Leadership, Member/Customer Engagement, Organizational Culture, silo busting

Build Cultures of Cooperation and Customer Focus

  • Text Hover
Hemmed In by Silos


Tell me if this story sounds  familiar. Ranjay Gulati, whose work I make many references to in my book The Demand Perspective: Leading From the Outside In,  cites this case from JLL, a financial and professional services firm in  commercial real estate services and investment management.

Before the company  refocused its model on solutions, it was organized around internal business  units that set product prices and wielded clout. When the company realized that  integrated solution packages carried a premium price and developed a new  package of real estate services, it failed at first. This was because it was  unable to price this package competitively due to the unwillingness of its unit  managers to collaborate with each other to create multi-product and service  packages at moderate prices. They saw this as detrimental to their goals of  maximizing their own return and a blow to their autonomy.

Does this remind you of anything? Departments competing with each other for the narrow silo advantage while missing larger organizational-wide goals and opportunities? One department hoarding, say,  relationships with, and access to, corporations and preventing cross-selling  and lucrative innovative solutions that would harness corporate expertise and  access?

Yet, “training programs,” restructuring and exhortations to collaborate fail miserably. This is because the roots are in the deep-seated  orientation of an organization and the culture this enables. Organizing around  products, rather than customers, results in siloed units and cultures of  autonomy, internal competition and non-cooperation.


Start Walking the Talk

  “Many product-centric companies,”  Gulati says, “probably start out with a focus on customers, aiming to design products with broad appeal. But after early successes, they internalize and institutionalize the notion that markets respond primarily to great products  and services. Decisions and behaviors, including those related specifically to  customers, are then viewed through the lens of the product.” What used to be  the “means” for creating value become the ends and the original focus is lost.  The key, then, is to peel back the layers of bureaucracy that were created,  revert back to your customers and embed the values, characteristics and  practices of true customer centricity. For example


Walk the Talk: If you claim undying love for your members/customers and a  constant focus on them, does your culture reflect the same attitude toward your employees and partners? When I ask for technical or logistics support from  service providers who claim that customers are their #1 priority, I often find  out that their frontline employees have no authority to go beyond their narrow  role and department to solve my problem; are not aware of policies or practices  outside their department; and lack empathy and problem-solving skills. You can’t deliver customer service that matters without a culture in which  employees are trusted, developed, able to share information and encouraged to  innovate, improvise and collaborate to solve problems.



Shift the focus from products and departments to the customer and  reflect it in actions. If  you say you value, have you created a culture of openness, curiosity and outside focus and made interaction with members a priority?

Enable a focus on customer solutions to increase   employee engagement, innovation and member satisfaction. Are you focused on your next conference  and the management of your legacy programs or on uncovering the best solution for member problems? Do you start planning by considering which new products to  build or by uncovering unstated member needs and crafting solutions? At the Veterinary Information  Network (VIN) each employee across the organization is preoccupied  with one thought daily: how can we make our members’ life easier today? Ideas  for product development and service innovations spring from every part of the organization on a daily basis.


 Create mechanisms and processes for applying what has been learned or  there is no motivation for learning. Are your people and organization  constantly developing and changing because of what they learn through trial and  error and from constant customer feedback? Allow lessons learned and customer feedback to drive planning and product development rather than secondary  research and top-down, committee-based planning. 

Change roles and responsibilities to empower people with authority and  opportunities for having responsibility from concept to execution and  accountability for results.

Provide people with meaningful measures of   success and share of responsibility for collective goals. “Membership” should not be the purview  of one department but the sole focus and preoccupation of the entire  organization with each person having concrete responsibilities in their share of organizational goals.

 Treat employees as customers, understanding needs, passions and motivations and aligning them with roles and responsibilities

Create people/customer-centric rewards and incentives, rewarding for things like customer outcomes and satisfaction, capability development, contribution to organizational business goals, etc. as opposed to performance of tasks and productivity. 


The point is that to create a culture of cooperation, you need to refocus from products to people and translate change—not into theories or programs—but in doing things, thinking and measuring success differently.