Business Rocks: Policing Your Customer Experience

As a Preston North End fan, I’m painfully aware that the football club doesn’t have a great recent track record – and when I say ‘recent’, I mean the past 60 years or so at least!

There’s one area where PNE does excel, though. The club’s police liaison officer, PC Paul Elliott (see @PNEPolice on Twitter), is a leader in developing positive relationships with visiting teams’ fans. As a result, in a sport where there can still, unfortunately be problems with opposing sets of fans, PNE enjoy very few incidents and the feedback from visiting fans is uniformly excellent.

Ahead of each game, Paul builds relationships with each away team’s fan groups and is on hand every match day to ensure that any potential problems are rapidly sorted out.

Last year, for instance, I saw a video of Paul dealing with some ‘lively’ Leeds United fans who had formed a rowing team in the middle of the street (think of dancing to Oops Upside Your Head by The Gap Band if you’re aged 50 or over!). Rather than confronting the group directly, Paul sat on the road with them and joined in. After a little while, the fans simply got up, shook Paul’s hand and moved on.

Many businesses talk about delivering a great customer experience and create complex systems to achieve this. The principles are often much simpler, though. I’ve recently seen detailed research into a major UK retailer showing that customers’ overall satisfaction was driven by three factors: a warm welcome, being treated with integrity and having any problems resolved rapidly.

Paul understands these principles instinctively, which is why he is respected by fans across the league. But how well do you understand the key drivers of your customer experience? And how have you turned those principles into real-life experiences that are enjoyed by both your fans and your casual supporters?


Off The Record: I Fought The Law by The Bobby Fuller Four

Robbin’ people with a six-gun

I fought the law and the law won

I fought the law and the law won

I lost my girl and I lost my fun

I fought the law and the law won

I fought the law and the law won


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: The Currency of Strategy


When I’m working with my clients on strategy projects, the biggest gains we make happens when we take the time to develop different future options. Having a few hours to think and talk exclusively about the future of their business is a release for many executives.

As these executives share and listen to each other’s points of view, there can be disagreement, argument and robust discussion, but they always end up moving the strategy forward. On a personal level, it’s a satisfying session to lead, but I’m often left with the thought that it should happen more often.

The currency of strategy is ideas. And the value of that currency increases when you’re willing to spend generously and continuously.

Strategy development happens in an organization when you’re willing to share your ideas, discuss them and let others develop them with you. The best sign that you’ve spent freely is when your ideas come back to you claimed by your colleagues as their own!

How freely are you spending and what is the value of the currency of ideas in your organization?


Off The Record: Money by Barrett Strong


Money don’t get everything, it’s true

But what it don’t get, I can’t use

I need money –

That’s what I want!


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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How League Ladders Can Drive Your Performance


When I was at junior school, in the 1970s, I was obsessed with football. As part of my obsession, I would analyse the latest league tables every Sunday morning, following Saturday’s fixtures.

Even better, I had access to my Shoot league ladders (see photo above, for an example), which were produced by the Shoot football magazine each season. This simple system allowed me to move the card tabs, each printed with a club’s name in the club’s colours, up and down the league table to their latest position.

Forty years later, even though there are football league tables online wherever I want them, I only have a fraction of the knowledge of which team is where in the league that I had then. The truth is that the act of manually updating the tables myself gave me a far closer understanding of the situation than I can gain by simply reading the latest positions.



The same is true in business. Teams feel far more engaged if they’re actually involved and responsible for keeping the score and updating the scoreboard. In the book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution, Chris McChesney notes that “People play different when they are keeping score. This creates a very different felling than when you keep score for them.”

In fact, I can’t think of a high-performing team that I’ve worked with that doesn’t have a set of simple, visual measures that they update on an ongoing basis – often using a manual, hand-written system.

And this approach works for teams at levels. I even know of the CEO of a FTSE 100 company that has a whiteboard in his office that he updates on a daily basis to better understand sales and performance across each of his business units and so that he can spot and deal with issues and opportunities rapidly.

How could you emulate the Shoot league ladders and create visible, manual scorecards that are fully owned by each of your teams? And how could these scorecards help your business climb the league to the very top?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: The Time Expert


The biggest issue my clients face in innovating and growing more quickly is capacity. They – and their organisations – simply do not have the bandwidth to get all their ideas delivered at the pace and impact that they want.

Unfortunately, many still try to pursue every good idea, only to end up delivering 100 things badly rather than a handful of things brilliantly. Ruthless prioritization is the best way to drive pace and effectiveness.

There are other solutions, though. I’ll talk about others in the coming weeks, but my first idea for you – becoming a ‘time expert’ – is essential to effective delivery. Time expertise is more than paying lip service to your diary, it is about ensuring that every minute of every day is focused on your biggest priorities.

Earlier this week, for instance, I met an executive director of a FTSE 350 business who is working on a new commercial strategy for the business. Over the previous seven days he had spent over 12 hours writing a PowerPoint presentation on the strategy – not thinking through the key pillars of the strategy, but translating those ideas onto a 15-page deck!

There are probably 100 or more things this executive could have done with his time that would have helped deliver his priorities better than writing a PowerPoint pack. And while it may be obvious to people on the outside that this was not the best use of his time, it’s a lot more difficult to notice when you’re in the middle of the everyday mayhem.

The remedy is to regularly and critically review your calendar to understand how much of your time you’re wasting on unnecessary meetings, activities and tasks – and then take action. Ask yourself, how much of your current calendar could you delegate, do more efficiently, put off or simply stop doing?

Effective time management is not simply about becoming more efficient. Done properly, it is all about growing your organisation’s bandwidth and accelerating growth. How could you drive more growth for your business by becoming a time expert?


Off The Record: Life’s What You Make It by Talk Talk

Baby, life’s what you make it

Celebrate it

Anticipate it

Yesterday’s faded

© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Growing Like New York City


Last week I was lucky enough to be working in New York City. Looking out over the Manhattan skyline, I was amazed by the sheer scale of building work that was going on. New York is in a constant state of regeneration.

The developments are almost exclusively high-rise buildings, each with a tower crane standing over the building site. As I looked more closely, I noticed that the cranes were not at the full height that will be needed to complete the development. Instead, the cranes are constantly positioned just a few floors higher than the current build. (I’ve since learned that tower cranes use one of two systems to periodically raise their height as the development progresses.)

When it comes to strategy, it can be tempting to create your high-level vision and then ask or cajole your organisation to deliver against it. The trouble is, that won’t work.

Like the cranes towering over New York City’s new property developments, you must instead find a way to help your teams reach up to the next level of performance in a step-by-step approach before repeating the process.

What actions are you taking to help your business achieve your biggest strategic goals in a phased and managed way?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: The Loneliest Person In The UK


The Brexit saga is now creating a full-blown national crisis in the UK. There have been so many mis-steps throughout the process, it’s hard to know where to start. But, in this note, I’m just going to focus on one.

Our Prime Minister, Mrs. May, developed the Withdrawal Agreement with her political and civil service advisors, not with her cabinet colleagues. As a result, in the House of Commons and across the country as a whole, she is seen as the sole owner of the deal. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to it as “The Prime Minister’s deal” in an interview this week.

The best way to build joint ownership for an idea is to encourage and facilitate genuine involvement in its development. In terms of my work in strategy, that means all members of the executive team must have a meaningful role in its creation. Only then will each director be willing and able to enthusiastically share the same strategic message and lead the next steps of delivery. John Kotter, the Harvard Business School professor on leadership and change management, calls this group the ‘guiding coalition.’

On an issue as contentious as Brexit, a guiding coalition was an essential pre-requisite for success. Mrs. May’s biggest failure of all was a failure to build this coalition across her cabinet. Now, she not only looks like a zombie PM but, even in a packed House of Commons, she also looks like one of the loneliest people in the country.


Off The Record: Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles

Eleanor Rigby –

Died in the church and was buried along with her name

Nobody came!

Father Mackenzie –

Wiping the dirt from his hand as he walks from the grave

No-one was saved!

© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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Business Rocks: Ground Level Strategy


High-level strategy is as useful to most workers in an organization as a high-flying airliner is to commuters in a bus queue. The bus passengers may briefly look up and notice the plane and its vapour trail, but, even if it is travelling in the same direction, it cannot possibly help them reach their destination.

Similarly, unless you bring your strategy down-to-earth, your people will not know how best to implement it. As a result, it will have no real impact on your business’s performance.

Over half my work is focused on turning high-level strategies into tangible actions on the ground. Over the past couple of weeks, for instance, I have worked to help a retailer turn a high-level corporate sales goal into a specific target and action plan for one of its key product categories, clarified the implications of a corporate strategy for the company’s buying team, and started a project to help an IT department prioritise its current list of initiatives by understanding each of the initiatives’ impact on the company’s strategic ambitions.

How well have you translated your high-level strategy into focused action on the ground? And what further steps could you take to ensure that your 40,000 feet vision leads to ‘ground-breaking’ results?


Off The Record: Learning To Fly by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

I’m learning to fly

But I ain’t got wings

Coming down

Is the hardest thing


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.

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How to Assess Your Team’s Capabilities in 60 Minutes


Last Friday, I ran a project planning session for a major UK retailer. The aim of the project is to run a trial to rapidly grow sales in one of the retailer’s most important categories.

Identifying the specific capabilities that need developing and improving was a critical task of the planning process. We were able to carry out that analysis in around one hour with a cross-functional team. Here’s how:

  1. Agree the Capabilities.

    The group brainstormed answers to the question: What does the business need to be great at to achieve high sales in this category? The group produced a long list of answers, but we were able to group them into six key capability themes.

  2. Assess Your Current Position.

    We then scored each of the six capabilities. I suppose that you could use any scoring system, but we used a simple assessment and scored each capability as either Poor, OK, Good and Excellent. Even this simple approach generated some great discussion across the team and identified differences in opinion.

  3. Establish Future Targets.

    We then discussed how far we wanted to improve each capability through our 12-week trial. For some capabilities we agreed that it wouldn’t be possible to see too much movement in such a short time, but for others we realised that we could be more ambitious. We used the previous scoring system to establish the goals and were able to see where we had the biggest gaps between current and future positions and where the team need to focus their efforts.

  4. Develop Action Plans.

    For the three priority capabilities where the team agreed they wanted to take action, we concluded the hour-long exercise by agreeing the actions required to deliver the improvements the team wanted to see. We also identified owners for each of the actions and set a timetable for delivery.


We undertook this exercise as part of a project planning session, but you could apply the same approach to assessing an operational team’s capabilities. Even though the whole work took less than 60 minutes, the team were confident that they had identified all the relevant key capabilities and were satisfied that the actions they set out will significantly improve performance.

At your next team meeting or project planning session, why don’t you try this exercise and understand what you really need to do to improve your team’s capabilities?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.


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Business Rocks: The Ultimate Corporate Health KPI

As some of you may know, I am actively involved in SportsAid, a great charity that supports the development of the next generation of leading UK athletes. On Tuesday, I met with other charity members and our conversation turned to the relationship between sport and TV.

One of the attendees was a well-known UK sports’ presenter who laid out how TV companies are effectively segmenting viewers and focusing on providing high-fee pay-TV services to those who truly love each sport.

Rugby fans, for instance, may get to see a handful of free-to-air matches each season, but for those who are really into the sport and want to see matches each week, they must pay BT a monthly subscription. Similarly, cricket and golf fans cannot currently watch the sport live on TV without paying for the privilege – and relatively few people are willing to do that.

The problem is that participation in both cricket and golf is in decline, and rugby’s participation growth has been driven by a rise in the numbers of women and girls playing the game. Male participation is falling or static, at best.

Now, I’m not saying that these declines are completely due to a lack of free TV coverage. But the ultimate KPI of any sport’s health is a growing level of participation. Many people become inspired by sport by watching it on TV and if this isn’t possible, the chances are the numbers of new people trying the sport will fall.

What is true for sport is true for other sectors. If you are not attracting new customers to your brands and business and are being forced, instead, to drive your growth by selling more to an ever-reducing number of ‘loyalists’, you are on the route to decline and irrelevance. The investment of M&S, the UK high-street retailer, into Ocado, the on-line grocery business, is an admission of M&S’s failure to attract new customers through its existing business.

How well is your business doing on the KPI of new customer attraction? And if your new customer numbers are low, what steps are you taking to resolve the issue?


Off The Record: It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding) by Bob Dylan


Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn

Suicide remarks are torn

From the fool’s gold mouthpiece, the hollow horn

Plays wasted words, proves to warn

That he not busy being born

Is busy dying


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.


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The Resistance To Change Formula


Twenty years ago, an expert in organisational development and organisational change introduced me to the ‘resistance to change’ formula. I’ve used it ever since to better manage any business projects – which means all business projects!! – involving a change in organisation and behaviour.

Here’s the formula:

D x V x F > R

Where –

D – Dissatisfaction with the current state;

V – Vision for the future;

F – First steps are clear;

And –

R – Resistance to change.

The main thing to note is that it is a multiplicative formula. In other words, if any of the three factors of ‘Dissatisfaction’, ‘Vision’ or ‘First Steps’ are missing the left-hand side of the formula equals zero. When that happens, the resistance to change will outweigh your efforts to deliver your desired changes.

As a result, you must make sure that you work on all three factors of D, V and F and ensure that each element is strong enough with your target audience to outweigh and remove their resistance.

How effective are you at leading organisational change? And how could you improve your change management results by focusing on the ‘resistance to change’ formula?


© Stuart Cross 2019. All rights reserved.


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