No matter how clearly you define your vision or how many processes are in place, the people who work for you won’t consistently make the right decisions unless you have a culture that reinforces the strategy.
Successful businesses understand that focusing on culture is a key point of difference, and a way to cement competitive advantage in achieving their vision and strategic goals. In fact, a survey conducted by Strategy& in 2013 indicated that 60% of leaders believe that culture is more important than the strategy or the operating model to enable long term success.
This seemingly runs against the grain of many traditional business practices, where there is a strong reliance on economics as the foundation for policy and procedure. However, a strong organisational culture makes good business sense, as aligned values and ingrained behaviour empower employees, and free up leaders, by requiring fewer rules and time spent monitoring and managing.
This is the result of employees having the right tools and mindset to make the right decisions for the situations that present themselves each day, using personal judgement and intuition to positively support the agreed cultural standards. At the heart of the issue are the judgements people make, and the actions that stem from those judgements. These decisions can be viewed as part of a continuum, with basic customer service at one end of the spectrum and providing true customer centricity at the other.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, culture is critical to success because it is in culture that the ideas of the future are formulated and brought to life. Strengthening the capacity of employees to make future-oriented decisions will lay the foundation for pre-empting customer needs, and designing new and innovative solutions before your customers even realise that they need them.
Establishing a customer-centric culture
Culture cannot simply be defined through corporate mission statements or staff communications. Cultural design focuses on understanding the alignment across the core organisational levers driving culture, as well as identifying any misalignment or potential ‘watch points’ to ensure that you have consistent practices that reinforce the desired behaviour. There are also many implicit ‘messages’ that act as indicators of the culture within an organisation. As such, it is imperative that you align the beliefs, skills and environment for employees to consistently reinforce the explicit and implicit messages about what is required.
Organisational culture is an intangible entity. As such, it is important to identify observable behaviours that indicate your organisation’s culture, as well as its alignment to your customer strategy and objectives. This can be done through a model which provides a framework for understanding the levers that will allow you to design your desired customer-centric culture, as well as understand the current culture state in order to determine the gap to be closed between the ‘as is’ and ‘to be’. Organisational models should include:
Requires the organisation to not only clearly articulate their customer strategy, but also to ensure that employees understand this strategy, as well as how their individual objectives link to both their immediate team and the overarching strategy.
Requires the organisation to articulate what it will look like when leaders act as customer guardians. It is then imperative for leaders to understand their role and the behaviours required of them to achieve the customer strategy. Leaders themselves then need to consider the behaviours that they demonstrate for their teams and the behaviours that they reinforce from the frontline to the executive team.
Structures & Networks
Requires the organisation to identify the most effective operating model (structures and processes) to support their customer strategy and keep pace with change. Often the customer is shared across teams such as marketing, sales and customer services. However, there should be one ultimate ‘owner’ of the customer experience, which may require you to break down silos or leverage lines of power and influence to achieve the customer strategy.
People & Performance: Requires the organisation to identify how they will ensure that employees will be appropriately qualified, skilled and experienced to effectively act as customer guardians across the entire employee lifecycle. Specifically, they need to consider the standards for performance that are required, including behaviours and metrics, and how these will be set in a customer-centric manner. It is also important to consider the reward and recognition frameworks that can be introduced to encourage employees to embrace their role as a customer advocate. The approach that leaders will take to monitoring performance, as well as coaching and managing employees to effectively elicit appropriate customer-focused behaviour should also be considered.
Requires the organisation to identify the business processes that need to change in order to reduce complexity for customers and allow employees to effectively provide customer care, in particular determining who is responsible for key customer decisions and defining clear escalation processes. This will include identifying any roles, responsibilities and accountabilities that are impacted by process changes, and ensuring that employees understand and support any changes to their roles and accountabilities
Requires the organisation to agree the language, communication channels, signs and symbols that will be used to reinforce the customer strategy and behavioural expectations. This should include the use of two-way, formal and informal communications that reinforce your customer strategy, values, ethics and behavioural expectations.
It is important to consider each cultural lever against the three key drivers of performance:
- Foundations: Encompasses the policies, procedures, systems, tools and technology that the organisation requires to successfully deliver the customer strategy.
- Capabilities: Encompasses the individual and team knowledge, skills and abilities required to successfully deliver the customer strategy.
- Beliefs: Encompasses the values and beliefs that individuals need to have to keep them motivated, engaged and wanting to behave in a way that is aligned to your desired culture.
A customer-centric culture can be defined in a corporate charter, but it’s unlikely that this alone will translate into the realisation of what is defined. When all is said and done, culture comes down to the decisions individuals make on a daily basis that align to the aspirations of the business. However, there are many tangible actions that can be taken to create the right environment and education for employees to instill the values and beliefs that will elicit the ‘right’ behaviours from them.
Culture takes time to embed and become the norm, and even when you get there you need to maintain it. The starting point is to ask yourself ‘does your organisation’s culture support effective customer-centricity?’ If you have any hesitation or cannot definitively answer ‘yes’, it’s time to do some planning.
Amy McWilliam is a IPAA Victoria Risk Professional CoP Committee Member at Institute of Public Administration Australia