Leadership matters – and why these guys aren’t showing any

They say it’s the little things that matter and in business, as with people, it’s often the little things that give us a window into the soul of the organisation. We can learn most not from carefully crafted and expensively researched messaging but from the less high profile choices, distinctions and decisions they make.

I’ve recently experienced an example from a company that is, like so many, very eager to earn our confidence and get us to feel good about them. I’m talking about Specsavers. You see, I’ve reached that age when, like that of many of my contemporaries, my eyesight suddenly started to deteriorate for close work. I spend hours looking at screens every day and that’s been ok, but physical small print suddenly became a challenge. The penny dropped when I found myself taking photos of labels on my phone so I could then stretch out the picture to make it big enough to read. A work around, fair enough, but not really a sustainable approach. So off I went to my local opticians, Specsavers, where my current glasses came from.

There was no surprise that, just like in every eye test I or anyone my age has had for the past ten or so years, they quickly tried to pitch me varifocals. This must be where all the bonuses come from because the hard sell comes thick and fast. The difference was, this time, I knew the option was either two pairs of glasses for different distances, or finally giving up the good fight and going for the varifocals. And, frankly, the prospect of constantly swapping between different pairs or, worse still, ending up in the wrong pair in the wrong place was just too much to contemplate. So varifocals it was to be.

That decision, in the circumstances, was actually pretty easy. But we then moved to the nightmare of choosing new frames. Is there anything more soul destroying than standing around like a lemon with an armful of frames trying to work out which ones don’t make you look like a dork? And here’s the rub – this is especially the case when you can’t actually see without your glasses on in the first place. After five minutes I was wilting. After ten, I had lost the will to live.

But then I had a lightbulb moment.

What’s wrong with my current frames? They are absolutely nothing special. In fact, they are Specsavers own frames from a few years ago. I believe they were their basic, lowest priced budget range (but they don’t have the same ones now). But they seem fine and I’ve become, well, quite attached to them over the years. And I have three identical pairs – one everyday pair, one backup pair in case of an emergency and one pair with tinted lenses in case the Devon sun comes out.

So with renewed enthusiasm I approached the desk and asked if they could fit the new lenses into a pair of my existing frames. I was met with a pained expression and a slow intake of breath. Well, they said, they could do that, but I wouldn’t be eligible for any of their deals. And in this case that means that because I wanted two pairs I would not be able to get the standard 2-for-1 offer.  In other words, I would pay twice as much for re-using my existing frames (and note the lenses here were going to cost far, far more than the frames – these varifocals do not come cheap). What, I suggested, if I pay for a new pair of frames too, but give you two pairs of my existing ones to actually use? Surely that would be ok? Not a bit of it. There was, it seemed, no way round ‘the system’ despite the staff admitting the policy was crazy.

The bottom line was that if I wanted to re-use my existing, perfectly decent Specsavers frames, I would have to pay twice as much as getting two brand new pairs of Specsavers frames. How can that be right or justified? Ok – so I’m a bit weird. I know that. And probably most other people would jump at the chance of some new frames. So this won’t have much impact on their bottom line. Nor will recycling two pairs of frames have much meaningful impact on the environment. But this is where details matter and leadership shows.

Specsavers produce a very expensive-looking corporate responsibility report. Here’s how they start their most recent one:

Corporate responsibility has been integral to Specsavers since the company was established over 30 years ago with the vision of providing best value eyecare and hearing care to everyone.

In it they talk a lot about protecting the environment. For example, they claim:

We are committed to taking responsibility for the impact our business has on the environment and have adopted a risk-based approach to understanding, minimising and mitigating this impact. This is conducted in line with our values and the responsibilities we have to our customers and our people, as well as our obligations in the countries in which we operate.

Our environmental programme is an important element of our corporate responsibility approach. We understand that both global and local environmental issues can have a widereaching and long-term effect on our society, now and in the future…

And yet, they have a system that makes it twice as expensive to recycle perfectly good existing frames as buying brand new ones. Small things. Details. Truth.

And the truth here is that Specsavers talk a good game on leadership. I’m sure they do lots of really good things too. But for all the fine words, the devil here is in the detail and in a frustratingly stupid policy that goes against the very principles they claim to stand for. And that’s why, when it comes to the crunch, if we judge them on their actual deeds they are failing to show leadership in the very areas they claim their values lie.

Real leaders do the right things. They do the right little things and the right quiet things as well as the right big things and the right loud things. And in this case Specavers aren’t doing the right things. And it’s in this little things that it shows.


I came home from Specsavers frustrated and somewhat incredulous but searching online quickly revealed a whole market in so-called reglazing where you can get new lenses fitted in your existing frames at very decent prices. A full money back guarantee minimised the risk so I gave it a go.  My varifocals arrived a few days ago in the post and they are superb. I can read comfortably again and I’m so impressed I’ve just ordered the second set. Sure, there’s no 2-for-1 deal, but I’ll still be far better off overall than with anything Specsavers were prepared to offer me. And I’ve done my very tiny little bit to avoid unnecessary waste along the way.