What customers want from companies is becoming a common “conditioner” of organizational design and change management – but rarely a driver. That’s unfortunate, because empirical evidence shows the best way to build customer-centricity AND streamline companies is by starting with customer experience and redesigning the work (process) of the company from the customer in. Plus, putting customer interests first also greatly mitigates resistance to change by giving employees a much more palatable goal to work towards than “making more money for the company” (although that’s what ultimately happens.
But going “outside in” also involves serious change: changing work; who does it; how it’s done; and the underlying technology – all of which in turn require organizational change. Is that why companies continue designing change from the executive level down? Or is it more that management doesn’t like taking direction from customers.
Frankly, I suspect it’s the latter, although we always have to respect management resistance to change. “Taking orders from customers” flies in the face of the long-held belief that companies can manipulate customers into doing their bidding, buying into their brand, etc. And when you step back and considers how out of sync with today’s reality this belief is – you get a sense of how desperately senior management continues clinging to it.
Thinking Outside the Box: What would change if customers elected CEOs?
Much that we term “out-of-the-box” thinking is pretty tame stuff – too tame to generate much learning other than how to better the current state. That’s why I’m asking this question. Thinking through the answer might move us to a new frame of reference that reveals practical opportunities to please customers, even if the core premise seems outlandish.
For example, one likely outcome would be basing CEO selection on aptitude for specific customer types and situations, rather than on “name” or reputation doing business under very different conditions. A classic case is Home Depot selecting Bob Nardelli from GE to run a retail operation. Hell, Nardelli can’t even spell “consumer” – or customer for that matter. Customers would never have elected him. And sure enough, he was a disaster who nearly took down the company.
A second would be CEO candidates getting outside their executive suites and face-to-face with customers, alias “voters,” to campaign. Wouldn’t whomever customers elected be far more accepting of letting customers drive the business – rather than functional silos. And wouldn’t they tend to be far more successful? So why shouldn’t CEOs get out in front of customers, election or no?
And how about this one? If companies held periodic elections, say every three years, doing right by society – as opposed to Wall Street creating societal damage – would become a significant electability factor. But elections notwithstanding – in competitive situations, companies making positive contributions to society should have a powerful tie-breaker – and potentially a leg up from the get-go.
Sometimes, starting with a seemingly preposterous, “great but it will never happen” notion will stimulate fresh thinking we wouldn’t experience trying to push out from current reality. And on occasion, it will produce a new reality.