When we go to our friend’s house and they offer us a plate of snacks, we know we should take one or two and not polish it all off the plate like we would at home. Similarly, many shops offer samples of cookies or chocolates or beauty products. We are polite and take one or two instead of asking for the whole carton. We restrain ourselves to what we consider appropriate behaviour because social norms operate.

Social vs Commercial Norms

However if the shops (or our friends) were to charge even Rs 1 for it, we would pick up a 100 without a qualm as it would now be a commercial transaction and social norms do not operate. We would feel justified in taking as much as we could afford as we would consider this now a great business deal. This is a topic that Dan Ariely covers in detail.

In Chapter 4 of my book, Marketing Without Money, I write about the trust shops run by ID foods during the pandemic. They almost always got their money. When you trust customers they respect that trust.

The Indigo Incident

Indigo Airlines is in the news this week for denying boarding to a special needs teen, despite many passengers and doctors pleading on his behalf. I was really pleased that so many bystanders empathised with cognitive diversity – that’s a big step forward! They were operating within social norms which guided them to be empathetic and put themselves in the shoes of the parents and child. The official on the other hand was purely in commercial mode and not thinking beyond the rule book.

Human Connections in a Digital World

I was listening to Santosh Desai’s discussion on “Striking Human Connections in a Digital World” on CMOSquare. It’s an interesting train of thought with a lot of anecdotes. Plus you get to find out why his book is called “Mother Pious Lady”.

Now here’s the thing, humans are made up of biases. Sometimes we have ones that we don’t even know about! Growing up in a village in Tamil Nadu, I always assumed I did well in tests because I was ’smart’. I now realise that privilege takes many forms and thanks to my very smart parents, I was actually privileged. The new me is way more empathetic towards those who struggle in school.

What’s the process, human?

We all have different notions of ‘humanity’. Most inhuman acts are conducted by those who think they are helping. You look at the ghastly news from Ukraine, or pretty much any conflict, and you wonder “what were they thinking!” The mind is an amazing tool for self-deception.

Since humans can’t be trusted to express humanity in the way you and I do, companies have to define what they mean by “be human”. (Even more important if the actual implementation is in the hands of robotic processes.)

Be Welcoming. (Or else)

In 2018 Starbucks employees called the cops on two black customers for allegedly “trespassing” when they visited the cafe for a business meeting. Starbucks later closed all cafes in the US and conducted training on racial bias. They now have an ‘open-source” toolkit on many aspects of being welcoming. In other words, their rule book on the minimum required of human behaviour in their outlets.

I joined the marketing team at Infosys when it was a big startup growing at a wild pace. So I did a lot of non-marketing things like plan the customer meal menus, set up the gate entry process for customers, and define head of state visit protocols by country. Every time I’d talk about one of these things being done, Nandan Nilekani, then COO of Infosys would ask if there was a process document uploaded on the knowledge portal. He said an organization cannot scale unless you can translate your knowledge into a repeatable process that anyone can follow without your involvement.

Love, kindness and process orientation

So if you want your organization to behave like a “good” human, you’re going to have define what that is. And make it a repeatable process.

Ratan Tata said “Business, as I have seen it, places one great demand on you: it needs you to self-impose a framework of ethics, values, fairness and objectivity on yourself at all times.”

Want special needs customers to get special treatment? Want the elderly to be handled sensitively? Want your account representatives to be flexible with your top clients? Extend credit period to your tenured clients? There’s got to be a process map for it.

In the case of Indigo Airlines, the process of defining dangerous behaviour by a minor is still not clear to me, and most likely not to their ground staff either.

Systematically addressing disabilities

The Indian government identifies 21 disabilities –  airlines can come together and publish their process map for each of these. A starting point could be IATA’s progress with the sunflower lanyard for hidden disabilities. Not just airlines – these issues are relevant to many sectors – hospitality, transportation, education, hospitals, retail, gyms.

Culture is important – it provides a guide on how to perform when there is no process for it. But these should be the exceptions and after one such instance it should be baked into the process.

Culture eats Strategy. Not always.

I’ve been doing go-to-market consulting for tech firms since 2010, and I cannot reiterate how often it is that  the way they define and articulate values is the true differentiator and the peg on which everything else fits. Once the vision is defined, there must be a process to ensure that it is manifested in the organization through processes and artefacts.

Process can eat culture for breakfast.

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Jessie Paul is the Founder and CEO of Paul Writer, a firm she founded in early 2010 to raise the bar for marketing in India. Previously, as Chief Marketing Officer of Wipro’s IT business and as Global Brand Manager at Infosys, Jessie has been recognized for her contribution towards putting the Indian IT industry on the global map. With over 18 years in services marketing, including a stint with Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Jessie is considered an expert in brand globalization and has been named one of the most influential business women in the Indian IT industry.


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