In this week's reviews of new business books: How product-centric Mercedes-Benz overcame its service myopia; the energizing power of a hopeful workforce. Also: the book that changed how we think about change.

 inline image

Driven to Delight: Delivering World-Class Customer Experience the Mercedes-Benz Way
Joseph A. Michelli

David McCullough chronicles the stories of great Americans. Global consultant Michelli chronicles the stories of great customer service companies. In previous titles Michelli has dissected the gold-standard service at such organizations as Pike Place Fish Market, Starbucks, Ritz-Carlton, and Zappos.

His new book about Mercedes Benz takes on a manufacturer, and that introduces an intriguing wrinkle. The luxury car company had long built its brand on engineering excellence, safety, and innovation: all inarguably good things.

But Mercedes' product focus was so strong that it eclipsed buyer relationships. As a result new competitors gained an advantage by creating a much better dealership experience.

Mercedes, Michelli writes, was vulnerable: "Its retail/dealership experience was uneven and lacked a well-defined objective with attendant accountability." So the leadership "sought to make the company an experience provider that was on a par with-if not better than-other iconic brands."

Mercedes new orientation is evident even in its advertising: note the change from "Engineered Like No Other Car in the World" to the far more inclusive: "The Best or Nothing."

Michelli extrapolates the lessons of Mercedes to other companies where "leaders must not just state their vision of customer experience excellence but also look to their people and see them demonstrate an obsession with details that make the difference between 'good' and 'the best' customer experiences."

* * *

 inline image

The Optimistic Workplace: Creating an Environment That Energizes Everyone
Shawn Murphy

Optimism is the belief that good things are possible, writes Murphy, CEO of the consultancy Switch and Shift (and columnist). That sounds like a minimum requirement just for getting out of bed in the morning.

In fact optimism is sadly lacking in too many companies where employees are treated like assets or resources, says Murphy. He explains how leaders and managers can create positive environments where work is meaningful and even energizing, such that employees plug into their jobs like electric cars into a charging station. (For a start, don't assume that everyone in your company understands why what they do even matters.)

Murphy's advice for leaders is to reject autocratic styles in favor of stewardship, a concept similar to servant leadership. Stewards, says Murphy, share seven defining characteristics including humility, grit, resilience, and vulnerability. There is no gap between their values and their behavior.

His concrete advice includes spreading around high-profile projects and celebrating milestones. Most critical is that employees be optimistic about what they can accomplish together. None of us is as motivated as all of us.

* * *
And from the backlist...

 inline image

Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future
Joel Arthur Barker
HarperBusiness/An imprint of HarperCollins (1993)

One thing that never changes is the need to grapple with change. Barker, a futurist and author, popularized the idea of a "paradigm shift," which he defined as a major change of the rules that establish or define boundaries. Paradigm shifts typically require new behavior on the part of organizations. Anticipate what's coming, and you can control it before it controls you.

Barker explains "strategic exploration," a tool for sussing out the future. There are five steps:

  1. Understanding the influences that shape our perceptions.
  2. Thinking in a divergent manner, which enables us to consider more than one right answer.
  3. Thinking in a convergent manner, which enables us to integrate data while prioritizing choices.
  4. Mapping, which reveals pathways from the present to the future.
  5. Imaging, which documents (using words, drawings or models) what is learned during the process of exploration.

As Peter Drucker reminds us, one of the greatest challenges for any organization is to manage the consequences and implications of a future that has already occurred. Read this book and get ahead of the curve.