How to do customer experience: 3 ways to beat the grumps

Grump Street

Beware of the Grumps

When we want to change anything in an organisation, we will meet the Grumps. Grumps are colleagues who appear to support the project (and who may actually believe that they are acting in the project’s best interests) but whose presence is toxic to success.

The most telling sign that someone is a Grump is to note their effect on the energy of others.

If their presence adds to the energy of the team – if they are ‘radiators’* – then they are probably not Grumps.

If, however, their presence sucks the energy from the room – if they are ‘drains’ – we need to be careful.

How they speak is often a giveaway. Grumps are people on the ground who reveal themselves in meetings and emails and water-cooler conversations when they say things like:

“…I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but…”

“…We’ve tried this already and…”

“Let’s be realistic, here…”

“…we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…”

Or (as I have genuinely heard in more than one company):

“…we have to be careful not to trust customers too much…”

…and similar statements which have the facade of reason but really reflect fundamental antipathy.

Grump damage

Grumps slowly strangle customer experience projects.

They raise seemingly legitimate objections which are never about the intent of the project, always about the implementation.  Before long, the team is spending more time and energy managing concerns raised by Grumps and less in delivering the project.  Slowly, imperceptibly, Grumps force us to move our focus away from making things better for customers to trying to keep the Grumps happy.

And so the project fails – or more typically, fades away, as the effort needed to deliver something good gets brought down by the drag of managing the Grumps.

How to beat the Grumps

These three steps can help us beat the Grumps:

  1. Get them off the bus**  We don’t let a Grump be a member of our project team. It doesn’t matter how technically or managerially skilled they are, the drain on energy and time will not be worth it.  Much better to work with less-skilled colleagues who are radiators with the energy to succeed than let Grumps drain everyone’s momentum.
  2. Don’t give them a veto  It is a mistake to seek a buy-in from a Grump (or anyone else for that matter) unless their approval really matters to the success of the project.  For if they object, as a Grump will, we now either (a) divert resources and time to overcome their objections or (b) ignore their objections and go ahead, alienating them even more.  And if their approval is not needed, why did we seek it?  (Sigh: So many companies get this one wrong).
  3. Surround them with success  When we change to make things better for customers, the Grumps come last.  We begin by making the changes work with colleagues who are prepared to give them a go, ignoring the Grumps.  Once we have proven that the changes make a difference, then we make it work with the Grumps.  Grumps seek support for their belief that the project won’t succeed.  Proven success defuses such support.

Delivery de-Grumped

Good customer experience projects are all about leverage. They seek the places and strategies which yield maximum results in the fastest time. Grumps kill leverage, by forcing us to consider their objections instead of the customers, slow us down by distracting our attention and diverting our resources, and kill our projects by slowly sucking out our energy and momentum.

But if we can identify Grumps early and adopt the right practical strategies to prevent the damage they can cause, we remove one of the biggest barriers to customer experience project success.

Have you had the misfortune of working with Grumps?  What Grump warning signs have you seen? Let us know in the comments below.

*The idea of ‘Radiators’ and ‘Drains’ comes from Julian Fellowes in his book, Past Imperfect. I came across it cited in an article in Gretchen Rubin‘s blog, The Happiness Project.

**’Getting them off the bus’ is a CEO strategy recommended in Jim Collins’ excellent book, From Good to Great (p.56)

Image credit: David Stowell, licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Radiator image courtesy of Dan /

Drain image courtesy of Winond /


2 thoughts on “How to do customer experience: 3 ways to beat the grumps”

  1. This pre-supposes that all projects are well conceived in the first place. It also supposes that people with concerns are first and foremost grumps and not people with the personal conviction to voice genuine concerns. I have heard people managing projects say (really) that it’s better to fail as a team than to succeed on the basis of an individual. There are certainly grumps to be seen and heard in the world, but do they really outnumber the number of projects that are ultimately doomed for other reasons? Are the grumps sometimes used as a reason why projects fizzle and fade away when the reality is that the projects should never have seen light of day in the first place.

    When I am faced with a grump, the first thing I do is listen! I listen because I might have got it wrong, I might have missed something or there might be a better way of doing something. It might also be the case that project delivery is impossible for real reasons – I would rather know now when I can do something about it than when it’s too late and I am trying to justify the failure right at the end. If the grump is talking rubbish, say so and say why it’s so. If there is a good reason why it’s so, it’s easy to say why it’s so, if there is no good reason and you are having difficulty countering the grump, perhaps the grump has a point.

    I have seen lots of projects that were doomed from the start, but no one wanted to listen to the grump. If you have a big wallet, you can ignore the grump, but wouldn’t you rather keep your wad intact?

    1. David –

      Thanks for the comment. I agree with many of your points, especially the need to ensure that the project is well-founded, and the need to listen.

      The article, however, is based on my experience that many customer experience projects run into the ground because project teams find themselves spending more time placating Grumps than focusing on the customer. I wanted to give people some tips for dealing with this situation.

      You also implicitly draw attention to a another good point. A person with an objection is not necessarily a Grump – what makes someone a Grump is much to do with their intent and effect on the group than the fact that they have some concerns.

      As a result of your comment, it sounds like another post on ensuring that a project is well-founded might be useful, so thank you.

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