The art of war, beheadings and member engagement

Robyn Petrou
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(Pictured: Robyn Petrou)

by Patrick Liddy

Sun Tzu, made famous by his book ‘The Art of War’, was asked by the King of Wu to perform an experiment on the movement of troops. Specifically, the question was:  ‘Can you conduct this test using women?’ Sun Tzu said, ‘yes.’

The King sent from the palace 180 beautiful women. Sun Tzu divided them into two companies and put the King’s two favourite concubines in command.

Sun Tzu said: ‘When I give the order ‘front’, face in the direction of the heart; when I say ‘left’, face toward the left-hand side; when I say ‘right’ toward the right; when I say ‘rear’, face in the direction of your backs.”

The women said: “We understand.” Sun Tzu gave the orders three times and explained them five times, after which he beat the drum for the signal to face right. The women were confused, faced in various directions and then tittered with laughter.

Sun Tzu said: “If regulations are not clear and orders not thoroughly explained, it is the commander’s fault.” He then repeated the orders three times and explained them five times, and gave the signal to face to the left. The women again started laughing.

Sun Tzu said: ‘If instructions are not clear and commands not explicit, it is the commander’s fault. But when they have been made clear, and are not carried out in accordance with military law, it is the crime on the part of the officers.” He then ordered that the commanders of the right and left ranks be beheaded.

Using the next most-senior officers as company commanders, the drum rolled and the orders were carried out in strict accordance with the prescribed drill. If the story is true, one can only wonder why the King did not have Sun Tzu stopped and put away for a long time. Sun Tzu’s humanity was non-existent but he was engaged, as the women in this story also became. 

Engagement has and will always be a difficult objective to obtain. In particular, when it is in a service industry.  The most important area in the super industry is the relationship between the member and the super fund. Many will say they have good engagement until the member reaches 55 then we lose them to self managed superfunds. Alas this is an overreliance on good old Australian apathy and has little to do with engagement. Proper interaction in the relationship with the member is required. The chart below is a simple but very effective illustration of the positive and negative things affecting relationships in the service business.

Good Things Bad Things

There is one super fund that continues to raise its head above others in the pursuit of the holy grail in member  engagement time and time again  – that is the Queensland based Energy Super. It has won multiple awards and does something that few other funds can do: it keeps the majority of its members into retirement and beyond. This is down to one factor  – engagement. This level of engagement has just meant that Australians have voted Energy Super as the nation’s favourite super fund, winning the coveted Consumer Choice Award at the national 2014 SelectingSuper Awards. The award is not an award adjudicated on by an industry body or peers (although these are laudable in there own right). It’s a “people’s choice” award with members eligible to vote and they are who ultimately matter.

Energy Super CEO, Robyn Petrou, said the awards reinforced the importance for super funds to continually put members’ needs first. “We don’t necessarily subscribe to the disengaged member theory, we think that is a somewhat pessimistic and frankly convenient position to take on what is our responsibility as super funds to create  approachable, educational, relevant communications initiatives for our members.. We are continually reviewing and evolving our service offering to ensure our model best assists and serves our members throughout  their working lives and importantly into retirement,” she said.

“Apart from low fees and strong returns, feedback from our members consistently demonstrates that they value our high touch approach to the delivery of our  services, such as free single-issue advice, and easy-to-understand timely communications, including our free member forums, seminars, newsletters and webinar updates.

“These further award wins are testament to not only the hard work of the Energy Super team, but all our members who engage and partner with us to achieve their financial goals.”

Energy Super does the right things to build a relationship with the member. This is reflected in this and other awards and more importantly it is reflected in the fund’s conversion of members to their pension option.

Robyn Petrou will be speaking at the ‘My Platform Rules’ conference on the Gold Coast, February 23-24, 2015. For conference details: go to website

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