The case for NPS

I had an interesting conversation recently about how useful Net Promoter Score (NPS) is to a small business. The CEO I was speaking to had reluctantly run an NPS survey at the request of a third party. The score wasn’t brilliant so he and his team were feeling the need to find reasons and justifications.

But that’s missing the point – NPS is all about measuring improvement. They’ve taken the biggest step by setting a benchmark to improve on. If you don’t know where you are, how can you decide where to go? And if you don’t keep score how will you know when you’ve got there?

Yes, it’s great to have a high NPS but the real benefit comes when a score is low. We’ve been measuring NPS at Breathe for a number of years and it’s enabled us to focus on customer delight leading to a good score (in Oct 19 our NPS score was 40). In fact we’ve just made NPS one of our two top level KPIs and I’d encourage every CEO to start measuring.

Growth mindset in UK politics

Note: this post is not about politics. It’s me trying to view world events through the lens of a growth mindset. I’m not going to mention ideologies, policies or ethics, that’s for other blogs to agonies over.

In the run up to the general election the three main parties (by votes cast) approached their campaigns in very different ways:

The Conservatives learnt from previous campaigns (Brexit referendum, US elections etc) and focussed on one simple, clear message that successfully tapped into how voters were feeling. They didnt bother with indepth policies. Instead, the same simple message was pounded out at every opportunity “Get Brexit done”. They listened, analysed and ultimately won by understanding the mood of the electorate.

Labour took a different approach. They had a bigger agenda “It’s time for real change”. They got off to a good start by listening to the electorate who were tired of austerity but then got carried away with an ideological agenda. An agenda that aimed to achieve their leaders dream. A dream that seemed out of reach to the person on the street. They lost focus on the immediate concerns of the electorate – Brexit. Worse, the leadership confused the electorate by giving them too many choices around Brexit with a message of “You choose”.

The Liberal Democrats took a huge gamble in a fit of excitement and some would say naivety. This was to be their big break, so they bet big. They arguably bet the farm by deciding to go all in on with a slogan over “Stop Brexit. Build a brighter future”. They were blinded by the huge number of remain voters who felt disenfranchised. What they missed was the mood in the country to just get it over with! Also for many people, “Stop Brexit” would mean prolonging the argument leading to a far from bright future.

Last, and most importent, the three parties have very different paths going forward – the Conservatives have it all to prove, Labour haven’t come to grips with the fact that they lost it rather than the Conservatives winning it. Worst of all are the Lib Dems whose leader had to resign on the spot. All that learning gone to waste – where’s the growth mindset in that!

Built on values

We’re building a culture at Breathe around three values that define who we are and guide how we behave. But values are only worth having if you’re willing to be held to account so I want this post to publicly encourage everyone one in #teamBreathe to hold me to account as I won’t always get it right.

To be part of Breathe means striving to live up to these values:

People First – I treat everyone with respect and always walk a mile in their shoes.

Growth Mindset – I take responsibility for my personal and professional journey by seeking to continuously learn and improve.

Can do – I take a pro-active approach to my work by demonstrating energy and enthusiasm in everything I do.

These values help us take difficult decisions and guide the way we interact with our colleagues, customers and suppliers. Their strength comes from the fact that they require thought to apply and are not easy to live by. We are the first to admit that we don’t always get it right but, true to a growth mindset, we try to learn from our mistakes and do better next time.

Our hope is for Breathe to become a showcase for how we think businesses should be run and to inspire others to follow and do the same. The feedback we’re getting and the awards we’re winning suggest we’re heading in the right direction.

Fail, ponder, learn

“Education is an experience understood in tranquillity. You look back and see where you went wrong.”

Charles Handy (interview in The Economist).

When a new idea comes along or something doesn’t work out as expected, take time to ponder. Allow enough space to see what it means and what you should change. Most importantly, remember to give your team permission to do the same.

Thinking about systems

I’m taking some time to learn about systems thinking. Businesses are basically a big system that is made up of hundreds (thousands?) of smaller systems.

My understanding is very basic but the exercise of breaking a business down into its component systems is a really interesting exercise. One that leads to a better understanding and might result in new ideas.

A system, at it’s most basic, is a group of elements, connected by relationships and paired with a purpose. Elements can be visible and physical or intangible. Eg you can see and touch the physical things that make up an office but the culture in that office is way more amorphous. However, in a great company, culture could be a system in it’s own right.

Relationships hold the elements together. They include things like norms, processes and standards but it’s the role of purpose that really intrigues me. Purpose is what the system is seen to do rather than what it says it is going to do. That’s why it’s so important for a companies stated purpose to be authentic and alive.

Elements can change easily, so to some extent can relationships but purpose is the glue that holds it all together.

What’s your true north?

What makes some companies more inspiring to work for than others? My view is that it starts with these three things:
1. clarity of vision;
2. courage and conviction to stick to it no matter what;
3. ability to effectively communicate those two things.

For a small busiess, a vision needs to be your dream, your true north. Often described as the change you want to make in the world.

It doesnt have to be huge:
– “to help people and businesses throughout the world realize their full potential.” (Microsoft)

It can be focussed:
– “to make Horsham a fitter and healthier place to live.” (Example)

But beware, if you don’t feel it authentically, if you’re just saying the words but don’t believe it deep down there’s no way your people will sign up for that journey. Much better to have a vision like “to create a great life for my family” if that’s what you truly believe. The trade off? You still might find it hard to get your team to sign up but at least they’ll see you’re being honest.

When a vision tells your people where they are going, they will be in a position to help work out how to get there. This will drive productivity and switch on creativity.

Once your vision is clear, your role is to (over) communicate it so that everyone around you is in no doubt that you believe in it. I’ve heard it said that you’re only communicating enough when you are sick of hearing yourself say it. Find as many different ways to say it, and show it, as you can. But above all live it.

How to think like Satya Nadella.

It takes a lot to change a companies culture. But when that company is Microsoft, I’d argue that Satya Nadella has achieved the near impossible in transforming it in just 5 years. I’ve become a big fan and take every opportunity to learn from how he thinks and acts.

People who know him well cite three key beliefs that are at the heart of how he thinks:

Learn it all, not know it all.

He has turned Microsoft into a place where it’s all about future possibilities rather than the past successes. How good are we at creating new products? How well do we adapt to change? Does our culture reward risk taking and learning?

Culture comes first.

A winning culture needs a bold mission that captures the imagination and Microsoft’s new one certainly does that ’empowering every person and organisation on the planet to achieve more’.

Act quickly, think slowly.

This seeming contradiction proves him to be a long term thinker who is not afraid to embrace new trends and weak signals. In a VUCA world that requires fast decision making he recognises that 80% confidence is enough to act.

I obviously dont know him but do have to admit to being a bit of a virtual stalker. Every time I hear him interviewed or watch a keynote, he comes across as a decent, thoughtful and caring person. And that’s definitely something to be admired in today’s corporate world.

Is it fair to expect discretionary effort?

Discretionary effort – the level of effort people could give if they wanted to, above and beyond the minimum required.

As a responsible employer is it right to try and release discretionary effort from our people?

Yes – if the goal is extra thought, determination and creativity.

No – if the intention is purely extra hours.

Above all, it has to be deserved and freely given rather than expected.

Hard work is not enough

‘It is important that you work hard, but don’t be enamoured of the feeling of working hard. If you are drunk on that feeling, then you care less about the actual work than about how you appear to others to be working hard’

Haemin Sunim

I love this quote as it balances the need for hard work with an understanding of what you are working hard for. We’ve all been there – you spend a day working hard but at the end of it you can’t seem to look back at any achievements.

Having said that, I firmly believe that hard work is an essential part of any worthwhile achievement. By all means look for a life changing purpose but never believe that it is rightfully yours to have.

The model that has consistently worked for me is:

  1. Choose a direction,
  2. Devise a plan,
  3. Take fully committed action.

This has proved true in many areas of my life – from the big stuff like starting a business, sailing the atlantic, or climbing a mountain to the small things like 1-1 meetings, preparing a talk or writing a blog post.

What is a great company culture?

What is a great company culture and how do you know when you’re looking at one?

Company culture may be hard to define but you’ll recognise it when you see it. Everyone will be involved in decision making, will be well informed of plans and know the part they are to play.

Staff will be willing to raise concerns without fear; bullying and harassment will not be permitted. Everyone will be working hard but will be have sufficient time to recuperate and enjoy time with their families.

In other words, treat staff as people not resources.