How Can You Negotiate the Politics of Aligning Your Company with Customers?


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When we help companies turn themselves Outside-In (customer-centric), corporate politics frequently present the highest barrier. While traditional process redesign focuses on “how” companies work, Outside-In process, the mechanism for turning companies O-I, changes “what” work is done; “who” does it; and how technology supports it – along with the “how.” And that’s where politics enter the picture.

Changing the “what” and the “who” can both alter the org chart, and usually do. With corporate power and control a zero-sum game, change creates winners and losers among functions, managers and often senior executives. Too many companies try to avoid these potentially disruptive changes by letting customer interests modify “how” work gets done, but stopping there. They may wind up more customer-considerate – but that’s a far cry from customer-centricity, which lets customers drive the work companies do and the functions doing it. And it’s far short of achieving the customer-delight so many companies pursue.

How do you help get your company get over the hump to tackle the “what” and the “who?” First, if you’re going to move your company from company-centric, inside-out to customer-centric, Outside-In, make sure it has the requisite capacity for change – at the executive level particularly – before you try. If it doesn’t, find a new gig with one that does. But if it does have the capacity, and it’s worth the struggle, these two steps may very well help:

1. Map out how many layers of supervision and management separate decision-makers from customers – not just in terms of customer intelligence sifting its way up through the layers until it reaches decision points, but also how many layers high-level decisions affecting customers must work through before reaching the execution level. Many senior executives get the picture. They’re acting on filtered information; and their intentions either aren’t being carried out or get carried out by multiple functions acting on multiple interpretations that produce a mixed bag of customer experiences. That’s not how companies delight customers.

2. Redraw the map with all but top-level strategic decisions made by a single customer advocacy (or customer operations) function sitting one level away from customers – and all the internal support the advocacy function needs provided under customer advocacy guidance. In most companies, this shift will eliminate or shrink layers of staffing extending all the way up to the VP level.

Unfortunately, most C-level executives don’t understand how work flows beneath them, including how much strategy implementers change or even disregard their intent. And an even higher percentage can’t accept higher revenue projections based on achieving customer-centricity – but they’ll jump all over cost-reduction opportunities. I agree the latter approach is more than a bit cynical, and talking about further downsizing staff is tough. However, better to streamline the company and survive than trying to maintain an unsustainable status quo. Plus, doing the right things for the wrong reason is always better than continuing to do the wrong stuff. And bottom line, it’s in company best-interests to get to customer-centricity.

In our experience, willingness and commitment to change structurally pushes organizations over the hump from uphill roads with a change barrier at the top onto downhill paths – to customer-centricity. It’s the tipping point.

“Winner” companies get to the downhill side. “Losing” companies stay stymied, stuck going uphill. And in the long hangover anticipated to follow our current recession, the difference between “winner” and “loser” outcomes will widen into a yawning gap, with lots of “loser” companies leaving the scene.

Just ask Circuit City, CompUSA, Chrysler, GM, Siebel Systems, Sun Microsystems, WaMu, United Airlines and innumerable B2B sellers that continued making good products while customers stopped beating paths to their doors about the risk of staying company-centric. These organizations could (or would) change their management hierarchies to permit customer-centric business to take root. Consequently, they’re dead or needing buyouts (or bailouts).

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Hi Dick

    We all hear you when you write about the lack of customer-centric organisations. If only reality matched the aspirations in most companies’ annual reports.

    But my experience redeveloping organisations over the past 20 years suggests that just redrawing the organisation chart will NOT WORK 90% of the time. The difficulty is that organisations need to spend time building the various capabilities required to be customer-centric. Like Rome, customer-centric organisations cannot be built in a day (of shuffling jobs around the organisation chart).

    As I set out in an earlier article on Five Steps to Real Customer-Centricity, the process of becoming customer-centric often follows five simple steps. Most organisations need to go through them one-after-another so that they build the capabilities required to be customer-centric in a structured way.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  2. Dick Lee – Graham, your five points are similar to what a number of us have been applying – some of us for more than 20 years. The point of the post is how do we alter the C-level mindset so we can transform the uphill climb to customer-centricity into a downhill roll. All your points are right in theory, but we don’t live in theory, and they’re post-starting point.

    We need to grab the attention of C-level execs to get the ball rolling. The challenge I’m addressing is overcoming C-level resistance to change in ways that create opportunities to deploy our approaches (such as your “five points”).

    Reason doesn’t work, because neither business nor senior managers act rationally. Beyond intellectual rationales, customer-centricity believers need emotional tools to persuade senior management to eschew the familiar and comfortable and embrace change. That’s a much bigger challenge than determining how to proceed once we have executive attention. What you’re suggesting is contingent on “shocking” senior management out of entrenched beliefs.


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