Hidden Hearing – a story of great culture change
Because more than half of the population wears spectacles, the market is flooded with all sorts of styles, colours and shapes. It’s such an acceptable norm to wear them that some fashionistas even wear them with non-prescription lens. Yet, while a significant percentage of people have some form of hearing disability, there is still an unfortunate stigma with wearing a hearing aid!
I have to admit that I’m one of those that strains to hear properly in some meetings, conferences, restaurants and public places. I’m also shocked to discover that there is much evidence that links unaided hearing loss to fatigue, stress, social isolation, cognitive decline and dementia. (I know I’ve walked myself into this one!).
Hidden Hearing – From the Beginning
Hidden Hearing was founded in Cork in 1987. In 2000 it was taken over by the world’s leading hearing healthcare company, Denmark based William Demant. This is a €6b global organisation that started as a wholesaler and then integrated vertically into new product development and retail, to control the full supply chain. The Irish operation is totally autonomous with its own management team and makes its own strategy and capex decisions.
With a tight senior team led by managing director Stephen Leddy, the business now has 75 locations across the island of Ireland. It has a strong and organised corporate structure made up of 60 professional audiologists, and a support team of 90. On the face of it that seems quite a bureaucratic operation, but the level of focus on the customer explains it. And numbers don’t lie, it has a market share of 43% of the private hearing aid market.
After spending time with Stephen, what struck me most was his authenticity and passion for making a difference to people’s lives. “Hearing loss needs to be more visible on the health agenda, especially given all of the amazing research on the topic. Not only that, but technology has moved on so much that a hearing aid adapted to each individual is literally life-changing” he said.
Hidden Hearing was initially a sales-led organisation. That was delivering results, but the real transformation came when the team embarked on a culture-change programme in 2015. Rather than using KPIs to drive the business, it now focuses on its mission, which is to ‘to help more people hear better’. It launched a ‘Campaign for Better Hearing’, the goal being to test every adult over the age of 50 on the Island of Ireland, free of charge.
I was quite sceptical at first when Stephen told me that in his weekly management team meetings, they don’t discuss any KPIs. “This is a deliberate strategy to change behaviours in the organisation. We want all of our people to be totally focused on doing the right thing for the patient” he said. “In every organisation, employees usually know ‘what’ they have to do and possibly ‘how’ they should do it. We were really keen for our people to know ‘why’ we exist” he said.
This culture change is being led exactly as I would encourage with any organisation, from the top. This was a very brave change to the business model and I’m sure it was somewhat scary at first. But make no mistake here, Hidden Hearing is an operation that is as commercially focused as you and I. It too has targets and has to deliver value to its shareholders.
What is striking though is how it goes about it. I have always encouraged my clients to be clear and to focus on a north star before numbers. Both can co-exist and Hidden Hearing is living proof of that.
As part of the change programme, the organisation also streamlined the process and the duration for the patient’s consultation. This was designed to make it easier and to make it as positive an experience as possible. Patients are met by appointment only so that they are given the time they deserve. Not only that, but patients are strongly encouraged to bring a trusted friend with them to the consultation to witness Hidden Hearing’s integrity to not mis-prescribe.
The patients (or customers to you and me) are found using a very sophisticated marketing programme. Traditional channels such as press, TV and door drops are still important but there is an ever-increasing spend on social media. ‘Silver-surfers’ are a growing demographic and are targeted very carefully.
There are 28 retail stores in busy footfall locations and the other 47 are ‘destinations’ in lower footfall areas, perhaps linked to a doctor’s surgery etc. Every patient is seen by appointment preferably, and the high marketing is designed to drive volume into the top end of the funnel. Once they’re in the funnel, the CRM and sales process takes over.
I’m not sure if the day will come when we folk (over 50s) will wear hearing aids as a fashion accessory but we certainly need to at least go for a consultation. Research shows that it takes us between 7-10 years to make that first move.
Yes we may well be a target audience for this organisation but more importantly, we may improve our quality of life. Technology, as in all aspects of life has moved on significantly. Look at how other personal devices have reduced in size. The days of wishing that long hair was back in fashion to hide such things, are well and truly gone.
Alan O’Neill is Managing Director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie if you’d like help with your business.
Alan’s debut book “Premium is the New Black” will be launched in October.
© Copyright. Alan O’Neill. All rights reserved. 2018