel you have a good understanding of a given person’s experience, it is often helpful to ask individuals for their views. Matt and I frequently encourage stakeholder engagement in our client projects and find that sometimes the answers can be surprising. In any empathic exercise, be prepared to really listen, be open minded and put aside any preconceptions you may have. Not only does this foster greater honesty but it also ensures you see the situation as it really is.

In July 2003, IBM conducted what has become known as their Values Jam: a three-day discussion via the corporate intranet about the company’s values. To begin, the comments given by employees were “disturbingly dissonant” and 24 hours in, “at least one senior executive wanted to pull the plug.” Thankfully, Sam Palmisano, CEO at the time, wouldn’t hear of it. To have pulled the plug would have been to deny the reality of employee experience and to ignore valid criticism. Instead, Palmisano listened, empathised and immediately made changes. And it seems to have worked: during Palmisano’s tenure, IBM experienced 21% annual growth in earnings per share and increased its market capitalization to $218 billion.

2. Humanise your words and approach

Rather than focusing on targets, percentages, quotas and the numbers, take time to focus on people. In Playing for keeps (which largely inspired my previous article), Frederick Harmon gives the example of a sales manager’s performance appraisal. Typically such appraisals are focused on measuring performance against numbers but Harmon instead asks:

What if her boss went beyond the numbers? What if he asked her to think about which of her recurring acts had the most power to increase profit? What if he then asked her to find ways to add more value to the way she and her team carried out each of those critical acts? What if they worked out ways together to measure her progress? What if he then regularly reviewed that progress in addition to her numbers every month? Think of the impact on her performance.

In his presentation, Joe Leech also gives a brilliant example from Jack Dorsey (co-founder of both Twitter and Square) who, when asked by Square’s newest Director, Howard Schultz, “Why do you all call your customers ‘users‘?” honestly answered, “I don’t know. We’ve always called them that.” Jack then went on to write a letter to his team explaining that they would be removing the term ‘users’ from their vocabulary and that it should be replaced with ‘customers’ or the more specific ‘buyers’ and ‘sellers’. He writes:

While it might be convenient, “users” is a rather passive and abstract word. No one wants to be thought of as a “user” (or “consumer” for that matter). I certainly don’t. And I wouldn’t consider my mom a “user” either, she’s my mom. The word “user” abstracts the actual individual. This may seem like a small and insignificant detail that doesn’t matter, but the vernacular and words we use here at Square set a very strong and subtle tone for everything we do.

Jack even goes so far as to end with, “If I ever say the word “user” again, immediately charge me $140” (emphasis his).

3. Tell stories

Story telling is a powerful tool to humanise any aspect of your organisation. The quote from Playing for keeps with which I began my last article is a story. It’s a story about the individual acts that together influence next month’s financial statement.

Anecdotes are stories. The tales that are shared over coffee about the latest conversation with a supplier or the most recent email from a colleague can be surprisingly informative. They are also a great way to share your own experience and can provide unexpected business benefit.

In an HBR webinar, Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland shared the example of the call center of a bank which, in an effort to minimise “wasted time,” introduced “non-overlapping coffee breaks” to limit “personal contact and ‘non-essential’ communication.” Rather than bringing benefit, this initiative instead had an adverse effect. Unexpectedly, Pentland’s research team were able to demonstrate that shared coffee breaks allowed employees to disseminate important information about their experiences, which, in turn, enabled staff to improve their performance. As a result, the bank reintroduced overlapping breaks and “saw improved call-handling time, which translated into $15 million per year of savings.” In Pentland’s words:

Informal communication and the exchange of tacit information and best practices proved more valuable than formal team meetings, rules, and incentives.

Stories can also be used with effect in other ways. For example, what does your annual state of the nation report look like? Is it a series of mind-numbing numbers: “Customer complaints have decreased by 20%. Competitors have gained 5% market share. In the next year, we will be increasing departmental efficiency by 16%”? How much more engaging would this presentation be if you instead told a series of stories to illustrate and explain?

In his presentation, Leech gives the example of telling a customer story. Stories are great for understanding your customers and really help you to engage with their needs and situation.

Image shows a screen grab from Joe Leech's presentation. On the left is a photo of a young man with brown hair that looks as though it was taken with a webcam. To the right, a speech bubble shows the words, "I'm a new Dad, my girlfriend has just had a baby. We're trying to buy our first home but we can't get credit. I can't even get a credit card."

Simple stories (such as that illustrated by Leech) are a fantastic place to start but if you want to build a more detailed story, personas can enable a deeper understanding. Stories and personas provide you with a human reference point against which to answer questions such as, “Would this encourage Tony to buy?” or “Will Jill find this easy to use?”.

Since the dawn of man, stories have been a highly effective communication tool—they are easy to remember, evocative, descriptive and empathic. They bring a subject alive and ensure that you talk about real people and real life situations. Increasingly, stories are emerging as a management discipline and, for some, storytelling is seen as a key leadership competency for the 21st century.

Over to you

How could you further humanise your organisation? Your business is already its people but do you see it that way? Are you distracted by the numbers, stuck in a language rut or fearful of hearing what others really want to say?

I’ve offered three suggestions here but there will be many more approaches that you could take—I’m sure you’ll even have ideas of your own. Today, dare to open your eyes and to really see the people around you. Who knows what you’ll find—you may just uncover the true source of your organisation’s potential.

Posted by Debbie Stocker, stored in: Our News  

Three weeks ago today, we were thrilled when Edward’s Trust were announced as one of the winners of the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network’s #lovemycharity competition.

Do you recognise one of the faces in the photo? Yes, I’m the one on the left! Also pictured (clockwise from left) are Neil Thorogood, Stephanie Bradbury, Nathan Weekes and Clare Martin—just a few of the team with whom we have been working on strategic development.

The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network had asked voluntary organisations to tweet @GdnVoluntary with the hashtag #lovemycharity and a photo of an individual or team holding a white board or placard explaining why they love the voluntary sector. By connecting this community through visual social media, the Voluntary Sector Network “hoped to raise awareness of the importance of conversation within this vital sector.”

Matt and I have been extremely privileged to work with Edward’s Trust over the last three years and, more intensively, since March of this year. We are proud to support both the voluntary sector and Edward’s Trust and thoroughly agree that helping others helps us all! Voluntary organisations have a wide reaching impact, not only in benefiting those they serve but also in the ripple effect they have upon those who work with and support them and, in turn, people in their circle of influence.

Matt and I have certainly grown through our work with Edward’s Trust and, as an organisation, they have grown too. We are looking forward to sharing more about the work we have been doing with Edward’s Trust over the coming months, so continue to watch this space!

Edward’s Trust supports people facing loss and surviving bereavement. Primarily, they offer holistic bereavement care within the West Midlands region for anyone affected by the death of a child aged 18 or under; any parent affected by the death of their own son or daughter (whatever the age of their child); and children aged 4 to 18 years who are bereaved of a sibling, parent or significant carer. They are also committed to raising awareness, changing attitudes and encouraging appropriate responses to dying, death and bereavement. To find out more about the charity, visit or follow them on Twitter @Edwardstrust

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?


Browsing Twitter yesterday, I happened across a tweet that intrigued me.
Screen capture of a tweet by @lucgaloppin. The tweet reads, "Simplicity often lies at the other side of complexity (Eric Berlow Video on"
Following the trail, I found myself at TED watching a video of a short talk given by Eric Berlow. An ecological networks scientist, Eric approaches problems with a network or systems perspective to connect the dots amongst problems, concepts, people, projects and more.

In a highly succinct and lucid talk, Berlow demonstrates that complex doesn’t always equal complicated and shows how visualising vastly complex situations, systems and connections can actually lead to surprisingly simple answers and insights. He even distilles and crystallises an infamous Powerpoint slide that was designed to portray the complexity of American military strategy in Afghanistan and of which General Stanley A. McChrystal is said to have remarked, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war!”

If you have a spare 3 minutes (the talk really is that short!), I’d really encourage you to watch the video.

For me, the stand out quotes from Berlow were…

The more you step back and embrace complexity, the better chance you have of finding simple answers. And it’s often different than the simple answer you started with.

…Simplicity often lies on the other side of complexity, so for any problem, the more you can zoom out and embrace complexity, the better chance you have of zooming in on the simple details that matter most.

You may be wondering however why I am writing about this on a blog entitled ‘Business Musings’. Well, for me, what Berlow is saying really does apply to business. Matt and I have oftentimes found that the more one steps back and embraces complexity in strategy, marketing, performance improvement and more, the clearer the situation becomes. With complexity also comes an increased likelihood that you will find an answer that delivers the outcomes you are looking for.

Chatting to Matt earlier, he cited the example of sales being a frequent focus of financial objectives and concerns. When targets aren’t being met and a business isn’t growing at the rate you hoped it would be, it’s tempting to assume that you simply need to drive more sales and for your sales people to work harder. Their targets have been set, they must achieve them!

However, this can be a simplistic and naive outlook. In reality, although a failure to reach sales targets could be due to the underperformance of your sales people, there are a whole host of other factors that might be influencing this outcome. It may be that your target market is declining or your market has shifted such that your product or service no longer meets the needs of your audience; a new competitor or a substitute product/service may have appeared in your marketplace making it difficult for you to compete; your marketing may be failing to generate an adequate number of leads or to encourage trust and loyalty to your brand; your branding and positioning may have become outdated or may no longer be relevant to your market; or it could be that your sales targets are in fact inaccurate. And that is just a handful of the factors that could be involved. To paraphrase Berlow’s vocabulary, by focusing only on the sales and finance ‘nodes’ in this situation, you risk missing the fundamental root cause that is in reality your key to success.

In almost all business situations, it’s vital to examine the broader situation, to consider a host of contributing variables, and in the end to hopefully arrive at a clear, accurate and potentially simple solution. Whilst embracing complexity doesn’t necessarily guarantee either success or simplicity, I would personally take complexity over a simple but fatally flawed outlook any day.