After 9 months of relaxing, travelling, research and writing my sabbatical has come to an end.
Today I start a new job; it’s a new role with a new company in a new industry. I’m excited, I guess I’ll be learning all those first day things; how do I get into the building, what is everyone’s name, where is the photocopier, where is the bathroom. Luckily I have already figured out where the coffee machine is.
I’d planned on a six month sabbatical, so in May I started analysing what I’d want in a new role, I was looking for a company that had innovation at its heart, one that was ambitious about its digital presence. I want a role that provides a learning curve, delivers visible change for the company and gives me the chance to lead a team. As luck would have it a job meeting all those criteria came up in June, I took a deep breath and applied.
Today is my first day as Corporate Social Strategist at Philips based here in Amsterdam. It’s a company that is recognised for innovation, and they – I mean we – are working on an ambitious programme to improve Philip’s digital presence. I’m sure I’ll have more to share on it in the months to come.
There were very few on the list I’d ever heard of so I started reading through the list and the company profiles; I started to wonder (a) how new are these companies? and (b) why is it so hard for incumbents, despite their resources, to innovate their way onto this list?
Answering that first question, here’s list of the companies in the top ten with the year they were established. Only two of the ten are more than ten years old.
A social network for traders, lets you copy the investment of other traders.
All of these innovations take advantage of something in the digital space, some on the growing world of mobile. To be fair the banks have also been active and innovative in this space – just not at the same rate. Some of the innovations above support and use
There’s already some discussion on why it’s so hard for large companies in established industries to innovate. Even the best techniques from Silicon Valley aren’t a magic path to increasing innovation according to this HBR article. It comes down to culture; the things that make a company successful at execution at scale aren’t the things that make a company naturally great at innovation. There are companies that are able to innovate and to scale their operations, but it’s a rare combination.
Is there something about the financial sector that makes it even harder? Perhaps, some sectors (music, travel) show a similar batch of relatively young companies, but the energy sector has more than twice the number of companies over 10 years.
I think there are two things that make it harder for financial services companies to innovate. The first is the risk mindset, in theory financial services companies should be expert at assessing risk and take decisions that maximise return for an accepted risk. In my experience the growing pressure of public opinion and increasing regulation have reduced whatever appetite there was for risk since the global financial crisis. And that’s the second thing – the global financial crisis began in 2007 and during the crisis and in the years since affected financial institutions have had to focus on legal cases, restructuring, cost control and divestment. All of that left little room and few resources for innovation. It’s probably not a co-incidence that half of the companies in the top ten were started between 2007 and 2009.
It’s great that there’s innovation in finance, and many of the solutions are customer-focused either as improved service or as de-mystifying the world of finance. I hope it inspires the “old” banks; there are more opportunities for more innovation.
Not all brands, not all industries, are able to use social media as a brand builder in the same way.
I see sweeping general statements in many books, blogs and articles about social media that make me cringe as a customer. The latest was “Customers seek identification with their brands”, do we? Maybe I’m weird but I don’t. Or rather I only identify with a tiny subset of the brands I use.
I can remember listening to a presentation by the Lego’s Global Social Media Director, Lars Silberbauer, talking about all the fun things they’ve done, and the way that customers are using lego in innovative ways. I looked longingly at the examples, and seriously doubted that the financial company I worked for could ever do this. I wrote then about two factors of social media motivation.
I likened it to Herzberg’s two factors of motivation, and came up with a simple diagram linking the factors to levels of engagement. I’ve been rethinking that a little, I think some brand are satisfaction builders and some are happiness builders. So which one are you?
You are a satisfaction builder if when your products and services work correctly customers don’t talk about you, if something goes wrong they do – and everyone piles on.
For example, a bank customer might appreciate that their application for a loan of several thousand euros was approved quickly but not want to discuss it on facebook. But if they’re stuck at the supermarket unable to use their card for a transaction of 120 euro, a much smaller transaction, they have access to complain immediately via their mobile phone.
I put infrastructure (including mobile phone networks), financial services, public or government services and grocery staples into this category.
The brand is not part of the customers identity and customer stays due to high switching costs or apathy, rather than brand loyalty.
You are a happiness builder if when your products and services work correctly customers talk about you, if something goes wrong they forgive you quickly and sometimes publicly. Other customers will support you during a crisis.
For example, everybody loves Lego. The most common complaint about Lego is the pain of standing on an abandoned piece, which is usually told as a cute story. Even when Lego came in for stronger criticism around sexism in its minifigs or its advertising the criticism was focused on improving the company rather than outright anger. Even those campaigning for change seem to trust that Lego would find a good solution.
Fashion, personal grooming and leisure industries are in this category. For many people cars, computing, home accessories – some people really love their coffee machines – are also included.
Many companies will have some customers who see them as satisfiers and others who see them as happiness makers. They may also have customers who see them differently depending on the context.
My phone is well-loved and well-used, you can tell by the state of the cover. My mother doesn’t care about the phone she has; both phones are the same brand and almost the same model.
Computers are satisfiers for lots of people, but part of happiness and even personal brand for many (try saying you hate apple on certain forums).
Even an indvidual customer may say the brand differently depending on context. Mostly airlines are happiness for me, I associate them with holidays and seeing friends and family. If I travel for work they become more of a satisfier.
Of course a brand can move from happiness to satisfier during, for example, a crisis. Or from satisfier to happiness under positive circumstances, but a sustained shift in this direction will be challenging. It will require more than action in social media.
Look around your house for the brands you own – where are they on the spectrum? which ones do you seek out on social media?
Companies have different approaches in who gets to start a community on their enterprise social network; some want to control who opens a community others want to put as few barriers as possible in the way of starting new communities. What’s your approach?
Let me know in the comments of any other options I haven’t thought of – or the background to the decision.
Employee engagement is often cited as a contributing factor to improved company results, and Kevin Kruse defines it as;
Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.
Engaged employees will go to extra lengths to do their job and serve the business and the customers. Kruse cites examples of people choosing to work overtime without being asked because the work needed to be finished. Essentially they’ll care for the company and its customers.
What’s in it for employees?
If you’re engaged at work you feel pride in your work, in the company you work for, a loyalty to the company. You’re likely to have more intrinsic motivation; a sense of purpose, a willingness to take responsibility, and a desire to learn.
What’s in it for companies?
Engaged employees are seen to be more productive, more service oriented, and better for the profits of the company. It’s so important to companies that they put considerable, and growing effort, into measuring engagement year on year. There is criticism on how it’s measured, but large companies still find value in measuring it.
What do the cynics say?
It’s a term that is an easy target of cynics, some label it as a new name for employee satisfaction, or teamwork. Others consider it a measure of window dressing to make the company look good. It’s often connected to “manager speak” as in this brilliant Dilbert cartoon.
Can you have too much employee engagement?
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic points to a dark side of employee engagement, reminding readers that engagement is a means to an end – companies pursue it for the productivity results. He also points out that it’s dangerous to expect higher performance to automatically come from higher engagement, managers should instead focus on developing performance at a higher level.
So much for the company perspective, what about for individuals? I believe that in some cases burnout is the direct result of excessive employee engagement. I’ve seen more than one highly professional, highly motivated, engaged employee take on levels of responsibility beyond their capacity, when the company failed to notice – and failed to support them – burnout was the awful outcome.
Can companies build employee engagement?
A friend whose work in internal communications I admire has suggested that engagement is something intrinsic to the person and not dependent on the company. I think there’s some truth in that but I’m not quite so pessimistic. I think you can destroy engagement or you can build it up.
I would like to see a change in how we talk about engagement, the conversation now centres on expectations on the employee and benefits to a company.
Instead I propose that we recognise that the contract between an employee and a company is about the exchange of money for skills and time. That agreement must be a fair exchange. Beyond that it’s up to a company to earn the engagement of all employees by how they treat their staff.
So next time people talk about “building employee engagement”, suggest a switch to “earning employee engagement” and go on from there. It’s a one word change but the approach is completely different.
In the last 10 days or so I’ve stayed at 5 different establishments each with a different wifi service.
I needed internet to access email messages, research plans for each day, and my current writing projects. My mobile phone would let me do all that, but it’s not a comfortable tool for writing and there is a daily data limit when roaming under my current contract.
The first was a boutique hotel in central London. Wifi was free throughout the hotel, but password protected. The room rate was high, and every luxury is included so it’s not surprising that wifi was also included.
I then moved to a more budget friendly option, still in central London – walking distance from the district line. Wifi was considered an additional service and charged at 10 pounds per day. And that’s 24 hours of availability, not 24 hours of use. Plus it was for a single device – I was carrying three devices that could use a wifi network. But the staff are obviously sick of discussing the wifi charges, the concierge gave me an extra login when I needed to send a quick email related to my booking.
Tourist City, Business Hotel
I left London and went to a tourist city, staying in a hotel geared to business people. The charge there was 15 pounds per day. But free in the public areas – for one hour.
It made me regret my booking. I’ve done some research and come up with half a dozen hotels in the town with free wifi for a range of room rates – often lower than I paid. I complained via twitter and was told “it’s hotel policy”. Fair enough, now that I know I won’t book there on my next trip.
I stayed at an airbnb place for two nights, where wifi was free. I’ve stayed at Airbnb places in several cities now, wifi has been included for no extra charge at all places. I realise there is a different level of complexity providing wifi to 100 rooms rather than one, but it does show that there is an expectation for wifi that airbnb hosts are meeting.
For my last night in the UK I stayed at the Yotel at Gatwick airport; wifi free. The room rate is less than half that of the Central London or Tourist City hotels. The room is very basic, in fact they call them cabins. There’s another hotel, a more upmarket version of the same concept called Bloc Hotel at Gatwick, which also provides free wifi – and boasts of its speed.
So the places at the top and bottom ends of the price range include wifi; they know their guests need it and they’ve responded to that demand. Two and a half years ago I predicted that there would be a growing demand, for wifi, in that I was right. I wouldn’t have guessed that the customer demand would take so long to shift the policies of mid-level hotels.
There are of course plenty of other options for wifi; cafes, bookshops -even McDonalds in London provides free wifi. I used it even though I wasn’t a customer (probably not their intention!).
But if McDonald’s will provide free wifi for the price of a hamburger what is the issue for those mid-level hotels? Given the growth and growth and growth of internet access via mobile relative to desktop why aren’t hotels changing their policies? Why am I asked to pay a 10% surcharge for what should be a standard feature? After all they don’t charge me based on water used or TV watched.
It’s going to be a selection criteria from now on. I bet that decision saves me money.