Let’s assume that for the purposes of this conversation that when I use the term customer-centricity I am pointing towards a specific behaviours which show an organisation as being attuned and responsive to the needs of their customers – their core customer base.
How should you go about effecting change in the behaviour of your people, your teams, your functions, your business units, your entire organisation so that your organisation shows up as customer-centric? The authors of Six Simple Rules point out that managers go about effecting change by typically taking a hard approach (strategy, structure, process). And when this fails or to make it more appealing they introduce elements of the soft approach (training, team building, affiliation events). How well do these approaches – hard, soft, hard+soft – work?
In the last post I illustrated what tends to happen when managers take the hard approach: set direction, communicate direction, set metrics to hit, change the bonus system. What about taking the soft approach? How does that tend to work out? Lets return to David K. Hurst’s experience at Hugh Russel:
The top management team emerged from Hugh Russel as a “band of brothers” ….. we found we could “read ” situations better … “contextual intelligence” seemed to be an important feature of our newfound skills. So, after our near death experience, we set out to create an educational experience that would nurture the spirit of commitment, excitement, and engagement we had seen at the senior level of the organisation….
What did this senior leadership do? They organised a series of 3 day retreats ["core samples"] where 50 people drawn from all levels of the company (truck drivers, salespeople, branch managers, vice presidents) were invited to a “lovely old cottage”. What happened on the retreat? The participants hung out together doing team exercises, case studies, got feedback on their behavioural styles, and discussed the issues that the Hugh Russel was facing. How did it go? The senior leadership were delighted with the results:
Discussion at the meetings was open and honest, the behaviours observed were cooperative, and the feedback from the participants was excellent..…… our local branch managers, who nominated most of the attendees, told us that they saw changes in the behaviour of those who had come to the session, even staunch union members. We were very pleased.
The soft approach works! If you take folks from all levels of your organisation to a three day retreat, at a nice place, educate them, teach them, develop them, give them feedback, and allow them to hang out with another then you are well on your way to being customer-centric. Or are you?
Then, over time, the feedback from the managers became less positive….. after awhile back at work, the participants began to revert to their old dysfunctional habits. Many of them who had been cooperative and open during the core samples became surly and aggressive again after a few weeks back at work.
Slowly it dawned on us that we had completely misunderstood cause and effect….. We thought we were teaching them new behaviours, which they could practice back in the workplace. But they knew these behaviours already since they were the ones the workers used in friendly environments, like their homes or bowling alleys or golf clubs. The open environment of the development sessions evoked those social behaviours.
Please make note of the line that I have put in bold. The behaviour that was being taught was behaviour that the folks already had in their very being: cooperation is intrinsic to us. In infant never makes it past infanthood unless it arrives and is nurtured in a cooperative context. So if cooperation is not showing up in the work context then it is because non-cooperation is the functional behaviour in the work context. And cooperative behaviour is dysfunctional in that work context. What can we learn from David K. Hurst?
We had misunderstood the power of context over our people’s desire and even their ability to practice these behaviours back at work. The closed work setting was completely different from that of the country estate …..
Martin Heidegger was on to this phenomenon back in the 1920’s almost a hundred years ago. Most managers are yet to get it: when you ‘deworld the world of its worldhood’ you are in the land of theory. And what is theory? Theory is derived from the Greek word: theoros. What does theoros signify? Spectator. And if you follow that which I speak here on this Blog, you may have gotten the profound difference between “being in the stands and being in the arena”.
Let’s continue listening to David K. Hurst:
…. we weren’t teaching them soft skills that they didn’t already know; we weren’t conveying any hard skills that might have been helpful to them; we weren’t using live company cases or confronting real issues…… our management development program had some of the ingredients of a behavioural trap – short term rewards and a long terms waste of resources.
How does David K. Hurst conclude this story? With a profound lesson for anyone seeking to effect behavioural change that lasts:
This is a perennial problem with development programs, especially those that depend upon a radical change in context to produce their effects. Climbing a challenging mountain peak or whitewater rafting can certainly build temporary espirit de corps in a team. However, the challenge is not to take the skills learned in those challenging contexts back to the workplace but to create challenging workplace contexts that evoke those desirable behaviours. The development sessions should deal with the constraints that prevent an organisation from creating challenging work environments where learning and teamwork are a natural response….
– David K. Hurst, The New Ecology of Leadership
1 – That the challenge of showing up as a customer-centric organisation is one that involves a radical change in context to produce the kind of behavioural change that is needed from just about every person in your organisation;
2 – The central task of any leadership team is to get to grip with the existing work context – to understand what it is about the context that generates the behaviour that is generated today; and
3 – Using this insight to nudge-influence-shape the work context (made of up many micro work contexts) such that the only functional way for your people to show up is as being attuned to and responsive to customers.
The genesis of this post is a conversation that I had recently with Rod Butcher, a man who has been at the coal face of Customer Experience in a large organisation.
Standing outside of an organisation, as a bystander, it is easy to espouse the value and importance of the outside-in approach to Customer Experience. It seems so easy; just about everything is easy when seen from a distance. If on the other hand you have spent time in the ‘belly of the whale’ you get a visceral appreciation for the huge importance of inside-out: what matters in the organisation, what doesn’t matter, what works, what doesn’t work, what gets done, what does not get done, what the people who really matter are willing to do and not to do….
Why are so many large companies struggling with genuinely taking a customer-centric approach? Why is the dominant issue with VoC the inability of the organisation to act on the voice of the customer? Why is it that despite all the talk of collaboration and social business there is so little genuine collaboration? Allow me to share two stories with you.
When I moved into my new home over 10 years ago gardening called to me; I had no experience of gardening. One day I found myself in a garden centre and a number of plants called to me. So I bought these plants home and set about gardening. That is when the obstacles arose. The soil in my garden didn’t match that required by the most expensive plants. Then there were issues to do with sunshine: some required lots of sunshine other liked shade; some needed lots of watering, others little….
Most of the plants struggled to thrive and many of these eventually died. Why? Because I was not willing to do what it took to provide what the plants needed. I had rather hoped that the I could just buy then, find a spot in the garden where I thought they looked good, plant them there, and water them time from time. That is to say I was looking for the plants to fit into my priorities, my way of doing things.
I recently visited friends who took great interest and pride in taking care of their precious plants: young olive tree, young lemon tree etc. I was shocked to find that both of these plants looked withered, dry, dead. Why? What happened? Clearly, they had not been looked after. Why? Because both of my friends had turned their attention to stuff that showed up for them as being more important. Put differently, my friends had failed to sustain their commitment to these trees. Why? Because they were not central to their lives; they were merely hobbies and or decorations.
What have a I learned about gardening? I have learned to start with a good understanding of my garden and then choose plants that will thrive in my garden. I have learned that if I really want acid loving plants in my garden, which does not support them naturally, then I first need to do the work of digging out a specific part of the garden and putting the right soil. And I have learned that I have to be love these plants so much that I am happily provide them with the regular care they need.
I’ll leave you to figure out the organisational lessons. For my part I agree with Rod Butcher: outside-in is not enough, what really matters is the willingness of the organisation to change, or not, from the inside-out.
Recently, I came across this piece – Don’t Let Strategy Become Planning - from Roger Martin. I recommend reading it. If you do not wish to make the time then this post is for you.
Strategy is not planning, it is an integrated set of choices
Strategy is not planning – it is an integrated set of choices that collectively position the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage relative to competition and deliver superior financial returns. Obviously you can’t execute a strategy without initiatives, investments, and budgeting. But what you need to get managers focused on before you start on these things is the strategy that will make these initiatives coherent.
Strategy is singular: there is only one strategy for a given business
..strategy is a singular thing; there is one strategy for a given business – not a set of strategies. It is one integrated set of choices: what is our winning aspiration; where will we play; how will we win; what capabilities need to be in place; and what management systems must be instituted?
What has this to do with being customer-centric or customer experience?
If we stand in this framework, then it occurs to me that the customer-centric orientation as put forth by Don Peppers and/or customer experience are relevant if and only if the answer to the question “How will we win?” is “through being customer-centric and/or delivering a great customer experience”.
Looking at what is so, it occurs to me that the majority of companies have a business strategy whose answer to the question “How will we win?” is “not by being customer-centric nor by crafting/delivering a great customer experience.”
What do you think?