What did Toys R Us get wrong?

We consultants and ‘business experts’ love to pontificate and draw conclusions about the demise of businesses like Toys R Us, Maplin and Carrilion.

To outsiders it all seems so easy. Become a disrupter in your space, excel at customer experience and employee engagment, provide an online and bricks and mortar experience, etc. I’m fairly confident that most of the senior managers in all those companies had, at some time, talked about all of those issues and more – yet the businesses still failed.

I’m really fortunate. I get to work with some great people in great organisations. I frequently get to facilitate off site strategy meetings with senior managers at fabulous locations in the UK and internationally.

Strategic planning meetings are really important. They give the senior team time away from the business to focus on the future away from the pressures and detail of day to day issues. As we consultants are fond of saying, “it gives senior managers and business owners time to work on the business instead of in the business”.

It’s usually not long before the senior team is talking about the need to be a more customer or client focused business and being a great place to work. Senior managers are right to spend time on this - Customer Experience is fast becoming recognized as THE way to differentiate a business.

After 'away days' it’s usually not long before members of the senior team volunteer or are allocated responsibility for an 'Employee Engagement' or 'CX' project. Anticipation about what can be achieved is often high at board level, budgets are allocated and the top down communication about the initiative begins.

Initiatives, initiatives

It sometimes seems that as soon as a great concept is given a label it is in danger of being misunderstood, misinterpreted and then executed badly. It is then too often dismissed by those it was intended to ‘engage’ as just another management fad - destined to wither on the vine.

I can testify to the high number of positive nods and groans I hear when I ask audiences if they have ever suffered from initiative fatigue anytime during their careers!

As a change initiative starts to gain momentum, many organisations underestimate the challenges and complexities. Senior managers often want to see lots of activity and rapid progress.

From team bonding sessions, project teams, ‘back to the floor’ projects for CEO’s to newsletters, social media strategies, employee and customers surveys – all kinds of activities are implemented. Sadly many of these activities are more likely to result in cynicism than aligning people with the aims of the business and gaining commitment, particularity with people have 'heard it all before'.

No silver bullets

Lots of companies want to be recognized as organisations that deliver exceptional customer experience and identified as great places to work - but too many want to find short cuts to getting there. They look for silver bullets or boxes to tick. But there are no short cuts when you need to address the fundamental employer/employee relationship and link it to delivering a great customer experience. People have to be properly aligned with the business strategy and values in a focused, congruent and mutually supportive way.

It’s not engagement or CX ‘initiatives’ that are needed – what works is the embedding of an engagement and customer experience philosophy that is lived by everyone from the bottom to the top of the organisation.

Great places to work with engaged employees who deliver excellent customer experience:

  • Are clear what they mean by engagement
  • Are clear what they mean about customer experience
  • Have a senior management team fully committed to it
  • Ensure that everything they do supports the core purpose and values of the organisation
  • Are clear about how they measure engagement and CX
  • Acknowledge that where action is required no single intervention is likely to succeed
  • Keep lines of communication with senior managers open
  • Actively encourage collaboration at all levels
  • Continually recognise, reward, celebrate and reinforce what is being done well
  • Look for and measure the impact of engagement and CX on business results
  • Recognise that employee engagement isn’t a destination – it’s a journey.

Many organisations are just not up to the challenge. They want rapid results based on short term investment and when things get a bit tough another initiative goes on the back burner - yet again proving the cynics right. Every one goes back to business as usual - until the next away day and the next management initiative.

Maybe Toys R Us, Maplin and Carliion went back to business as usual even though intellectually they knew what they needed to do. They are not alone and their will be more ‘shocking’ failures and businesses that never achieve their true potential.

You have to believe in and live the philosophy if you want to avoid initiative fatigue.

David Tovey.

International CX Speaker, Director JXD Consultants.

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