Tag Archives: culture

Happiness as Competitive Advantage? A Challenge for Health Companies

company_happinessYou may be familiar with the Kingdom of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) index. This small Himalayan nation is the only country in the world that measures and aims for national happiness as its most important objective. The intent is to build an economy and culture based on spiritual values more than on material wealth. It prioritizes GNH over GDP. Bhutan’s commitment inspired the United Nations to pass a resolution that placed “happiness” on the global development agenda.

What does this have to do with you and the success of your company that’s in the business of health?? Potentially, a lot. As you read what follows, consider the notion of balancing both profitability and happiness as guiding values and major indicators of success.

Bhutan’s young King Khesar put it this way in his coronation address: Yet we must always remember that as our country, in these changing times finds immense new challenges and opportunities, whatever work we do, whatever goals we have – and no matter how these may change in this changing world – ultimately without peace, security and happiness we have nothing. That is the essence of the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. Our most important goal is the peace and happiness of our people and the security and sovereignty of the nation.

Most companies in the health industry base major business decisions on financial metrics like ROI to shareholders, quarterly numbers, and EBIDTA. Which makes sense. You need to be successfully financially and deliver a return to investors to be a going concern.

Money matters, no matter how dedicated your company is to improving health and saving lives. “No margin, no mission,” as the late Sister Irene Kraus, former CEO of the $3 billion Daughters of Charity National Health System, is credited as saying.

And, and… maybe happiness can matter just as much as money, and measurably contribute to your company’s financial success.  Especially since you’re in the business of health. Many start with employee happiness and well-being. Kaiser, Genentech, Mayo Clinic are a few of the health companies that have a reputation for really investing in the well-being –  and thereby the happiness – of their employees.  And there’s much further to go.

Let’s do a thought experiment: What would if happiness of your employees was a measure of your organization’s well-being? What about delivering  happiness to your customers?  Can you imagine happiness as part of your brand promise? Part of your unchanging core values? A key differentiator in highly competitive market? A metric you proudly talk about to shareholders and investors?

Be happy??

Overcoming the CEO Attitude: “We’re So Good We Don’t Need Marketing!”

I was talking with a friend recently who heads up business development for a small technology development company that specializes in solving really complex engineering problems.

She faces a big and not uncommon challenge: Her leadership team has the unfortunate belief that a) because the company’s problem solving skills are so unique, and b) because they’re so good within their specialization, they don’t need to invest in marketing. By extension, the supposition is that customers must inherently understand what the company does and know why they’re the right choice. Therefore, the logic goes, the company doesn’t need to work on their marketing strategy, or brand positioning, or what their value proposition is. (Feedback to the contrary and underwhelming sale figures be damned!).

From an inside-in perspective– that is, how people within the company think about the company– the reasoning is understandable. From an outside-in or customer perspective, it is clearly and dangerously flawed thinking.

What to do about it?

First, let’s dive into the underlying dynamic. We all know there’s often conflict between engineers and marketers at technology companies. Engineers want to push the limits of that can be done with technology, while marketers want to focus on what customers want and will buy. When well-managed, the tension between these two equally important and valid perspectives can be productive and lead to significant and highly desired innovation.

But when a technology-centric mindset invades how company leaders think and how business development happens, it becomes a big problem. When this occurs, company culture evolves within an often unspoken and rather insidious “if we build it, they will come” philosophy. This myopic perspective leads CEOs to denounce the need for marketing, or for that matter to reject investing anything to understand what customers think and want.

There are three likely outcomes in this kind of scenario when management puts technology ahead of customers: 1) The company keeps doing what they’re doing and may show incremental growth (usually in fits and starts), but clearly fails to meet expectations, 2) The company stagnates and dies without ever getting to root cause, 3) The company suffers from underperformance until investors or other power brokers demand new leadership and a more customer-centric mindset takes hold.

The other and much less likely outcome is for the company to get lucky, hit a home run with a new technology, and win success in spite of themselves. This fairy tale ending happens just enough, and is so seductive, that it can sustain a CEO’s self-deception that the company does not need to put customers first and does not need real marketing strategy. It’s kind of like the allure of slot machines – maybe the next pull will hit the jackpot!

The good news is that there is a way (besides deep pain!) to overcome a CEO’s dismissal of marketing as an unnecessary investment and the corresponding presumption (i.e. hope) that customers will just “get it.”

It stems from an often overlooked common ground: Both engineers and marketers fundamentally believe that with the right tools, any problem can be solved. The key is to leverage this powerful and shared worldview. This can be accomplished in several ways that I’ll cover in detail in a future post. One of the most compelling is to set up experiments in which management a) hypothesizes what customers know, and b) commits to taking corrective action if their hypotheses are proven wrong. Then you do the customer research to confirm or correct the hypotheses and bring the results back to the team. This approach seems to bypass egos and importantly, reframes the problem in a way that better matches the CEO’s more technical mindset.

Tell us. How have you seen the problem of company leadership denying the need for customer-centered marketing strategy successfully overcome?

“But We Already Know what Customers Want” – How to Break Through Resistance & Get the Answers You Need

Darryl is a med device product manager in a tough spot. He’s supposed to establish a new direct-to-consumer channel to sell his product, after years of only selling through distributors. It’s a huge shift.

Darryl’s smart. He knows what he needs to be successful. And he knows he doesn’t have the customer insights necessary to develop the best strategy, nail the value prop, and get the messaging right. He wants to do customer research to fill the knowledge gaps. But he keeps getting pushback… he’s being told that the company knows these customers so there’s no need to do more research.  The reality is the company does know the customers, but in a very different context. They know them as end-users, NOT as shoppers or buyers. It’s a totally different ballgame going direct. There’s a lot riding on getting it right. Darryl doesn’t want to blow it.

So how does Darryl break through the resistance? Here’s one very powerful approach that’s proven to be very effective, time and time again.

  1. First let the “resistors” know that they may be right, maybe there is enough known about the customers. This puts Darryl and his colleagues on the same side, which helps disarm resistance.
  2. Set up a team workshop to review all that’s known about the customers. Convey that since effective decision-making requires distinguishing facts from assumptions or beliefs, you want everyone’s input in order to efficiently compile as much useful information as possible. And if there happen to be any information gaps, that will emerge as well.
  3. In the workshop, we would use our simple and powerful workshop activity we call Think vs. Know (more here) to help Darryl further disarm resistance, set egos aside (we actually bring a box marked “Put Egos Here”), and accomplish what he needs – which is to determine what is known, what is assumed or unexamined, and what the mission-critical information gaps are (if any).
  4. To get the most from the Think vs. Know activity, it’s important to come up with 3 or 4 categories, for example, what do we think vs. know about the customer experience of buying through intermediaries, about their desire for something better, about their willingness to pay, or about their feelings toward your brand.
  5. Wrap up by acknowledging all that is known and where there are mission-critical assumptions, and then together decide which assumptions are too risky to not validate. Now you have co-created together with the resistors a solid case for doing the customer research you really need.

Caution: While you can certainly use this approach on your own, sometimes you need experts to come in and manage the complex dynamics, hold people accountable, and facilitate good decision-making. It all depends on the level of trust, strength of relationship, and the type of culture. When we’re brought in as a professional consulting firm, we’re usually engaged to do the Think vs. Know piece, then conduct the needed research, then come back to the group to help them correct mistaken assumptions and move forward most effectively.

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences dealing with kind of dynamic. Please add your comments.