Gorgeous example

I love what Warby Parker is doing.

They disrupted an industry by introducing fashionable eyeglasses online – met their first year's sales goals in the first 3 weeks of operation.

For every pair you buy, they give a pair to someone living in poverty who needs glasses (there are 1 billion such people) – and guess what? They care about fashion too. In fact, the company was founded on the insight that even people living on $4/day or less will choose to ‘stay blind rather than wear something unfashionable on their face'. Watch these short INC videos – they're well worth your time.

Sure, they have a social mission, but they understand that their core promise is fashion – delivered sustainably for all their Stakeholders. They understand their ecosystem.

And it gets better. They understand the drivers of value: they know their leading indicators are culture and people. They hire based on personality and fit; one of their 6 questions in job interviews was, ”What was the last costume you wore?” They populate Customer Service with smart native speakers, and empower them to take care of customers as they see fit. They believed the cost of that would offset by greatly reduced marketing costs – and they were right.

Marketing? They believe in making people feel connected: they published a new kind of ‘annual report' showing what they did the prior year in terms of customer responses and engagement. Immediately they had their highest sales ever – in January, right after Christmas – higher than the days following their appearances on CBS news or the NY Times.

Think you're Stakeholder Centric? These folks set a new standard.

Language against which the mind cannot defend

Last week I was privileged to be present when David Whyte addressed a group of leaders at Intel. Kudos to my colleague Lisa Marshall and to Intel's Business Client Engineering Division 'Mindful Engineering' series for making it happen

From the poet came the gift of this phrase; "Language against which the mind cannot defend"

It was a rich 90 minutes. It's remarkable to be with a poet who keeps himself connected and contributing to the corporate, technological world - an extraordinary human being.

He pointed out that such language is always based in vulnerability. And it comes, not from the strategic mind – the mind focused on what action might be best – but from a deep quiet. From the place most of us prefer to avoid: the one embraces our inevitable vulnerability. The example he gave was a question: a parent, having spoken somewhat thoughtlessly to a teenager, punished with shunting, reaches her with genuine humility, "Charlotte, what is one thing you'd like me to do less of, and one you'd like me to do more of'?” He was rewarded with uncrossed arms and a look in the eye. Something we in business must learn to do.

I believe with all my heart that only those who fully embrace the roots of commerce in vulnerability will make it through the current economic upheaval. In the Industrial Age, [short – perhaps 10 generations of the thousands in human history] business folk were happily tranquilized to believe that commerce could be secretive, and that one party could avoid vulnerability at the expense of the other. That dream is in its death gasps, at the effect of the Information Age.

Some good thinkers are onto the deep challenge this is for enterprises:

    “CEOs today are certainly enlightened enough to understand the new world. They know they are more vulnerable than ever. In quiet moments, they say, “I don't have the answers. This is pretty hard.” That's why I'm optimistic. I think this is the right time to rethink and change how business is done.”
      Source: Strategy & Business Thought Leader Interview with Dov Seidman

‘Having the answers' isn't likely; it's the questions that move us forward. My current favorite from deep quiet works very well to put an organization on track - it's the foundation for Core Promise:

What do people rely on you for, and what do you want them to rely on you for?

What will you do no matter what?
Try it – the mind cannot defend against the question.

Really? Corporate Wellness?

I’d love to see workplace wellness work.

Certainly the cost of healthcare must come down, and prevention – especially turning around epidemic obesity and chronic disease - is key.

But I’m not sure the workplace is the best locus. Employers who succeed will reap great rewards: reduced healthcare costs, improved productivity, retention, and recruiting. Plus, for the same investment, a learning organization . (Because Wellness is a form of ongoing learning, the big payoff for those who step up to the challenges is that, while succeeding at prevention, the practices of learning will boost responsiveness, accountability, and competitiveness.)

But the risks are high - failure looms – for 4 main reasons:

Workplace wellness involves cultural change: a notoriously sensitive task. In 32 years of practice as a Business Anthropologist, I’ve seen many attempts backfire, and been brought in to fix a couple where new business imperatives were essential. All that came roaring back recently as I dug into a “Culture of Health” project for a prestigious company whose first attempts did not go well.

Successful Wellness initiatives, approached as culture change, will require internal dialogue between Benefits teams, Training and Development teams, and senior strategists crafting corporate culture. (The latter often overlooked: who owns corporate culture in your company?)

Wellness demands Lifestyle change: very tricky territory.
In addition to good old fashioned denial, employee concerns for privacy are high, and questioning lifestyle choices triggers concerns about diversity, autonomy and dignity. Food and eating are hardly rational matters: they’re deeply tied to early emotional experience and culture of origin.

Physicians and other healthcare providers attest to dogged resistance to lifestyle change, even among individual patients facing serious consequences. Well-established in diabetes and cancer treatment, success requires a great deal of reinforcement, role modeling, and social support.

Desired behavior changes require treating employees as customers of both benefits and corporate culture – customers who live in an environment shaped by the likes of Apple, Facebook, Google, Zappos, and Zynga. Engaging employees in new behaviors is possible, but it’s a big departure from traditional benefits communications .

“It starts with customers and the ability to create a better future for them.”

The task is to get overworked employees’ attention, and then - in seconds - spark their curiosity about how their future could be better if they engaged in the wellness behaviors you're requesting. An authoritarian approach is likely to boomerang to the opposite of the desired effects.

Employee cynicism is high ; people who have been working long hours for years are quick to ask, “In addition to all the extra work now required for my job, you want me to do what?” You might think that in this job market, after 3 years of recession, employees would be grateful to have a job. But this 2012 MetLife study warns:

    “This year’s findings reveal a workplace that has grown more dissatisfied and disloyal, to the point where one in three employees hopes to be working elsewhere in the next twelve months.”

A group of us asked ourselves, “What’s it going to take to consistently succeed in the kinds of behavior change that would be required to significantly reduce both risk and cost to both employers and employees?” We surveyed the literature. Not surprisingly, we found some good points, and a few key missing links:

  • Use the principles of consumer marketing: take all the necessary steps to reach employees where they are, in their language and timing
  • Introduce a new wellness initiative like a change in vendor or an office move
  • A solid qualitative study revealing current employee ecosystem and mindsets
  • Assume you know how employees segment around wellness, or what they’re thinking
  • Prepare internal stakeholders to respond to what is learned both from an ecosystem study and user-testing of new proposed programs and communications
  • Overlook potential “wicked paradoxes” such as perceptions that the work environment is essentially unhealthy
  • Map the journeys different employee segments may take to engaging with wellness, and do extensive user-testing (Service design)
  • Use focus groups that test proposed programs and materials separate from the context in which they will actually land for employees
  • Ensure you find out what’s important and engaging to different groups of employees, and enable them to pursue wellness their own way
  • Assume that incentives will motivate new desired behaviors
  • Learn about behavior change
  • Order employees to change their behavior (an authoritarian approach will ensure failure)
  • Invest in individualized communications and customizable programs
  • Assume that one size fits all
  • Take the time to do it right (customers proceed at their own pace)
  • Rush to meet a vendor’s timeline, eg for open enrollment
  • Make all desired corporate outcomes transparent, eg cost-savings, reduced absenteeism
  • Try to fool employees
  • Encourage/role model sharing of what employees are learning, trying, liking, disliking – enabling privacy when desired, such as chosen names on internal social media
  • Attempt to monitor what employees share about their learning
  • I would love to see workplace wellness succeed. That reward will come to those who take the cultural challenge and ‘employees as customers’ seriously: explicitly tying a new focus on wellness to an updated company core promise, treating the introduction of Wellness like launching any new product or service, and becoming a highly-responsive learning organization for the same investment.

    It’s not for the faint-hearted.

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