Sunday, February 26, 2012

How Does Your Organisation Approach the Subject of Stress?

Raymond Randall, Karina Nielson and Sturle Tyedt (2009) wrote that “in current European legislation there is a clear emphasis on the use of organizational-level interventions (changes in the design, organization, and management of work) as a way of improving working conditions and tackling problems such as work stress. Research has shown that these interventions can have very powerful effects on employee satisfaction and well-being (Bond, Flaxman, & Loivette, 2006; Elo, Ervasti, & Mattila, 2008; Semmer, 2006).

But what is happening in practice? ‘Stress’ can be one of the most misunderstood words in business today – you’ll have people reading this who will claim to thrive on stress, implying that they need stress to perform at their best. Yet it’s not actually stress they strive on – but a challenge, sometimes under pressure – also at a stage when the ‘excited’ individual isn’t stressed in the first place. You’ll have other’s who will feel stressed but will be too scared or nervous to talk about it within their organisation – firstly, not really knowing who they would talk to about it.

Then you’ll have a few, a small few, who work within an organisational culture where the negative impact of stress on an employee’s performance is recognised and ‘open’ internal systems exist to deal with stress related issues. Where these issues can stem from work and/or personal based issues – but where the most common cause of stress, by far, is organisational change.

Of course it doesn’t help that in today’s business world change is the rule not the exception – so preparing for and managing potential ‘stress-related activities’ should be one skill organisational management, at all levels, are equipped to deal with. But although managing change is a core topic of many training and development courses – it still seems to be an area where management and leadership are sadly lacking.

I’m old fashioned, so always suggest to leaders who are about to implement change programmes that they treat others like they would like to be treated themselves – but sometimes this falls on deaf ears. It’s unfortunate that some leaders still prefer to use the gung-ho approach, using power and threats to ‘force’ change on the organisation. In fact it’s my belief that one reason ‘leaders’ use this ‘power’ approach to change is that they are already ‘stressed’ themselves and they find the use of power a ‘release’ from some of the stress – weird but true.  

As Randall, Nielson and Tydet mention “participation plays a major role in well-known stress intervention theories such as the German Health Circles (Aust & Ducki, 2004) and risk management approaches to work stress (e.g. Cox et al., 2000). Participation may help to ensure employee buy-in and commitment and make use of employees’ expertise, thus improving the chances of intervention success (Kompier, Cooper, & Geurts, 2000; Kompier, Geurts, Grundemann, Vink, & Smulders, 1998). Line managers also appear to play an important role in the implementation of many organizational-level stress management interventions (Donaldson-Feilder, Yarker, & Lewis, 2008). Previous research suggests that the line manager is important in the communication processes that underpin and determine the impact of changes (Jimmieson, Terry, & Callan, 2004). Line managers help to keep employees up-to-date about anticipated events, the consequences of change and employees new work roles (Øyum, Kvernberg Andersen, Pettersen Buvik, Knutstad, & Skarholt, 2006). For example, a study on downsizing found that information helped to reduce uncertainty and anxiety, whereas poor communication was related to absenteeism and turnover (Johnson, Bernhagen, Miller, & Allen, 1996),” (p.4).

With many organisations still suffering from the effects of the global meltdown – stress levels are already high in many organisations – where uncertainty about the future doesn’t help. When the change comes - which it has to for many organisations to survive – often it’s the simple lack of communication that causes the employees to start the negative rumours on the corporate grapevine – that just adds to the already underlying stresses within the organisation.

Randall, Nielson and Tydet also highlight how “quantitative measures of readiness for change have been used in a variety of organizational change interventions. Readiness for change is usually conceptualized as containing capability and motivation components that can be measured at an organizational or individual level (Weiner, Amick, & Lee, 2008). Such measures show some, albeit inconsistent, predictive validity in relation to change outcomes (Weiner et al., 2008). To date, these measures have not been used in the evaluation of organizational-level stress management interventions. However, several qualitative process evaluation studies of stress management interventions have discussed the importance of organizational and individual capability and motivation to change (Nytrø et al., 2000; Saksvik et al., 2002). In addition some authors have mentioned the role of employees’ previous experiences of similar interventions in determining their response to subsequent interventions (Saksvik et al., 2002; Theberge, Granzow, Cole, Laing, & The Ergonomic Intervention Evaluation Research Group, 2006),” (p.4).

So what the business world  needs today are executives and managers who are sensitive to the ‘mood’ of the organisation and who can identify ‘stress’ when it appears and develop one-on-one interventions to deal with it. The payback is huge, as you’ll have an organisation focused on change, with a dedicated support system to see the process through. A top team that recognises that stress harms productivity and motivation – and that if they take a transformational approach to change they can ‘lead’ the organisation through the process with ‘everyone’ on board and intact.

It’s organisations with these cultures instilled in the leadership and management functions that will lead the business community through the 21st century.


Randall, R., Nielsen, K. and Tvedt, S. D. (2009). The development of five scales to measure employees' appraisals of organizational-level stress management interventions. Work & Stress; Vol. 23 Issue 1, p.1-23.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Are You Maximising the Opportunities from Non-Traditional Media?

As suggested in a NY Times (2007) article headline: “Anywhere the eye can see, it’s now likely to see an ad.” The creative potential of non-traditional media solutions is being recognized by advertisers all over the world, as evidenced by the development of specific categories promoting non-traditional media in international advertising award shows such as, for example, Cannes Lions.
Micael Dahlén  argues that “a non-traditional medium can be a (visual) rhetorical figure, more specifically a metaphor. The rhetorical perspective suggests that the manner in which a statement is expressed may actually be more important than its propositional content,” (p.14).
It might be important to pause and define the term ‘rhetorical figure’ which simply means ‘a figure of speech’ – where, a figure of speech is the use of a word or words diverging from its usual meaning.  Figures of speech often provide emphasis, freshness of expression, or clarity. However, it’s worth noting that clarity may also suffer from their use, as any figure of speech introduces an ambiguity between literal and figurative interpretation. Rhetoric originated as the study of the ways in which a source text can be transformed to suit the goals of the person reusing the material. For this goal, classical rhetoric detected four fundamental operations that can be used to transform a sentence or a larger portion of a text: expansion, abridgement, switching, and transferring. The advertising industry has taken the rhetorical figure and expanded it from simple text to a visual display that does exactly the same thing and creates ‘a freshness of expression’ that allows the ‘viewer’ to form different ‘messages’ in their mind.
Dahlén argues that, “in terms of rhetorical figures, a non-traditional medium would be best defined as a visual metaphor, which is one of the most powerful rhetorical figures. Visual figures are more effective than verbal figures because they are entirely implicit; creating an openness and ambiguity that invites consumers to ‘leap to conclusions’. Furthermore, metaphors are under-coded (i.e., they provide no explanation), and therefore require consumers to add pieces to solve the puzzle. When the non-traditional medium works as a metaphor for the brand, the consumer experiences the message through the medium, (p.14)
It’s worth remembering that “brand reputation can be defined as the ‘goodwill’ consumers ascribe to a brand based on their previous experiences of the brand and its visibility in the marketplace. In other words, the reputation is a historical notion of the brand’s past behaviours that guides consumer response when they encounter the brand.” It won’t be surprising to find that “research shows that a brand’s reputation affects its advertising effectiveness, so that advertising for a low reputation brand has less impact, is counter-argued more, and interpreted less favourably (Mitra and Golder 2006) than advertising for high-reputation brands,” (p.14).
Research has also shown that when faced with rhetorical figures in advertising, consumers try to ‘think into it’ and figure out what the advertiser wants to convey (Phillips 1997). As when using rhetorical figures there is no explicit connection between the metaphor and the brand, and hence consumers tend to produce a number of alternative, tentative, conclusions, so-called ‘weak implicatures’, (Dahlén, 2009, p.15).
To highlight this aspect McQuarrie and Phillips (2005) suggest that the resulting ‘weak implicatures’ could best be described as good-faith attempts to understand the message. That is, consumers tend to search for and find positive rather than negative aspects in rhetorical figures. This focus on positive aspects of the advertising, in turn, reduces the cognitive capacity that is left for challenging the advertising (McQuarrie and Phillips 2005; Toncar and Munch 2003). Therefore, one would expect advert and brand evaluations to be enhanced. Finally, research shows that the use itself of rhetorical figures may have a direct, positive, effect on brand attitude: the advertiser is perceived as clever and entertaining and is therefore better liked by the consumer, (p.15).
The main message in Dahlén’s article is that “one should think creatively in the media choice process. Whereas there is great focus on how to ascertain a sufficient level of creativity in the advertss, media choices tend to be made more or less from habit. As brands in the same product category tend to advertise in media with some kind of overlap in audience or theme, their advertising faces competition both from similar brands and from the media content. This may leave less room for positive effects of creativity inside the given advertising spaces and more room outside of them. As a non-traditional medium focuses processing on the positives and reduces counterarguments, it could also be well suited for communicating new messages and benefits to gain greater acceptance.”
“Whereas both low-reputation and high-reputation brands enjoy more positive advert and brand evaluations in a non-traditional medium, the former seems to have more to gain. Thus, we particularly encourage low reputation brands to employ non-traditional media in their advertising,” (p.22).
Dahlén, M. (2009). A Rhetorical Question: What Is the Impact of Non-traditional Media for Low- and High-Reputation Brands? Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising; Vol. 31 Issue 2, p. 13-23.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Is ‘Deceiving the Customer’ the new Competitive Advantage?

In a front page article in the Sunday Times (5th Feb, 2012) they report that “the car giant Toyota secretly requires its dealers to turn a blind eye to an array of faults with brand new cars.”

It’s reported that “former dealers and technicians have spoken of their outrage about the ethics of the policy, which meant that they had to ignore some defects found during routine services and repairs on new cars. The policy does not appear in the warranty manuals given to customers but its existence is set out in internal documents seen by The Sunday Times and in a confidential manual given only to dealers.”
They go on to report that “the secret policy instructs dealers only to fix defects in new cars if they relate to safety and reliability or if they have been flagged up as a problem when the customer brought the vehicle into the garage. According to former dealers and technicians, this means garages could disregard a category of faults during routine service – including clutch problems, clicking steering columns, corroded alloy wheels, rusty brake discs, oil leeks and faulty wing mirrors – if they had not been mentioned by the customer.
What’s even worse (if that’s not bad enough) is that “dealers also felt that the secrecy policy was a rip off because customers could suddenly be told of a list of previously unmentioned faults when the warranties expired. The customer would then have to pay for the work on the car.”
Of course as with many stories in the press we are left to make our own judgement and expect the views on the ‘truth’ of this story will be split both ways. The newspaper reports that “Toyota said last week the minutes (where this issue was formally raised) reflect only the ‘misguided’ concerns of one dealer. It said the issue had been properly addressed at the time and had not been raised since the meeting” – though to be honest, having seen how some big corporates work, that doesn’t surprise me – I can image the poor employee been hauled over the coals and in no uncertain terms told if he/she ever brings the issue up again that they will never work again…. “The national council of Toyota dealers last week wrote to this newspaper saying its members regarded the warranty as among the best in the industry.” Which depending how cynical you are – could bring big smile to your face.
It gets worse because the paper reports that “Toyota’s warranty auditors perform spot checks on dealers an can fine them up to four times the cost of any non-safety related repairs they found to have been carried out without receiving a customer complaint,” and then the bit that got my attention and made me realise that this was probably true – “Toyota said that the maximum fine was very rarely imposed.” – which, for me, confirmed that the policy did exist.
In fact later in the article it’s reported that “Toyota has claimed that its secrecy policy is commonplace in the industry,” – so I guess we all better rush out and by ‘push-bikes’ or some other mode of transport….
Apparently Jon Williams, the managing director of Toyota GB, was on the phone to The Sunday Times within hours of the reporters putting their story to him. He promised to drop everything and travel to London the following day. William and two other executives who accompanied him produced an independent report that said the firms warranty policy had the highest rate of dealer approval in the UK motor industry. The Toyota executives initially denied that Toyota had any policy of refusing to recognise ‘add-on-repairs’ – a term for faults that are not reported by the customer – until the Sunday Times reporters produced the organisations confidential warranty policy manual, which clearly states that this is the case.
The report concludes by stating that “it is unclear why Toyota chooses to burden its customers with extra bureaucracy by insisting that they book their cars in to the workshop all over again when technicians find defects with their cars, rather than repairing them on the spot.” Though can personally think of many reasons why they might have to re-book, where, for example, the ‘extra’ time to fix the ‘new’ fault might simply be too long for the technicians to complete with the work load they already have for that day. Which could lead to delay in fixing other customers cars – who had booked and were expecting to pick up their vehicle on the same day.
They also conclude with the fact that “nor is it obvious why Toyota operates a complex audit system that can penalise dealers for repairing faults under warranty that are unknown to the customer if, as Toyota says, its technicians are free to tell customers of any faults they discover.”
What’s scary about this story, if only partially true, is how the world has changed in 50 years. There was a time – yes there really was – when employees took pride in building and manufacturing products, and not just cars. A time when there was a genuine desire for the customer to ‘be happy’, where the logic was that not only would the customer repeat purchase but would also ‘encourage’ their friends to purchase, by telling them about their customer experience.
So I guess the moral of this story is to complain about everything – just to be safe.
As a post script, in today’s Sunday Times (12th Feb 2012), they report that “the car giant Toyota faces investigation by the motor industry regulator over its secrecy policy of ignoring some faults in new cars,” – so maybe the truth will be heard.
However many questions will remain unanswered for now, including, what this will do to customer confidence in the automotive sector and maybe more importantly what kind of people work for organisations that allegedly deceive the customer – but this is another story for another day.
The Sunday Times. Toyota accused of deceiving customers. 05.02.2012. p.1-2.
The Sunday Times. If the customer doesn’t make a complaint, don’t fix the car. 05.02.2012. p.12-13.
The Sunday Times. Toyota faces inquiry over ignoring faults. 12.02.2012. p.16.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Do You Know Your Brands G-Spot?

Kevin Keller and Frederick Webster mention that “one of the realities of modern brand marketing is that many of the decisions that marketers make with respect to their brands are seemingly characterized by conflicting goals, objectives and possible outcomes. Unfortunately, in our experience, too many marketers define their problems in ‘either/or’ terms, creating situations where one idea, one individual or one option wins out. Opportunities are missed for finding an even better solution, a new idea that could have been discovered and developed by combining and refining conflicting points of view. As a result, resources may be squandered, consumers may be left unsatisfied or confused and the organization may find itself struggling with lingering internal conflict,” p.13).

In fact Keller and Webster highlight the following representative marketing trade-offs (p.15);

Strategic (targeting and positioning)
• Retaining vs. acquiring customers
• Brand fortification vs. brand expansion
• Brand awareness vs. brand image
• Product performance vs. user imagery
• Points of parity vs. points of difference

Tactical (design and implementation)
• Push vs. pull
• Continuity vs. change
• Existing vs. new channels
• Direct market coverage vs. use of middlemen
• Selling systems vs. selling components
• Creative, attention-getting ads vs. informative, product-focused ads

Financial (allocation and accountability)
• Short-run vs. long-run objectives
• Revenue-generating vs. brand-building activities
• Easily measurable marketing activities vs. difficult to quantify marketing activities
• Quality maximization vs. cost minimization
• Social responsibility vs. profit maximizing

Organizational (structure, processes, and responsibilities)
• Central vs. local control
• Top-down vs. bottom-up brand management
• Customized vs. standardized marketing plans and programs
• Internal vs. external focus

Now it’s possible that some may think that some of the ‘highlighted’ trade-offs – don’t have to be trade-offs at all and can be developed and incorporated within the strategy independently of each other. Retaining and acquiring customers for example, where marketers can develop strategies for each; however the issues Keller and Webster are raising is that the ‘marketers’ need to be aware of the potential cross-over implications of the ‘independent strategic plans’ – and in these cases simply asks the question;  have we considered any multi-collinear implications in our model development.

To understand the nature and extent of the marketing trade-offs, Keller and Webster highlight some key questions that must be answered: “How severe are they? Are they unavoidable, inherent in the nature of the decision problem and situation? How have they been dealt with before? Of particular importance is the ability to recognize whether the trade-offs result from internal, organizational considerations or external, structural issues inherent in the marketing environment where management has less control. Next, marketers must develop effective means for achieving marketing balance. Given the wide range of marketing tradeoffs that exists, it is perhaps no surprise that a correspondingly wide range of solutions is also typically available,” (p.15).

As an example, Keller and Webster remind us that “when BMW first made a strong competitive push into the U.S. market in the early 1980s, it positioned the brand as being the only automobile that offered both luxury and performance. At that time, American luxury cars were seen by many as lacking performance, and American performance cars were seen as lacking luxury. By relying on the incomparable design of their car—and to some extent their German heritage too—BMW was able to simultaneously achieve (1) a point of difference on performance and a point of parity on luxury with respect to luxury cars and (2) a point of difference on luxury and a point of parity on performance with respect to performance cars. The clever slogan, ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine,’ effectively captured the newly created umbrella category: luxury performance cars. Product differentiation can occur through technological innovation or creative repositioning,” (p.16).

The concept of an organisation taking the time to identify the ‘right’ marketing balance can often be missed in today’s fast paced business world, where many organisations who are not actively ‘forcing’ the pace as leaders – simply react to changes in the market place. It’s in these very instances that organisations should take the time to assess the potential trade offs – so that they can in fact develop a strategy to achieve market balance and in doing so reach the brands g-spot.

To achieve that market balance Keller and Webster highlight 6 factors that will help;

Breakthrough product or service innovation;
Improved business models;
Expanded or leveraged resources;
Embellished marketing;
Perceptual framing;
Creativity and inspiration.

In conclusion Keller and Webster state that “there certainly may be times that given extreme circumstances, dire straits or an overwhelming need to achieve one objective at all costs, radical solutions are warranted. But even in these cases, marketers would be well-served to recognize exactly the extent and nature of the decision tradeoffs they face, and the consequences of ignoring other options. Radical solutions should be thoroughly vetted and contrasted to more balanced solutions that offer more robust and complete solutions,” (p.17).


Keller, K.L and Webster Jr., F.E. (2009). The Branding Sweet Spot.  Marketing Management; Vol. 18 Issue 4, p12-17.