Many years ago, Southwest Airlines' then chairman and CEO, Herb Kelleher, explained his company's competitive advantage: "Our people. We take really good care of them, they take really good care of our customers, and then our customers take really good care of our shareholders." I recalled those comments as I began to read this book in which Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler explain how to create what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba characterize as "customer evangelists" by first creating "highly empowered and resourceful operatives: HEROes for short."
To a much greater extent than at any prior time that I can recall, customers today are self-directed, and, yes, self-empowered. They have instant access to more and better sources of information about just anything they may be thinking about purchasing. Moreover, they have more and better choices re when, where, and how to make a purchase. It is imperative, therefore, that everyone who interacts with a customer be empowered (i.e. have the authority) to make whatever decision and/or take whatever action may be necessary to solve a customer's problem or in some other way provide whatever assistance a customer may need.
Bernoff and Schadler make brilliant use of various reader-friendly devices, such as Tables, Figures, mini-case studies, and bullet point checklists. For example, Table 1-1 (on Page 13) illustrates how "the forces in the groundswell power shift apply in the marketplace and the workplace in terms of (a) groundswell technology trends (e.g. smart mobile devices), how customers are empowered by it (e.g. get information about products and share it regardless of location), how to serve customers with it (e.g. create mobile applications to provide information to cust9mers), and how workers benefit from it (e.g. collaborate with colleagues and partners from any location). Mini-case studies include those of Best Buy (Pages 7-11), Black & Decker (21-23), Thomson Reuters (31-34), Ford (46-50), Intuit (63-68), Zappos (68-71), the NFL Philadelphia Eagles (85-88), NHL (105-107), Sunbelt Rentals (141-142), and IBM Blue (166-169).
Most of the material in this book consists of information, insights, and advice that, Bernoff and Schadler fervently hope, will help business leaders to empower employees, to develop and then support HERoes. In most of the organizations with which I have been associated, however, senior-level executives tend not to see themselves as "employees"; moreover, they are reluctant to empower those whom they do view as employees. (I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard one of them refer to non-executives as "them.") Of course, as they clearly indicate in their book, Bernoff and Schadler fully understand how difficult it will be for many of their readers to become change agents in a company "at the start of the journey toward empowering [its] HERoes."
What to do? Here is what they suggest: "First, spend some time learning how mobile, video, cloud, and social technologies work...Second, don't just identify customer problems, imagine solutions...Third, reach out to people who can help...Fourth, build a plan [such as the Effort-Value Evaluation in Chapter 2]...If your project affects customers or employees, you'll generally need some management approval - but you'll have to balance the need to get approvals higher up in the organization with the ability to get started."
I presume to conclude this review with two observations of my own. First, all organizations (whatever their size and nature may be) need HEROes at all levels and in all areas of operation, including the C-Suite of course but also on the shop floor, in the back office, etc. Second, presumably Bernoff and Schadler agree with me that there are certain work environments that have become so stagnant, perhaps corrupt and even toxic, that they cannot be re-energized. Those associated with such a workplace who have performed "HEROically" (or who aspire to do so) would be well-advised to explore opportunities elsewhere. I have yet to encounter an organization that has too many "highly empowered and resourceful operatives." There is always room for one more.