What your customers know; your employees think;
and your managers overlook
Let’s face it: most attempts at change fail. Why? There are lots of reasons, but for me, reason number one is that often I start in the wrong place. I start on the wrong change, doomed before I even begin. To avoid this trap, we must recognize who we are before we can aspire to meaningful change and achieve it.
Know Your Organizational DNA
The power of customer-driven change starts with an achievable, aspirational vision that is captured in a customer strategy. That sounds simple enough, but it’s not. Even a perfect customer strategy must live within the strategic context of the mother ship. It must accept two dominant aspects of the DNA of the mother organization: its default decision-making culture and its fundamental business strategy.
Organizations, like people, have a DNA that can be developed but not changed. Even changing key leaders does not change DNA, which is built through legacy, myths and legends. It takes decades to swap out enough people and practices to layer over the history of an organization’s DNA. How long do you think it would take to eradicate the influence that Herb Kelleher, the iconic founder and leader, has had on Southwest Airlines?
Bold change is a good idea, but it will fail if it doesn’t
sit within the organization’s DNA
My experience is that most organizations ignore the reality of their DNA when they decide to make a change; as a result, they sentence their transformation to a quick death. Strategy brings with it a paradox. It must be visionary, but it also has to be grounded in reality if it is to be executed.
Be Ready to Change
Next to ignoring organizational DNA, the biggest mistake clients make when introducing a change is that they do not prepare their organizations for it. My experience is that executives are exceptionally naïve about change. Executives are trained in analysis, cause and effect, decisions and action. They see change as “the soft stuff,” and they’re uncomfortable with the idea. Their desire for action gets in the way of the need for preparation. When it’s time to move, they want to move without testing the organization’s readiness. Their starting point is often a major miscalculation. Executives underestimate the reality of inertia. And inertia is all about people.
Engage Your People
Customers may drive a need for change, but employees make it happen. Nothing happens in organizations without people. We all know that, but unlocking the power of employees has been a mystery for most organizations. In fact, we have done this job so poorly that we’re now in an employment crisis. Employees have lost commitment to their organizations.
We can buy people skills, but it’s the employees
who will choose to give us their commitment and passion
We need to give employees a reason to come to work and be more productive. That reason is our customers.
Why “Customer Driven Change”
We often hear that the compelling business reason to change is “change or die.” I’m not sure that’s the case. But maybe organizational death would be a blessing for those not prepared to change.
In reality, I think that most changes regress to the mean. They fall back to partial accomplishment. So why do we go through this? Because we have to! Because the mean is always moving upward and to the right. If we don’t set our sights above the mean, it will overtake us, and we will atrophy our way to extinction.
By thinking about change, any change, from the customer’s
point of view, you will get sustained commitment and engagement
within your organization faster than through any other approach
I’ve concluded that effort equals accomplishment. The higher you set your sights, the more you will achieve. You have to continuously upgrade your organization’s ability to change—and that is the reason to keep trying.
Focusing your organization externally on customers is the best way to win. It gives you two advantages in the change game: silo protectors can’t resist the customer as a common goal, and employees work for something that transcends an organization—its customers. To achieve this you have to know what your customers know and your employees think. Then you won’t overlook your opportunities to change, grow and be healthy.