Loyalty

How loyalty can hold back innovation

I'm an innovator first, and a loyalist second. For the past few years I've been studying loyalty and wondering why it's such an under-esteemed trait among innovators. Now the work of Charles Duhhig and Amy Edmondson have made it clear to me. 

Loyal behavior tends to depress the natural friction required in making changes. This realization has brought it home to me that I see loyalty in a different way than most people. For me, loyalty is about a commitment to support someone or some institution, but not about following. I can imagine trusting someone enough to do something their way, especially if I didn't have enough experience and information to disagree. But I would still question them. On the other hand, without some loyalty in my life, all the choices and opportunities overwhelm me and create chaos. Loyalty allows me to make some decisions less often and have more continuity in my life. 

Amy Edmondson, now a professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, was a Harvard PhD student in 1991, studying health workers in hospitals to understand the interplay between teamwork and medical outcomes. She found that the more highly prized loyalty was among the team members, the less likely they were to catch each others' errors. Since then she has been studying how great teams drive innovation and developed the concept of 'psychological safety' to explain how they can work together with confidence and still critique each others' ideas.  She's done two short TED talks, has a new book called The Fearless Organization, and was recently interviewed here

I was introduced to this idea by the second chapter in Charles Duhhig's book Smarter Better Faster, and I wished I had known about it many teams ago. 

How to turn a group of strangers into a team, TED talk on October 2017 (13 minutes) by Amy Edmondson: 

Abraham Lincoln said once, "I don't like that man very much. I must get to know him better." Think about that -- I don't like him, that means I don't know him well enough. It's extraordinary. This is the mindset, I have to say, this is the mindset you need for effective teaming. In our silos, we can get things done. But when we step back and reach out and reach across, miracles can happen. Miners can be rescued, patients can be saved, beautiful films can be created.

To get there, I think there's no better advice than this: look to your left, look to your right. How quickly can you find the unique talents, skills and hopes of your neighbor, and how quickly, in turn, can you convey what you bring? Because for us to team up to build the future we know we can create that none of us can do alone, that's the mindset we need.

Building a psychologically safe workspace at TEDxHGSE on May 4, 2014, by Amy Edmondson

Smarter Faster Better: "Teams -- Psychological Safety at Google and Saturday Night Live," 2016-Mar-8 by Charles Duhigg

When Edmondson started working on her dissertation, she visited technology companies and factory floors, and asked people about the unwritten rules that shaped how their teammates behaved. “People would say things like, ‘This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been on, because I don’t have to wear a work face here,’ or ‘We aren’t afraid to share crazy ideas,’ ” Edmondson told me. On those teams, norms of enthusiasm and support had taken hold and everyone felt empowered to voice opinions and take risks. “And other teams would tell me, ‘My group is really dedicated to each other and so I try not to go outside my department without checking with my supervisor first’ or ‘We’re all in this together, so I don’t like to bring up an idea unless I know it will work.’ ” Within those teams, a norm of loyalty held sway—and it undermined people’s willingness to make suggestions or take chances.

Both enthusiasm and loyalty are admirable norms. It wasn’t clear to managers that they would have such different impacts on people’s behaviors. And yet they did. In that setting, enthusiastic norms made teams better. Loyalty norms made them less effective. “Managers never intend to create unhealthy norms,” Edmondson said. “Sometimes, though, they make choices that seem logical, like encouraging people to flesh out their ideas before presenting them, that ultimately undermine a team’s ability to work together.” 

As her research continued, Edmondson found a handful of good norms that seemed to be consistently associated with higher productivity. On the best teams, for instance, leaders encouraged people to speak up; teammates felt like they could expose their vulnerabilities to one another; people said they could suggest ideas without fear of retribution; the culture discouraged people from making harsh judgments. As Edmondson’s list of good norms grew, she began to notice that everything shared a common attribute: They were all behaviors that created a sense of togetherness while also encouraging people to take a chance.

“We call it ‘psychological safety,’ ” she said. Psychological safety is a “shared belief, held by members of a team, that the group is a safe place for taking risks.” It is “a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up,” Edmondson wrote in a 1999 paper. “It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves." 

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How to become more trustworthy, from Fast Company magazine

While it seems like being honest and reliable is enough to make us trustworthy it's actually not. People trust people who notice, understand and assist them without being asked. 

Fast Company: The Three Habits Of The Most Trustworthy Person In Your Office, 2016-Apr-1 by Karissa Thacker

It’s all too easy to get locked into patterns of perceiving and behaving that don’t build trust, leaving us unaware of them and even further from understanding what things we actually can do in order to build it. As a result, our own feelings toward others—how much and whether we trust them, and vice versa—remain a bit of a mystery.

Changing that can dramatically improve how well your team works together, and it starts by understanding what the most trusted people actually do in order to get that way. Here are three of the primary habits of those who command others' trust at work.

According to @KarissaThacker

They consider the signals they're sending Are you behaving in ways that send similar signals that others can rely on you?
They take time to understand the pressure others are under We tend to trust people who listen and pay attention to us more than those who don’t.
They help out unexpectedly Make the conscious effort to do something nice that you don’t have to do.

Loyalty to suppliers and supporters: Ina Garten

Otherwise known as the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten has built a sustainable empire from a food shop to media brand. Strategically, she knows exactly where she wants her business centered: writing cookbooks. She builds a broad variety of relationships, and not everyone survives, but she clearly makes it a goal to find a partner around whom she can stabilize her business and her personal life.  IStock_000021085297XSmall

Loyalty appears to be instinctive for Garten, but we can all learn from her approach: find someone who fits your values and grow together. When our partner changes, look to growing with them. When we have to change, be sure and try to bring them along. 

Eater: Ina Garten Does It Herself, 2015-Sep-30 by Choire Sicha

This endless parade of friends and visitors only highlights her strange and extreme loyalty. Barbara has been with her in the kitchen since 1999; her marriage to Jeffrey is almost half a century long. She has been with her agent Esther Newberg at ICM since ages. Ina has never changed cookbook publishers; in fourteen years, she also has not changed producers of the show....

She is ready to crush this next cookbook. "I'm actually more interested in writing cookbooks now than I was when I started," Ina said. "I think I was really nervous about it then. But I could just do this forever — and hopefully I can, until they drag me out by my feet." 


Be loyal to your contribution, not your employer

Loyalty to our employer is never going to be compensated in the way we expect. Enterprises are not capable of keeping everyone employed, even if they are inclined, which most are not.  Tq151015ld

When we have an employer, we owe them good value for the money they pay us, and we owe it to them not to undermine their success by anything else we do, until we resign. Being a loyal employee is a matter of self-respect for ourselves. When I am loyal, I respect myself, but I don't expect a company to be able to do any more than treat me fairly. Louis Gray does a great job of explaining. 

LinkedIn: Layoffs and Loyalty in a Liquid Valley*, 2015-Oct-14 by Louis Gray

Loyalty is wonderful when you find a passion and team you can believe in. But it can all be discarded in an instant, through a fight with a manager, or a merger or acquisition that sees you as redundant. A stock market crash. A change in heart. A bad quarter.

Layoffs happen. They can make you question everything you worked for. All the thousands of hours you put in caring about the little things that got you to where you are. All the conversations and debates that made the product you own.

You have to reexamine what’s important and decide on a new trajectory....

*article also available at Louis Gray's blog


To add new loyal customers, make sure your web site's personas are fresh

We know our web sites are most effective when they are regularly updated, but we may overlook an important reason to update: a new category of customer. While we may find a few exceptions, we generally want to expand our market to new categories. And the easiest way is to keep an eye out for new customers who don't fit our existing personas. At the same time, we need to be sure our existing personas still fit.  IStock_000028882264XSmall

Kissmetrics: 5 Ways to Align Data and Storytelling for Business Growth, 2015-Sep-24 by Shayla Price

To target the most influential consumers, data identifies which buyer personas have the most impact on lead generation. Teams then can create focused messaging to grab the customers’ attention.

Plus, research shows that by adopting marketing personas websites are two to five times more effective and easier to use.

For personas to be helpful, the data must be accurate.


The customer experience of abandonment cuts both ways.

One of my most memorably bad experiences was in the service area of a car dealership. I was clearly not of the recognized regular customers. And I arrived in a bad mood, as a consequence of some problem with my car. The service manager punished me by overlooking me for all the other customers in the area. There was no queueing system that might have protected my turn.  IStock_000020658318XSmall

As I stood there and stewed, I had plenty of time to consider what I had done to contribute to the situation and how I wish things had been handled differently. If any of the personnel has made eye contact and said, 'you're having a rough morning,' I would have relaxed. If they knew I needed to wait they could have directed me to a place to sit and told me how long to expect to wait. None of that happened, and I never returned after that first experience. 

Customers do NOT want to school your employees. If we already have a great deal of loyalty, we may go to the trouble of asking or mentioning unfair treatment. Confrontations are draining, and if we don't have an investment to protect, why should we bother? It's your business, after all. 

LoyaltyOne: Dysfunctional customer experiences risk billions in retail losses, 2015-Jun-1 [emphasis added]

It may seem counterintuitive, but retailers should welcome the irate shopper who vents her frustration in an animated scene on the sales floor. That’s because it’s the mistreated customer who walks out the door in a silent huff who places the most revenue at risk, according to a collaborative study of dysfunctional retail touch points conducted by LoyaltyOne and Verde Group with Professor of Marketing and Psychology, Dr. Deborah Small, at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The March 2015 survey shows that approximately half of 2,500 U.S. consumers polled reported experiencing a problem on their last shopping trip. Of those customers, 81% decided not to contact the retailer about the issue. Among these silent shoppers, 32% said they were unlikely to recommend the retailer to friends and family, putting these shoppers at-risk of decreasing their spend with the retailer.

By comparison, the study shows that shoppers who did notify retailers of their poor experience and had their problem completely resolved were 84% less likely than silent shoppers to be at risk of decreasing their spend.


Can We Make Loyalty Bankable?

Evan Malter has been a small business owner serving small business owners. Now he is innovating ways to help them finance their growth. His new venture, ZipCap, IStock_000020168756XSmallprovides 12-month term loans to small businesses which can get 100 or more customers to pledge to spend a minimum amount during the year. The amount of the loan is based on the total amount pledged, and it's early days to know whether this concept will work. 

Based on my experience with small business owners, I do think this idea has good prospects. New owners often get freaked out about short-term profitability, which is understandable--sometimes their home is collateral for the startup capital! If ZipCap can get the owner thinking about customer retention at least as much as they do about monthly net margin, benefits will accrue all around. 

Entrepreneurs' Tank: ZipCap Turns Customer Loyalty into a Line of Credit, 2015-June-24

“There has been very little friction with making the commitment as far as following through – we have found significant enhanced loyalty. Customers are more engaged than they would be without the commitment. It is a binding contract that they have agreed to, but even more important – they feel obligated (a social pressure) to follow through. Its important to note these are local businesses in their communities that they love going to. It almost takes more effort to default on the commitment than it does to follow through. It is also self fulfilling — we are engaging these customers in new ways that strengthens their bond and makes them want to come back”.