I recently watched a video of a TED speech by Barry Schwartz, the author of the seminal book The Paradox of Choice. His TED talk was called Our Loss of Wisdom. Wow! It’s a powerful speech.
Schwartz references what Aritstotle called “practical wisdom,” the combination of moral will and moral skill. He uses anecdotes about janitors at a hospital who alter their prescribed work routines in order to cater to the needs of patients and visitors. His key point is that these janitors believe that human interactions involving kindness, care and empathy are an essential part of their job, even though their job descriptions don’t mention anything about how they should treat other people. According to Schwartz:
“These janitors have the moral will to do right by other people. And beyond this, they have the moral skill to figure out what “doing right” means…. A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule… A wise person knows how to improvise… Real world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing.”
My take: Great customer experience requires employees who exercise their practical wisdom. Unfortunately, as Schwartz discusses, companies tend to create bureaucracies that suppress practical wisdom.
There’s an outstanding article written by Sumantra Ghoshal in 2005 called Bad Management Theories Are Destroying Good Management Practices. Ghoshal describes how management practices operate on the assumption of Homo Economicus, a model of people as rational self-interest maximizers. This economic perspective leads to the belief that employees can’t be trusted to act on behalf of the firm and, therefore, controls must be put in place to align their efforts.
As a result, management interprets success and failure in the light of their controls. If things are working well, then the controls are seen as being successful, so more are added. If things are not working well, then it’s viewed as an insufficiency of the controls, so more are added. In all cases, more and more controls are piled on to employees.
In this environment, employees lack the empowerment to exercise practical wisdom.
As it turns out, companies can unleash practical wisdom by focusing on the four customer experience core competencies:
- Purposeful Leadership: Provides employees with a higher calling and permission for improvising.
- Compelling Brand Values: Provides employees with an understanding of the true goals of the organization and a framework for improvising.
- Employee Engagement: Provides employees with a reason to care about the company and its customers.
- Customer Connectedness: Provides insights into what customers really need and fuels empathy.
The bottom line: Organizations need to cultivate more practical wisdom