Early in my career as a manager, one of my team members complained to me, “Everyone thinks I am difficult to work with. I am trying to work well with other teams, but I think everyone else is just stubborn and doesn’t see the value of working with me. I can’t even get anyone to reply to my emails.” I believed him, and I think he was trying to play to well with others.
Still, he must have been doing something that other people just could not stand. I asked him to take a closer look at his own actions. There had to be something to cause the perception that he was tough to work with. What I asked him to do was look at himself from the perspective of others.This was a classic example of “perception vs. reality” or, even more true, that “perception IS reality.” It is fascinating to see how one group’s perception can vastly differ from another’s. Given that perceptions can vary between groups, who is right? And what is reality?But first, a Socrates quote. He said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” If you’re simply living day to day without self-reflection, you are sure to never learn or improve. Worst of all, like my team member, you’re bound to repeat the same negative or destructive behavior. Without questioning how you really come across, there’s no way to improve.
Comedian Demetri Martin saw this same thing, and turned his life into a point-scoring game. What was the best part of this strategy? It documented his scores and revealed his constant need for improvement.
Conversely, delusions of grandeur often lead to stagnation. Remember what my team member said: “They don’t see the value of working with me.” His selfish estimation of his own worth ultimately lead to stubbornness. It’s why the CEO of Google tells his employees to pretend that they’re working at a start-up. Imagine the type of mental maneuvers you’d have to do to pull this off at the second most valuable company. Importantly, it keeps them working hard and innovating.
Socrates, after examining himself, believed he knew nothing, which of course, pushed him to learn more. And now we consider him as one of the greatest, if not the greatest philosopher, of all time. So whose perception is reality? In the software world, the customer’s perceptions are reality. They’re the ones using the software for their purposes. That fact roots the reality in their perspective. The same for my team member—for the purposes of the team, he was difficult to work with since being worked with is, by definition, dependent on the other’s perspective.
This customer-centric philosophy is true for all types of situations. However, customer perceptions are frequently not placed first. This was acutely present in a recent article from Martin Thompson of ITSM Review. ITSM Review asked vendors, “How customizable is your ITSM tool?” The ability to customize immediately puts the priority on the customer, since it shows what the vendor can do for their unique purposes. What was more interesting? They asked the customers too.
The answers revealed the “perception vs. reality” existing in the often stark contrast between the vendor’s perception and the customer’s reality. I am pleased to report that Cherwell Software did not suffer from a distorted self-perception. Rather, Cherwell Service Management was viewed as the most customizable in our eyes, and more importantly, by the customers too.
It was validating—not because customers understood how great Cherwell Service Management is, but because the product was fulfilling customers’ needs in the way we intended to from the start. I believe the aligned score is a direct result of putting Cherwell Software’s customers first by listening to their feedback and genuinely trying do the right in their perspective. If we keep listening to customers to maintain an accurate self-awareness, we can continue to turn meeting their needs into a reality.