A View from Blue Grotto

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Just miles away from Hong Kong

Like everyone else on the planet Earth, I LOVE earning frequent flier miles. So when Northwest Airlines emailed an invitation to join e-Miles® Miles for Minutes® to answer on-line market research surveys for partnering companies, I jumped at the chance. The surveys take only a minute or two to answer and ask a series of questions, ranging from relevancy to your interests or needs, to specific questions about which cruise line is featured in the pop-up advertisement, with a multiple choice list to select from. As if testing to see if you really read the advertisement copy for Oceania Cruises.

Survey completion nets you, on average, 5 miles. Sometimes I receive a survey worth 10 or 15 miles. Jackpot! When you accumulate 500 miles, you can make a deposit into your WorldPerks account. With some surveys only three questions long, it’s very little effort to bank some miles. So little effort that every other survey I feel guilty not providing feedback of real value. On three different occasions I have emailed the folks at e-Miles® and told them so. Urging them to urge their partners to draft surveys that give context to my responses.

I found out I’m not the only one concerned at the lack of qualitative research in these “research” strategies when I came across Jeanne Bliss’ presentation How to Become a Consumer Action Hero in 10 Steps. Bliss suggests that common customer surveys are designed to fail, with the emphasis put on achieving a certain score. She argues that “Any time a business asks a customer how they’re doing, it should be for the purpose of doing something with that information.” Number six, on her list of actionable suggestions is: Don’t ask any question without knowing how you’ll use the answer. Bliss reaffirms my frustration – I am taking the time to answer these silly surveys (though I’m grateful for the chance to get closer to a free trip to Hong Kong) and I’m not sure that you really care about the answers. In my opinion, the silly survey may garner you a deficit in customer satisfaction – demonstrating you already have an answer in mind, and you hope I will cooperate. Companies are essentially training customers to give Pavlov responses.

In Blue Grotto’s knowledge management work, we are often called upon to shore up a client’s collective knowledge to be used in strategic planning, branding, communications, etc. Email me with your approach to acquiring feedback from your stakeholders – customers, employees, vendors – and more importantly, how you use it.

For a copy of Jeanne Bliss’ full presentation:
I also liked #10 on the list: Redirect that survey budget.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some light reading

I am currently reading Pour Your Heart Into It by Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbuck’s. I enjoy reading about Schultz’s passion – for coffee, the culture of his company, and leadership. So, I found a March 2006 Harvard Business Review interview, Leadership in Literature, with Joseph Badaracco, Jr., the John Shad Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard Business School, of particular interest.

There is growing concern that today’s business students receive far more training in the quantitative elements of business and less of the soft skills of leadership – emotional intelligence, judgment and a moral compass. Badaracco teaches a business course in literature, hoping to engage students in an analysis of the complexity and often very personal nature of challenges facing managers and executives.

One point, that most managers can relate to, is the clash between individuals based on a deep, personal commitment to their own values. Using the Greek tragedy of Antigone as an example, Badaracco explains: “We see the same thing today in organizations when leaders are unable to see beyond their own agendas for truth, change, and human development.”

Acknowledging the complexities of characters in literature helps executives to acknowledge the basic flaws of human nature. Conflicts, both personal and professional, will arise throughout a person’s career. How an individual chooses to learn from those conflicts can be a deciding factor in their success as a leader.

Part of what we do at Blue Grotto is to encourage clients to frame information into narratives, allowing a better understanding of principles and values. Bullet points, pie charts and graphs lack the ability to convey what went into the decision-making process to get you beyond the second quarter slump - or sales goals. While some information requires a visual vehicle, like a graph, I challenge you to augment that graph with a narrative that articulates the choices and outcomes that were considered.

Though Schultz’s tale of turning a commodity like coffee into the worldwide phenomenon that is Starbuck’s is laden with protagonists and antagonists, with lots of shelf space at stake, I might also need to brush up on my Shakespeare. Email me with the book titles crowding your nightstand.

Note: Joseph Badaracco writes frequently for Harvard Business publications on ethics and character in leaders. You can search by his last name at -http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu - for additional article titles.

Yvonne Hundshamer
President, Blue Grotto Inc.