Tell-tale signs of outside-in versus inside-out belief systems

If big Moments of Belief are the rocket stages that create, nurture and grow outside-in beliefs, there are also smaller details of behaviour that become more local stories within companies, perpetuating their beliefs - mini Moments of Belief if you will. This is the way we do things around here. For example, at Orange under the leadership of Hans Snook in the 1990s, you had to talk about the customer. If you failed to mention customers in the first five minutes of a board presentation, you would be asked to stop and leave the boardroom. It didn’t need to happen many times to become a rule the business ran by.

Gordon Campbell-Gray, founder of luxury London hotel OneAldwych, only recruited waiting staff who he felt really cared about customers. Did they really want a guest to enjoy their experience? One tell-tale for him was when people served a cappuccino. What did they say? The words didn’t matter, but he wanted the feeling that they genuinely wanted this to be a moment of enjoyment, and for this to be shared with conviction. He absolutely didn’t want his team to use the same words as each other. That would be inauthentic. He wanted people who meant it and expressed it their own way, and a German would have a very different style to an Italian.

IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad famously embodied the furniture retailer’s frugal spirit, sleeping in his battered, old Volvo rather than staying overnight in a hotel, flying economy and wearing clothes from flea markets. His thriftiness was reflected in the Swedish company’s philosophy to offer ‘democratic design’ to people with ‘thin wallets’ and make good home design affordable to all.

Tell-tale leaks that reveal an inside-out system tend to betray a disregard of customers

Many companies are organised around and celebrate products. The main functions are product-led, the pictures on the walls are of products (often pristine without a human to mess up the view) and the main events each year are product launches. Store visits are to check on the store and the staff rather than to listen to and meet customers, finding out what they really think about what’s going on. And customer contact means watching focus groups from behind a one-way mirror eating sandwiches, drinking wine and laughing when they say something silly.

Behavioural leaks that reveal the belief system can be seen in the way a company uses language. As we touched upon right at the beginning of this chapter, the study of language or ‘discourse analysis’ can be highly revealing about an organisation’s underlying beliefs, something that linguistic specialists like Gill Ereaut of Linguistic Landscapes has been analysing for years.

An outside-in language leak is seen in the way Disney calls its theme park customers ‘guests.’ An example of inside-out comes from the automotive industry. In mapping a customer’s relationship with the business, a marketing team described the sales steps with energy and then labelled the next stage ‘the fallow period’... This is when the customer owns and uses the car, the whole purpose of the customer’s investment. For the customer it is the point - the value of their investment. For the salesperson, it’s the dull bit where you can’t sell anything. The term ‘fallow period’ tells you the organisation is inside-out.

Ereaut describes how language characterises a business and is invisible to those on the inside. She writes:

Habits of language in an organisation matter, because they sustain certain ways of thinking, especially basic ideas such as who we are, what we do, who ‘those people out there’ (customers and stakeholders) are and - crucially - what the relationship is between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Are ‘we’ knowledgeable experts and ‘they’ a somewhat ignorant nuisance? Are ‘we’ so polite that we cannot possibly challenge ‘them,’ even when we should? Are ‘we’ the guardians of a moral high ground?54

When analysing the discourse of the prostate cancer charity Prostate Cancer UK in late 2011 to help spark radical change, Ereaut discovered some subtle but persistent patterns in the charity’s language. There was habitual indirectness and distancing, and a marked use of euphemism and hyperpoliteness. While there were occasional bursts of outrage (at the plight of men with the disease) and fighting talk, especially by individuals in conversation, this was submerged. ‘We characterised it as a ‘muffled’ discourse - soft, quiet, civilised and caring - but muffled,’ she said.55

This analysis gave the charity the confidence and clarity to move to a powerful new way of speaking and acting - bolder, more energetic and more strongly advocating on behalf of the men it was fighting for. The new culture was one we would call an outside-in belief system.

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