How Leaders Construct Cages That Do Not Exist


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Recently I spent some time with a VP and his senior managers of a very large multinational company. I was amazed by the way he had built a series of constraints around himself that didn’t actually exist.

The meeting started in the usual way, he outlined the work they were undertaking to improve their experience. After some two hours of hearing about what was essentially “tactical stuff” I focused the conversation on trying to understand their strategy. My challenge was “Where are you trying to head”?

He looked a bit perplexed. So I tried another question. “What is the experience you are trying to deliver”. Again blank looks. I asked them to individually write down their answer. They were all different. It was clear they didn’t know. This is not a surprise in itself as lots of organizations cannot answer that question.

I showed them examples of other companies we had worked with to develop what we would call a “Customer Experience Statement”. Here is a good example that is in the public domain from Tescos, the largest retailer in the UK. It shows their [url=]”Every little helps” [/url] strategy. (Note: We did not develop this, so we are not claiming credit!).

What amazed me, surprised me and shocked me was when the VP told me:

There is no point in creating something like this. Company values or “strategy” never work as our people always ignore them anyway, so what’s the point?.

It was like he believed that all you needed to do was write the words down and they would happen. He had failed to realize that this was just the beginning of the hard work. You could have knocked me down with a feather. We debated the point for some time. I diplomatically explained that it was his role to get his people to follow the strategy, after all they are his people! But he disagreed.

Think about what he was actually saying. He is saying “My people ignore me; I am powerless to change anything; it is not my fault; we will always have to live this way.”

After the meeting I reflected on our conversation. I concluded this VP had built a cage around himself. A cage of constraints that do not exist. Actually he probably liked living in this cage as it means he is not responsible. It means he doesn’t have to learn anything new and he can live in his own little world where he knows exactly what works and what doesn’t. The sad thing is he had also constructed this cage around his direct reports and his organization as well who were at the meeting as well. He had condemned them to eternal suffering. The phrase “If you think you can or you can’t, you’re right” was created for him. He thought he couldn’t and he was telling all of his people they couldn’t either.

For our first book Building Great Customer Experience we created Seven Philosophies for building a great Customer experience.

Philosophy four: Great customer experiences are created by an empowering culture, inspirational leadership and happy people who are happy and fulfilled.

It is the leaders job to do this, not hide in the corner and say “their is no point!” Without this happening the impact on a Customer experience is vast. A friend of mine, Brady Rafuse, wrote a great post the other day that highlights the impact of a lack of leadership in an experience.

Organizations that have poor leadership invariably provide a poor Customer Experience. It is unsurprising that this organization provides a poor experience. The sad thing is that it is destined to continue until this person is removed and replaced with someone who thinks there is a world outside of the false cage that he has built. Leaders need to understand it is their responsibility to create a great Customer Experience and establish an environment with their people where this can happen.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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