Cars, jobs, and retailing. Why belief matters

A few days ago now, I ordered the replacement for my company car. If you don't live in the UK, it's probably news to you that our tax system means that many people get a car and fuel as part of their salary. Those who qualify at Microsoft get to choose between a car with fuel paid for, money and fuel or just money. Even allowing for tax (which is based on a formula using the list price of the car and it's CO2 emissions rating) - it's not possible to run a newish car for same money.

When I joined Microsoft in 2000, I took the lease car and sold my beloved Citroen XM. I looked up its CO2 rating: 246g/KM. In "old money" that means it glugged down an imperial Gallon of petrol every 27 miles. Its huge tank would now cost over £100 to fill.  These days Microsoft won't lease me a car with a CO2 figure above 220g/KM (that's 30MPG for Petrol  and 34MPG for Diesel). My 2005 car has a rating of 157g/KM (it takes 47 Miles to sip it's way through a Gallon of Diesel);  According to the AA the cost of fuel has nearly doubled in the last 8 years, but I'm using not much more than half the volume of it, so the value of my company fuel has remained the same. Microsoft hasn't changed the allowances for each of the bands in the scheme since I joined: but a change in leasing companies has brought the Citroen I want this time round into reach - the previous company quoted 15% more to provide it. That's like getting a pay rise without the company having to pay me any extra. It's not the first time they've done that, introducing nursery vouchers  a few years ago was the same.

This will be my 7th Citroen in 20 years. I do wonder about that loyalty. I tried a BMW which matches the Citroen for power beats it on acceleration and leaves it in the dust on fuel consumption. I calculated Horse Power/C02 rating for all the cars in the lease company's spreadsheet:  BMW dominated the top of this table. Even their X5 "Chelsea Tractor" can sneak under the 220g/KM barrier when in diesel from. So efficient are BMW diesels that the Sunday Times though it would be a wheeze to pit a 520d against a Toyota Prius on an economy run to Geneva: the Prius used more fuel. I had to applaud the BMW as an exercise in engineering excellence - and its CO2 figure would have saved a chunk of tax, but I never liked it. Just as I like the way that Pentax make cameras, I like the way Citroen make cars.

After my trip to Seattle some of the things that Simon Sinek said continue to resonate... Do Citroen (and Pentax) stand for something ? Maybe, but I can't articulate the beliefs behind the brands. Maybe BMW stands for something I can believe in, but I haven't found it. I guess Simon would say that a sense of shared belief is the root of loyalty which leads me to spend more (after tax) on the Citroen...  though they seem to be undermining that with  UK marketing for the new C5 saying, in effect "You could mistake it for an Audi A4": I've nothing against Audi - this ad of theirs shows someone who wouldn't buy the product, as a way to invite others to share the beliefs of the brand (ask yourself what car the guy in their ad would buy... maybe that's what put me off BMW). But if I want an Audi, I know where to get one.

But there's more to this. I've raved about Robert Townsend's Up the Organization, and in several places he talks about McGregor's "Theory Y"  (which is actually a repackaging of "Maslow's Hierarchy of needs" ) Theory X says  the average person won't naturally  work towards organisational objectives: they need to be pushed: only money (or the threat of taking their secure income away) can motivate them.  Theory Y says the opposite - people want to be involved in their work, to believe in what they do, to use their imagination, ingenuity and creativity. Sadly, I see a lot of theory X behaviour from IT departments. Maslow's hierarchy had 5 levels: at the base of the pyramid are Physiological needs- you need  to be able to breathe, have enough to eat, basic warmth and shelter. Then came safety- freedom from fear, anxiety and chaos (things that cause stress)... Most of us have heard (or said) "They don't pay me enough for this kind of stress".  Money matters, but there comes a point where people prefer job security and less stress to more money. Given enough money and a reasonable security, Maslow said people's next need was "belonging and love": to be part of community. I've twice linked to Thomas Kuhn’s “The structure of scientific revolutions”. and its idea that communities share beliefs. What does a leader do in business (or politics or anywhere else) but set out their beliefs and encourage people to unite behind them ? (See my post about Ray Ozzie)   The upper echelons of a company can't be filled entirely with leaders: Simon gave us a fantastic sound bite "Vision without execution is hallucination", you need great operations people who can realize the vision. At the peak of Maslow's pyramid is Self Actualisation - what humans can be - they must be. And thinking back to Simon, he talked about Microsoft's  "Your potential ..." tag line and of course what's good about it- when you drill into it - is that it appeals to people's desire for Self-Actualisation.

I've said in a couple of presentations Success in a knowledge economy depends on getting more than your share of the smart people. We have to sell jobs to people: Microsoft salaries are nothing special, because it does such good job on the higher levels people are willing to accept them [and if people complain about pay, their part of the business is probably not satisfying the needs higher up the pyramid] .

So here's a thought: Do we only want these things from job ? The same upper level things community, esteem, self actualisation have the important roles when people have some choice in a purchasing decision.  Buying this product (or not buying that one) , shopping in one place rather than another says something about who we are and lets us buy our way into a community. Ford owners aren't a community, Alfa-Romeo owners are; some people buy a prestige marque like BMW to meet their esteem needs. Buying CDs at Tesco doesn't say anything about you, buying Second Hand LPs from a little backstreet shop does. Which brings me back to Simon's idea that businesses should be looking for customers who buy its approach as much as it's product. 

I've mentioned Nicki and Mark, my friends who run a small independent bookshop, Mark wrote recently about being wound up by a piece on the radio because the interviewer, it seems, thinks that all that mattered in selling books is price. The representative for the independent booksellers said suggested that "we need a mechanism that rewards honest bookselling, not just fulfillment". But what mechanism *is* that ?  Mark knows - it's about the market, the local market - a small book shop doesn't have to go highbrow to succeed. His advice to anyone who wants to follow him: "understand your local environment, marketplace, customers - listen to them, work with them, put on great events, develop a community, give them an excellent experience - and the enterprise can flourish."

Comments (3)

  1. Anonymous says:

    [Another one of those looping posts for the weekend] I’ve been feeling a bit of pressure to get some

  2. James ONeill says:

    It’s like that old Joke about the ideal Europe would have the humour of the British, the cooking of the Italians, the Organization of the Germans … but ends up with the Organization of the Italians, the Humour of the Germans and the Cooking of the British.

    I wish I could find the old Peugeot ad that had "We Germans like fine food, fine fashions and fine cars … and we can get all of these things over the border in France. Ha. A little German humour for you". I thought when I saw it people will complain and it seems to have vanished without trace

  3. LeeH says:

    Hi James,

    I am another IT Pro who has had a long standing relationship with Citroen – AX, BX (2), ZX (2), Xantia and currently a C4 Coupe.  I also think they’ve got it wrong with the C5 marketing, you can have a car that looks German but has French engineering in it?

Skip to main content