Maintaining the focus and value on internal and external factors that drive business results is showing up as a critical "life-force" to an organisations performance in these days of increasing disruptive market conditions.
Riding the proverbial corporate waves over the years has given me a deeper appreciation of the need for leaders to maintain insights and foresight, both inside and outside. This as they embark on their journey to create or strengthen their customer centered culture in response to the outside environment and conditions.
Creating that strong alignment across a diverse and complex business, can be tough. However, Richard Branson’s The Virgin Group, Amazon, Starbucks among others, are just some examples of successfully riding the ups and downs of the external market whilst staying in tune and in touch with the organisations internal driving force, its people.
We have seen some companies rise, start to wane and some unfortunately fall, during the last decade of dramatic "V(olatility) U(uncertainty), C(omplexity) A(ambiguity), as a result of not balancing these multiple perspectives, on employee, customer, and competitor (the market) as effectively as they could.
Apple Inc one of the most highly valued companies, has made news over the past week first regarding its slowing iPhone sales – and then a few days later, on how Apple Inc. and SAP are joining forces to deliver software for iPhones and iPads, thus opening a new business channel to tap, at this time of low mobile sales. The various articles also described the emergence of a “command and control” leadership style within Apple Inc and how this was leading to low levels of trust and little transparency and restricted decision making, further into the body of the article.
This seems to point to the importance for leaders to remain ever vigilant and think about:
How they impact on the behaviour of others around, for the longer term, and
How they get people to work together to produce excellent results focused on the customer
Maintaining a vital empowering connection between leadership and culture
Organisational prosperity and success come from leaders paying attention and being able to anticipate, predict, engage and act on the vital signs, of both the external environment (customer and competitor, the market) and their own internal "behavioural heartbeat" of their organisations (employees).
While it seems many organisations are focused on defining what they want their customers to value them for, be it product leadership, customer intimacy or operational excellence, one does wonder organisations are spending enough time also asking what they want their employees to value them for, too? How organisations sustain prosperity over the longer term, would seem to require a courage and humility and discipline on behalf of leaders to ask the questions:
To what extent do we care about our customers AND also our employees? Are profits being made at the expense of either or the success and empowerment of both?
These turbulent times seem to call CEO's and senior leaders to be fully invested in helping each other regain the higher vision and purpose, to engage, inspire and contribute to this value creation for now and the future.
This requires leadership that values contribution people, make to business and also on getting the job done, achievement-driven. Together this makes for a crucial combination - senior leaders engaging and inspiring the wider enterprise with the necessary skills, attitudes and collaborative mindset to become more innovative and responsive to customer needs and market opportunities.
What does it actually mean to lead more constructively, and less defensively with a customer centric focus?
For an organisation culture and direction to change, there has to be a perceived threat or pain point, and while the obvious threat lies outside, from the market, the greatest threat may actually lie within the organisation itself - disillusioned and dispirited employees - giving the minimum effort or planning to move on.
In our age of disruption, of markets, products and technologies, leaders are forced into action to address the many external signals that create this threat: the ever closing gap between their competitors, the declining market share, and decreasing satisfaction levels and experience amongst customers.
Research has shown that customer centric organisations are more innovative, faster growing and more profitable along with being a powerful competitive advantage. In addition, and importantly, research has also shown that customer centric organisations have higher levels of employee engagement and are generally described as healthier places to work. Employees actually look forward to going to work and gain greater satisfaction from their working lives.
Successful leaders pay attention to the behavioural heartbeat as well as the market pulse.
These leaders also take the time to reflect to what extent their leadership style supports the espoused values and beliefs of the organisation. And make the necessary adjustments in themselves and others.
Rather than bunkering down and stepping into power and directive mode, leaders could be opening channels for input and engagement in value creation and other organisational transformation initiatives.
Customer centric leadership creates the conditions for open forums, asking employees for their views and ideas on how to address the problems and ideas to fix them, recognises and affirms the values, skills and contributions of each employee.
Customer centric leaders involve others in the decision making and work with them to agree on actions to be taken. In this way people feel they are key part of the journey and have an important role to play in its success.
Leaders and employees focus their efforts on meeting the changing needs of the customer, which is at the heart of what they do, for what purpose the organisation exists – and in this way, long term prosperity comes from this customer centric inspired behaviour, that in turn creates shareholder value.