Improving Effectiveness of Stakeholder Value and Experience ‘Experts’: How Often Do We Hear, But Not Really Understand?


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Movies can often provide us with nourishing food for thought. In the classic “Office Space” interview scene between Peter Gibbons, Bob, and Bob (, there’s more than a kernel of truth regarding what motivates (or demotivates) stakeholders’ decision-making and action. In the movie, there is an entire cornfield of valuable insights.

“Office Space” is a wickedly funny satire about the absurdity of everyday working life, but it also tells us a lot about stakeholder values and experiences and how they can potentially be enhanced, if we will only hear the realities of what we are being told. For anyone working in this space, as consultants or practitioners, the truths embedded within the film offer tremendous learning.

In the scene referenced above, there are key interchanges between the two Bobs (who are efficiency, i.e. code for downsizing, consultants to their client, Initech), and Peter, who is the unmotivated, cubicle-dwelling drone working at Initech, the film’s protagonist:

[after Peter walks into interview room where the Bobs are]
Bob Slydell: I’m Bob Slydell and this is my associate, Bob Porter.
Peter Gibbons: Oh hi, Bob. Bob.
Bob Slydell: Why don’t you go ahead and grab a seat and join us for a minute? You see, what we’re actually trying to do here is, we’re just, we’re trying to get a feel for how people spend their day at work. So, if you would, would you walk us through a typical day for you?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah.
Bob Slydell: Great.
Peter Gibbons: Well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late. Uh, I use the side door, that way Lumbergh can’t see me. And, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour.
Bob Porter: Da-uh? Space out?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah, I just stare at my desk but it looks like I’m working. I do that for uh, probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work. The thing is, Bob, it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care.
Bob Porter: Don’t…don’t care?
Peter Gibbons: It’s a problem of motivation, all right? Now if I work my ass off and Initech ships a few extra units, I don’t see another dime, so where’s the motivation?
Bob Slydell: Would you bear with me for just a second, please?
Peter Gibbons: Okay.
Bob Slydell: What if, and believe me this is a hypothetical, but what if you were offered some kind of a stock option equity sharing program. Would that do anything for you?
Peter Gibbons: I don’t know, I guess. Listen, I’m gonna go. Uh, it’s been really nice talking to both of you guys.
[he shakes their hands]
Bob Slydell: Absolutely, the pleasure’s all on this side of the table, trust me.
Peter Gibbons: Good luck with your layoffs, all right? I hope your firings go really well.
Bob Porter: Excellent.
Bob Slydell: Great…wow!

Peter is an expert on identifying his level of, and reasons for, personal motivation, engagement, and ambassadorship as an Initech employee. The Bobs, who are are supposed to be experts in cultural and organizational prescriptives, are listening to Peter but not hearing or understanding him. The key questions are:

– What is Peter actually saying about personal perceived value and contribution?
– What are the Bobs hearing?
– How are the Bobs translating and processing what Peter has said into action?
– What are the Bobs recommending, and why?

As stakeholder behavior ‘experts’, i.e. consultants and managers, we often think we’re objectively hearing when interacting with staff or customers. The challenge is – often we’re not. We’re just superficially listening, and processing insights subjectively, through our own predispositions, norms, and biases. In other words, instead of understanding what employees and customers are really telling us, we frequently get in our own way.

In the end, the Bobs considered Peter an ideal candidate for promotion. The recommendation interchange they had with his boss, Bill Lumbergh, went this way:

Bob Slydell: I’d like to move us right along to a Peter Gibbons. Now we had a chance to meet this young man, and boy that’s just a straight shooter with upper management written all over him.
Bill Lumbergh: Ooh, yeah. Um, I’m going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with you there. Yeah. Uh, he’s been real flaky lately and I’m just not sure that he’s the caliber person that we would want for upper management.
Bob Porter: [to Bob] I’ll handle this.
Bob Porter: [to Lumbergh] We feel that the problem isn’t with Peter.
Bob Slydell: [shaking his head] Uh-um.
Bob Porter: It’s that you haven’t challenged him enough to get him really motivated.
Bob Slydell: There it is.

Though played for comedy’s sake in the movie, the Bobs clearly didn’t ‘get’ what Peter had actually been telling them, and they placed the problem with his boss’ management style instead. They’d heard Peter speaking, but didn’t go deeper for the meaning behind what he was saying. Here’s the lesson: As stakeholder experience pros, we’re all too often guilty of that.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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