Listening Beats Talking: Four Principles for Doing Business in the Network Economy
Here are four key principles for creating a stronger business in the network economy:
- Listening beats Talking
- Open beats Closed
- Relationships Beat Transactions
- Questions beat Answers
Over the course of the next few posts I will be going into details on each. If you have questions or other examples to put into the posts – please add them into the comments. Part one focuses on Listening beats Talking.
Listening beats Talking
In the network – listening is a prerequisite to learning. It is the critical precursor of everything we do – the beginning of joining conversations, building trust, learning and developing relationships.
Listening is not passive, it is another way of finding answers from new places – from customers, partners and employees outside of the traditional leadership circle. It sounds simple but the problem is that most of our companies are structured to talk – Marketing, PR, Communications departments, even tradshows and events are all vehicles for advocacy – not inquiry or information gathering.
Fox, GM (yes, it is true), Salesforce.com are all examples of companies that are listening in new ways but I want to take a deeper look at what Starbucks is doing as an illustration of Listening beats Talking:
I am no fan of the company but I have been impressed by www.mystarbucksidea.com.
Taking a quick look at the interface you can immediately see what they are doing right. Users can submit any idea for consideration. Other users (and this is critical) can vote these ideas up or down and discuss them. Often the comments build out the initial idea and give it more substance or potential value. The key insight here is that the normal role of the product manager, the person who sorts through ideas and assesses their potential value, is being done by the community itself. Rather than ask and answer the question from within the company, Starbucks is using listening as a form of customer led innovation. This same idea can also be applied to many areas of your business including product development (which ideas are most important to improve customer experience of my product) and human resources (more on that below).
Once the ideas are in motion Starbucks has managers that can respond in the comments. Ideas that get a lot of votes/comments can then be put into review. As a user you can see that the idea is actively under consideration. The whole process is public; from “under review” to “reviewed” and (potentially) “Launched”
For a quick tour of all the changes and innovations that have been inspired by their customers – check out the Starbucks blog here. This is just one detailed example of Listening beats Talking.
Dell and Salesforce.com have also had great results with these types of idea exchanges. On the B2B front Salesforce used the same Idea Exchange platform has has been able to deliver “four new releases [in 2007], in contrast to only two in 2006. New releases now include three hundred new features, three times as many as in previous years.” (source, Groundswell pg. 186)
Human Resources Where Art Though?
Lest you think that this is just a business-to-consumer idea – what about hooking your internal employee population up to something like this? Imagine two big buttons on your intranet, “Things we Should Do Less Of” and “Things We Should Do More Of” - “…Less Of” lists suggestion to drive down waste and inefficiency “…More Of” drives employee led innovation through suggestions on what the company should be doing. Following Starbuck’s example, all suggestions are transparent to other employees and can be voted up or down – management closes the loop by putting winning ideas under review and implementing select ones. Traditional “workout” sessions aimed at eliminating redundancies and waste that used to be conducted with a limited team together in a room can now be distributed on a simple platform accessible to all employees regardless of title or workplace. That is powerful.
How to Prepare:
In its more mature form Listening is a commitment to take action on the part of your company so if you launch something like this then be prepared to handle the “tail costs” of reviewing ideas, responding to comments and honestly committing to a few winning ideas. Also, be prepared to see some criticism aired in the open. Trust me, that criticism is already happening around the proverbial watercooler (for your employees) or in other public forums (for your customers). The difference here is that you will be able to see it and do something about it.
Next Post will focus on “Open beats Closed”