Build Cultures of Cooperation and Customer Focus
Ranjay GulatiTell me if this story sounds familiar. , 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.
“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.