Customize or disappear

I was fortunate to get in touch with the Blue Ocean strategy concept in 2006 when at INSEAD. I was so excited by it as I immersed myself for several weeks into thinking about how to apply it for ‘internal customer/employee’ engagement, with benefits for both my firm and clients.

I recently read an HBR article about the same idea - customized retention. It stimulated me to write about another perspective researched by us which is today a proprietary methodology. We discuss it in detail within the Leadership Development Program we do for the senior teams of our clients. 


The background of the concept and methodology

One of the inspiring examples was Cirque du Soleil’s. With the “Four Actions Framework” they applied to identify and address what was critical/ important/ less important and not important for their customers.

Once all major competing features were detailed and customers were well segmented, they took a bold move. A move only the courageous pioneers take when passionate and faithful in their vision:

They challenged the presence of animals, the star performers, the aisle concession sales and multiple show arenas as being critical for their customers and… eliminated them. And together with them, the huge associated costs (logistics, food, etc.).

They understood in due time their business was on the emotional/entertainment side and not on the functional one. They also knew that there are several segments of potential clients that circus businesses had not captured. And they looked into the other emotional /entertainment businesses those “soon to become customers” were accessing: cinemas, clubs, theaters, etc. Here came the “simple” magic: they imported many of their features to replace the ones they removed and thus attract new segments of customers.

There are many other amazing things they did (refined environment, artistic music and dance, etc.) and I will not insist on them but rather on the concept per se:

  • identify what is critical for your customers, grow it, innovate around, add more value here;
  • maintain what is important, 
  • decrease the efforts put into less important stuff for your customers and
  • eliminate what is not important.

It may sound simple yet very few of us are actually challenging apparently critical features for customers and remove them for being not important, like Cirque du Soleil did.

The 2010 experience at Harvard Business School added 2 simple yet key concepts underlined by Prof. Earl Sasser in his book “The Ownership Quotient”:


Source: “The Ownership Quotient”, James L. Heskett, W.Earl Sasser, Joe Wheeler



Imagine that:

  1. Some if not many of your competitors could produce similar results at similar prices /packages and at a similar cost of access for the customers/employees.
  3. Many companies could be similarly strong in providing results for their customers, at similar prices and access costs.
  5. Many employers could be similarly strong in their capabilities to deliver value for their employees in offering comparable incomes and in having similar access costs, however few could match/equal in the quality of the experience we provide. And as the battle for talent is increasing and our growth depend on quality people, customization is key in retention and engagement. 

Long story short, combining these key learnings, we have refined a pretty simple and straightforward methodology to Customize employee retention and engagement.

Many studies have shown that the engagement drivers are related to

  • Career development perspectives
  • Appreciation /recognition of one’s contribution
  • Relationship with the direct superior
  • Autonomy
  • Purpose
  • Power/influence
  • Pay and benefits
  • Empowerment, utilizing one’s strengths
  • Climate and culture
  • Intrinsic job satisfaction, etc.

Yet many companies choose to have more or less the same old approach and differentiate very little in the way they customize it to their key people. These companies gather insights about reasons why key talents leave mainly during the exit interviews…

What if the approach is proactive to start understanding what is critical for our key talents and just focus on/address those things, avoiding the conventional “mass” approach?

What if in one - to - one discussions with our key talents we identify what is highly motivating for that person is to have 1 day a week for herself/her passions/her family rather than a 20% pay raise?

What if we find out that one of our key talents considers the quality of the relationship with us to be a poor to average one while this is a key engagement driver for her? Instead we assumed she is mainly motivated by challenging objectives and autonomy provided and we ignored something of such importance. 


Apply it:

Once 3-4-5 key engagement drivers are identified as well as their level of satisfaction on each (let’s say on a scale from 1 to 5), you can draft an action plan and follow it through at the moment the satisfaction level on that respective feature is high enough (a 4 or a 5). Then do the assessment again as new key engagement drivers may appear and you’ll have to work on them…


Brief conclusion:

In such times where the very good people are rare enough, in which VUCA requires a different mindset for every one of us, I strongly believe we can only adapt and thrive if we find the right people with the right values and customize our approach to them. The ones who don’t understand that will most likely disappear.


What do you think?




Radu Manolescu

Co-founder & Managing Partner

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