Absolutely FaB

Barry Marlow writes:

Forgive me a little indulgence here. I promise there’s a point.

Cath Davies and myself are Critical Friends. When we go into organisations to carry out some friending, in a critical but nice way, we have fairly distinct roles.

I’m the challenging one. You know, sometimes noisy, investigating – the sharing ideas one. Cath is far more measured and sensible and does what she does best. Cath gets plans to work.


We were in the Midlands recently. I was presenting my ‘Ten Steps to Influence’ thing, which culminates in some searching ideas to influence business thinking and behaviour. Step four of the ten is called ‘Responsibility’.

Of course, it might help to know what Steps three and five are but you really needed to be there for context. Take it from me – ‘responsibility’ isn’t about assuming responsibility. It’s about taking notice and taking responsibility.

Whats the Difference


Do Something Different

We were talking about de-cluttering. As critical friends we often come up with ideas and suggestions. People often respond with their own potential solutions to do something different. That’s good. But to do something different usually involves dropping something that isn’t working as well. And that’s the hard bit. The responsible bit. Here’s an example:


Standard letters for arrears chasing. You know: ‘Not sure #1′, ‘Reminder#2′, ‘Getting frustrated now#3′, ‘Snotty#4′ and then a NoSP.

A housing officer had prepared Snotty#4. Placed it in the post tray for franking. I couldn’t help noticing that the tenant’s address was similar to that of the office. In fact, when I made an enquiry I could see the tenant’s front door from the reception.

So I did what you would do. I made a polite, but challenging enquiry – “WHY??”. You already know the answer.

“It’s the procedure”.

Cath and myself do things like ‘process tracking’ that is a bit like a forensic diagnostic but not quite CSI. In it we not only track the actions and impacts of the process, or procedure (the escalation), but also the mindset and behaviours of the process owners. The responsible ones.

FaB and Groovy

You see, the answer is FaB. Features and Benefits. Let me explain:

Example: Cardigan.

Features: Claret (fav colour), pockets, button up, long sleeve, woollen

Benefits: I look rather groovy

Reason for buying (outcome): To look rather groovy. I buy the benefit.

Processes and Features

Here’s some hot news. Customers don’t buy processes. Process and procedure are features. These are usually very busy, orderly and justifies how hard people need to work. But customers don’t care.

A process got my cardigan to the rail at the right time but didn’t sell it to me. Although I could appreciate the procedure that got the cardigan there, I really can’t be bothered. I bought it for the benefit (groovy) not the features.

In housing we promote: ‘help’, ‘advice’, guidance’, ‘support’ and (blimey) ‘signposting’. All process words.

Try as housing organisations might, and on web-sites these words are readily flogged, customers don’t buy them. The benefit is what all these things actually do, not what they are. If we can’t sell what these things do, why would we expect anyone to buy them?


Website: ‘If you have problems paying your rent on time, please contact your housing officer’. That’s it. It’s not incorrect information but contains no benefits. All a customer is thinking on reading this is ‘Why should I contact the housing officer? What for?’


Eviction for £210

The other day, like you, I read a newspaper report about a tenant being evicted for £210. She had a sight impairment and a bedroom tax impairment.

Now, like you, we don’t know all the facts and, like you, trust there was a lot more to this particular case. But the quoted response from the housing organisation was interesting:

“We followed all our procedures”

Procedure Says No

It feels good to follow procedure. There is often a comfort in knowing that you’ve done everything the procedure says. It’s security. It’s a safe place to be.

But as critical friends, Cath and myself often come across bad procedure. Not illegal procedure but out of date procedure. A few times, just plain silly procedure. Irresponsible procedure.

Like you, I haven’t seen the procedure in the £210 eviction case. Like you, I hope the responsible officer couldn’t see the tenant’s front door from reception.

Because where would be the benefit in that?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s