I remember when my grandfather retired many years ago. He had been at the same company for decades. My father, too, worked for one employer for the majority of his career before retiring.
Today, it’s not uncommon to change employers every few years. Millennials especially move around. After all, companies aren’t as loyal to employees as they once were, so it’s only natural that employees’ loyalties have also shifted.
What are the implications of these changes? What should companies do?
“Build a culture of value that consistently greens your own pastures.” -Lee Caraher
Lee Caraher has built several companies, and she’s an expert on Millennials. She argues that it’s important to create long-lasting relationships with your employees even after they leave. In today’s environment, you want them to be raving fans of the organization no matter where they turn up.
I love this philosophy. I followed up with Lee to ask her more about her experience and research into what she calls The Boomerang Principle.
What are Transformational Consumers? How is this changing company strategy?
Transformational Consumers are a massive and growing group of people who see all of life as a series of projects to change their own behavior for the healthier, wealthier and wiser. They know that this behavior change will be hard, but they believe with all their hearts that it’s possible, and they believe that they can change anything about their lives if they can master their own habits and behavior.
So they are constantly on the lookout for products, services and content they think might help. They are early adopters, and they tend to have great influence on the buying behavior of the people around them.
I like to joke that if you have ever been vegan and paleo at different times in your life, you’re probably a Transformational Consumer. Most entrepreneurs are Transformational Consumers. The head of product for Airbnb once told me that they see both their hosts and their guests as Transformational Consumers.
One important takeaway here is that this is not a niche: over 50% of US adult customers we surveyed said that they use digital or real world products several times a week, or more often, in an effort to reach their healthy, wealthy, wise goals.
The power of this framework is that it offers businesses a lens through which to more powerfully understand the real-world journeys their customers are taking as they aspire to live better lives. And that shows you how to increase customer engagement, brand love, loyalty and repeat business, as well as reach new audiences. Once you understand your real-life customers’ real-world journeys, that surfaces limitless opportunities to innovate new products, features, services and even marketing messages and content that remove resistance points and trigger progress along customers’ paths.
Rethink Your Customer
How do companies go about rethinking their customer?
Your customers are not just the people who currently buy your product or your current social media followers. I urge companies to shift to the point of view that their customers are all the people out there who are struggling with the high-level, human problems that the company exists to solve.
Go out into the real world, do customer research, watch how people operate in real life. You can even start this process by just doing some online listening on the blogs and social media sites (not your owned channels) that your audiences frequent online (reddit, etc.).
Your goal is to understand and, ideally, visually map out your customers’ real-world journeys of going from having the problem you exist to solve to no longer having that problem. You need to know what stages they go through along their journey, what gets them stuck and unstuck, where they go to do research when they need to know or find something and what words and phrases they naturally use as they try to reach their goals.
Tell us more about resistance. How do you remove it?
Think about it: Anytime you try to level-up your life, whether it’s trying to reach a weight loss goal, to work out more, or to start a side business or meditate every day, there’s a force that pops up in all of us that Steven Pressfield and Freud both call Resistance. It’s the same force that creates procrastination, causes us to get distracted or to sabotage ourselves. It’s generally the force that makes it really, really hard to make behavior changes stick.
In your customers’ journeys toward their healthy, wealthy and wise goals, Resistance includes any sort of quit point, obstacle, friction or common point of failure. These are the things that get people stuck. There are tons of spiritual, emotional, psychological and neurological root causes of Resistance, but suffice it to say that people often know what changes they need to make; they just find it very difficult to actually make them.
This creates a major opportunity for companies to win the love of the people they serve by focusing on removing Resistance.
You can remove Resistance from your customers’ journeys by creating features and products that take friction out of their path, by reducing the difficulty or cost or number of brain cycles they have to go through to create the habits or changes they want, or by inserting progress triggers into their real-world journey.
For example, at MyFitnessPal, we learned during customer research that one of the biggest obstacles (points of Resistance) that people experience along their journey from living an unhealthy life to living a healthy one is the cost of eating healthy food and the difficulty and time involved in cooking healthfully. So every team in the company explored how they might help remove those Resistance points. When it came to content, for example, we created all sorts of recipes and meal plans for feeding a family healthy, home-cooked food on the same budget we learned people were spending on a fast food family dinner ($20). We also created all sorts of video, recipe and meal-planning content to reduce the time and increase the ease and deliciousness of our customers’ home cooked meals.
“If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right.” -Jeff Bezos
What qualities make an A Player immediately stand out?
Some qualities that immediately stand out for an A Player are as follows: accountability for results and integrity. Pay attention to the meetings you are in over the next week and notice how many employees and managers make excuses for missing goals, or do not take ownership or accountability for solving a problem. This is why the characteristics of A Players are so important. The A Players are also scrupulous in their integrity. Many people say one thing and then never follow through (or worse yet, tell a lie). A Players, on the other hand, have integrity— they consider someone not following through on their commitment as dishonest behavior.
“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” -John Wooden
I love your “line of choice” image. When a leader sees someone falling into the trap of blaming and making excuses, what does she do to get the player back on track?
In our cultures everyone is trained on The Line of Choice. They’ll politely call out their teammate and ask, “Isn’t that comment below the line?” or “What does an above-the-line response look like?” Or they’ll use the ABC vernacular and ask, “What would an A Player say?” or “That sounds a lot like B Player talk to me.”
Copyright Rick Crossland. Used by permission.
How to Motivate an A Player
What motivates an A Player?
One thing great about A Players is the leader does not have to motivate them. In fact, they are self-motivated. A Players truly work for passion. They find purpose in the process itself. They are not coin operated. They focus on satisfying customers, making better products, and you know what? The money follows! In fact it flows much more freely than if they had focused on the money.
“A Players are self-motivated, work for passion, and find purpose in the process itself.” -Rick Crossland
Throughout the book, you reference ethics, morals, and character. You also talk about leaders with some big personal failings. Why do so many people fall into these traps? How do you guard against it?
So many people fall into poor ethics and moral character for a few reasons. One is that their environment lets them get away with it. I’d recommend you put your antenna up this week and see how many times people in your organization tell and get away with white lies or half-truths. Odds are you will be startled by what you find. Now the question is, are you holding them accountable to clean up their act? The other root cause is that people suffer from hubris. Many folks just don’t think the rules apply to them, or they think they won’t get caught.
The way to guard against weak ethical and moral character is to build a culture where there is transparency to our actions. Societal ethics are becoming more blurred by the day. Make the adage by Aldo Leopold, “Ethical behavior is doing the right thing when no one else is watching- even when doing the wrong thing is legal,” part of your culture’s DNA. Build your systems so someone is watching and holding others accountable. Finally, the leader sets the tone for the ethical mores of your organization. Part ways with leaders with shaky ethics.
Soren Kaplan, Ph.D. answers these and other questions in his new book,Invisible Advantage: How to Create a Culture of Innovation. After reading his book, I had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his research in the area of innovation, disruption, and corporate culture. Soren has been recognized as a Thinkers50 Global Thought Leader. He’s a keynote speaker, a consultant, and an author. You may have read his previous book, Leapfrogging.
“Competitive advantage is temporary.” -Soren Kaplan
Organizational culture has been the rage in discussions for quite some time. What have many of these discussions missed?
People have been talking about organizational culture for years. But few discussions on the topic have explicitly linked culture directly to innovation. Even fewer focus on the integrated set of things that leaders can do that directly create a culture of innovation in a truly systematic way.
It’s one thing to create rewards for example. It’s another to look at how rewards, metrics, processes, and storytelling can all be used together to change culture for the better. The problem is that most leaders do things that both support and contradict a culture of innovation all at the same time, like telling people they want innovation but then not giving people time to innovate.
To many executives, culture has become a complex and mysterious topic. Business and leaders have lost sight of the fact that organizational culture is actually pretty simple. Here’s how it works: Employees have experiences in organizations that are influenced by leaders’ conscious and unconscious decisions and behaviors. Experiences shape assumptions about what is both desirable and undesirable behavior. Assumptions, in turn, influence and reinforce behavior. It’s an ongoing cycle. That cycle can be either virtuous or vicious and can lead to innovation or stagnation.
Why Culture is a Sustainable Advantage
Share a little about your thinking of culture as a sustainable competitive advantage.
The first reality in today’s disruptive world is that competitive advantage is temporary. Products, services, and even business models become commodities over time. If organizations do not continually invent and reinvent their competitive advantage, they risk being disrupted into obsolescence. Given all the disruption out there, this fact is the no-brainer.
As a result of the commoditization of just about everything, culture becomes the only sustainable competitive advantage. Culture represents the norms and values that drive behavior. When it’s focused on and reinforces innovation, it becomes the invisible secret sauce that drives employee engagement, business growth, and continuous reinvention.
The bottom line is that the soft stuff is the hardest stuff for competitors to copy. The goal is to create an “invisible competitive advantage,” something I call your “Invisible Advantage.”
“The only defensible competitive advantage is your culture.” -Soren Kaplan