The Mary Portas effect

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Not sure if you are watching this series of Mary Portas Secret Shopper, whilst in my humble opinion it isn’t quite up to the second series, it’s still definitely worth a watch.


I watched the first two series with interest as I have a BIG thing about good customer service, if you don’t believe me just ask Elizabeth! Its good midweek TV on the face of it but I’ve also found it really insightful, especially as we’ve been working with a few clients recently about how to lead and manage change successfully.


If you haven’t seen it, the series is all about businesses who are not profitable and are failing to attract new customers so have called Mary in to get her expertise about what they need to do to stop them going under.


At this point you might be thinking, short programme its simple, Mary will come in show them what they are doing wrong, tell them what to do and everything will be great.

Well no, in every programme I’ve seen thus far that’s not what happens at all.

Remember, having called Mary in for her help and expertise, the business owners without exception, initially disagree block or ignore every idea and suggestion she makes. Even though they know what they are doing isn’t working and if they don’t do something they’ll go out of business. Sounds crazy, but most people will naturally resist change, even when it makes complete sense.

I’ve noticed Mary uses some very powerful techniques to overcome their resistance.


Cleverly, instead of telling them their business is failing Mary gets the business owner to tell her what is not working, the impact that its having and really focusses how that makes them feel. She is excellent at getting to the real heart of the issue, using empathy to really understand things from their perspective and perhaps even more skilfully she doesn’t allow this to take her off track and stop her from helping the business to become more profitable.


Once she has them on side Mary shows them how things could be, including taking them to really successful similar companies and also by creating a mock-up of their restyled/re-invented business


At this point I’m often shouting at the TV saying “Come On, that’s amazing just do it!”


However surprisingly more often than not the business owners are still not convinced, remember change is hard especially when you’ve been doing things the same way for years and years.


When faced this scenario Mary uses her third strategy.


In the first two phases she has been really clever in identifying the people she can easily influence who are already on board with her ideas. They tend to be people the business owner trusts, immediate family members or long serving staff, the early adopters if you like.


Rather than trying to convince the owner herself, Mary will subtlety encourage these people to persuade the business owner to make the required changes.


Eventually, with some trepidation, and partly because the people they trust have encouraged them to do so, the owner gives Mary the green light to make it happen.


In every show so far the business has achieved better results because of Mary’s efforts. Put in Mary’s own words “I’ve made a difference” – increased sales, happier customers and less stressed owners with a number of them commenting they wished they had made the changes ages ago.


I’m always left in awe at the end of each programme, but if you break it down Mary uses three really effective ways to help the business owner move through the change they need to implement:


  1. Understand things from their point of view and really get to the heart of what’s not working
  1. Based on this information paint the picture for what things could be like – show them the possibilities and help them to get creative
  1. Use the early adopters and people already bought in to the ideas etc. to influence the key players and start to make things happen


Having implemented a few change initiatives in my time in business over the last 15 years or so, I wish I’d known about some of Mary’s techniques. I’m certain they would have had a positive impact on the outcome not to mention saving me lots of time and heartache!


Thanks for reading



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