Walking the Walk: A Different Angle on Why the Cobbler’s Children Need Shoes


Remember Detroit. When the Motor City’s auto executives were called before Congress to testify about their companies’ sorry financial condition and their need for a federal bailout, two arrived by chartered jet. The CEO of Ford drove to the hearings...in a Ford Escape Hybrid.

The fliers were excoriated for their excess (though as part of an industry considered “too big to fail,” they were rescued). Ford didn’t ask for a dime. They were solvent throughout the worst downturn in decades.

Service LeadershipMake Sure the Subtleties Are Obvious

Americans don’t often respond to subtlety, but they understood the implications of that situation. If the CEO put his personal trust in the products he made and the company was succeeding, it was a brand that consumers could rely on.

On the flip side are the companies who, metaphorically, make shoes that aren’t worn by their employees. For example, there’s the firm I worked with that developed monitoring software for mainframe computers. Their application could detect emerging problems and automatically trigger actions to correct them. Yet when, after the third system interruption in a single day, I called the head of the data center, he – sheepishly – admitted that, despite making the top-ranked monitoring tool in the industry, they didn’t use it themselves.

If they had, they might have realized two things – one that was immediately obvious (they’d be able to prevent downtime and lost employee productivity) and one that was an emerging conundrum (the inability to monitor and correct threats inside their PC networks). Within a decade, the company and its software were irrelevant.

Be Your (Current) Best

Service businesses aren’t exempt. A client hired me to overhaul its self-promotion campaigns – ensuring that they reflected the company’s core competence in designing and running very successful email marketing programs. Despite my advice, they kept running the old ones, feeling that something was better than nothing. It wasn’t. It simply made them look out of step with the changes and improvements in the industry and, if prospects opted out of those dated messages, it jeopardized their ability to reach them with the new campaign.

All of this – the good and the bad – affects your brand. If you don’t use your own “stuff,” you don’t see the world as your customers do, don’t anticipate the problems they’ll encounter, and don’t gain the insights that drive product innovation. You don’t have to drink the Kool-Aid (that didn’t work out so well, after all), but you’re going to have to walk the proverbial mile in your own shoes so you’ll know whether they do what you say they do.

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About the author

Peter Altschuler's picture

BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer

Peter Altschuler has been making products and services irresistible for more than a generation in a career that extends from high technology to television production.

He’s currently the chief marketing and creative strategist at Wordsworth & Company and has served as a Group Creative Director at San Francisco ad agency Anderson & Lembke, run the in-house agency at Candle Corp (now part of IBM) and, earlier, worked in television, producing for ABC News, Sesame Workshop, The Food Network, and PBS.
In his spare time, he brings books to life — most recently narrating Getting Religion by former Newsweek religion editor Kenneth Woodward and Creativity, Inc. by Pixar founder Ed Catmull — and performs in everything from Shakespeare to commercials.

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