I’m not a CEO or anything — in all likelihood, I never will be — and every company is different (“unique little snowflakes,” just like millennials believe themselves to be!), so who cares what I think about changing your company, right? Hey, I’m just out here trying to provide some value to anyone that may stumble across it.
There’s a whole notion now about “customer-obsessed cultures,” which means exactly what you think it means: an organization that focuses intensely on the customer and what the customer wants/needs and how to get the customer to buy more stuff. Dirty little secret? Any “customer-obsessed” culture is likely to be horrible for employees, because the internal culture will value products and processes over people. That’s most cultures at most organizations, but if you’re flat-out saying that you’re “customer-obsessed,” you might be more deliberate than most.
There are a couple of cultures that business journalists and thought leaders are already pointing to as “customer-obsessed,” and the leaders of a few of them were together in New York recently. Forrester got together with several and they had some thoughts on becoming a “customer-obsessed” culture. One stood out.
James McQuivey of Forrester basically outlined it like this:
- Shift from being complex to being simple
- Shift from being latent to being immediate
- Shift from silos to alignment
- Shift from being rigid to being agile
If you look at the last word of each of those, here’s what you’re aiming for:
That sounds pretty easy, but it’s super hard in reality. It also sounds buzzword-y, so let’s break that down.
Simple: This is a huge problem for most organizations, and it starts with the value prop/purpose of the employees. See, here’s the rub: if you don’t have purpose — essentially, if you don’t understand what the org’s mission/product is and you don’t understand how your work relates to it — then your brain needs to go into other dark hallways to find value. You know how most people do that? They overcomplicate everything and race around screeching about how busy they are. Here’s the simplest level view of that: meetings. Probably 60 percent of meetings could be e-mails, quick office visits, or hallway convos. Why are they meetings? Because people think if they’re busy/have full plates, then they’re valuable. Those are not the same thing at all. But that’s why we overcomplicate things at work — to create individual-level value for employees who can’t find it elsewhere. In reality, let’s keep stuff simple and get people home to their families/friends at a reasonable time. Yea?
Immediate: This is a tricky one. Most managers aren’t actually very good at their jobs, and especially not at setting priorities. If you told a bunch of middle managers that it was now “a culture of immediacy,” they’d just make their employees’ lives a living hell claiming everything was Priority 1, hair-on-fire garbage. That’s not what immediacy means, though. It means having a system that reflects the reality of the business or work you’re trying to do. The place I just worked has a lot of pros, but here’s a con: it uses a sprint/scrum/standup type system on the tech side, right? That’s typically a good thing but the length of the sprints and how you get work into the sprints makes no sense for 72 percent of the company. You know what happens when a process collapses because immediacy (“I need this done now”) can’t be achieved? It becomes all about politics. “Immediacy” is just about like … what do we need to do? How do we prioritize that work? And if something new arises, how does it become part of the plan?
Aligned: Silos ain’t going anywhere. They ain’t moving a damn inch, if we’re being honest. In-group vs. out-group is essentially how your brain organizes new information, so of course it’s how we mostly set up work. You can’t ever remove “a marketing gal!” from being “a marketing gal!” nor can you remove “an IT guy” from being “an IT guy.” They’ll probably never even speak to each other in the same language, honestly. At my last gig, marketing talks a lot about “sell sheets.” Some dude I worked with in CX was like “What’s a sell sheet?” Personally I feel like most people should be able to figure out what a “sell sheet” is because the name kinda describes it, but let’s put that aside for the time being. Silos = happen. Languages = different. Managers, even in the same department = different systems. What can we do, aside from hiding under our cubicles and weeping? Well, you can think of ideas like “a networked culture,” or you can just think about more effective ways to get people together on the same project.
Agile: This is its own methodology with a lot of benefits, but let’s ignore that for the time being. Not every company has the people/resources to be “agile.” Even at a base level, it means stop plodding along on things. You need process, for sure. That’s essential for rank-and-files and managers to understand the how of things getting done. But some companies stack process on top of process, and suddenly a tweet has to be approved by 72 people. The time that the tweet was relevant passed about 1 hour and 49 minutes ago. There’s process that improves, and there’s process that impedes. Agile is about moving from the latter to the former. It’s not necessarily about redoing your entire team (although it might be).
We overcomplicate the hell out of work every single day. Here’s basically how it fits together:
- You have a product or service
- There’s a need for it and in some way, it makes people’s lives better
You hit those two targets, you’re doing well so far!
Now here’s what you need to think about:
- We’re going to bring a bunch of people together to work on this product/service
- They’re all going to have different backstories and families and attachments to the work
- We’re going to part with our revenue in exchange for their labor/service
- How do we organize, align, and motivate them so that we make a bunch of money and they have a good experience with 1/3 of the middle part of their life?
That’s the essential sequence you need to run through as you’re scaling up — instead of running to your 3:30 to discuss Q2 KPIs.