I am a left-brain person.  I enjoy process, metrics, and troubleshooting interesting problems.  And I was never very focused on the “touchy-feely” side of business.  Then my customer experience (CX) consulting led me into right-brain concepts like culture, organizational alignment, cross-functional teams, and empowering employees. Now I am still left-brained but with a strong minor in right-brain.  And it feels natural.

What CX is all about

The goal of many organizations is to become customer-centric.  They know that by making sure customers are at the center of the decision making process, the business will retain and grow the existing customer base.  Additionally, being customer-centric will create customer advocates who will proactively recommend the business so selling is less risky and more likely to provide a steady stream of new customers.

Think about goals and objectives

Imagine you are working down in the trenches and you have no idea why you inherited your annuals Goals and Objectives (the so-called MBO’s).  All you know is that your customers are not being treated very well, you have no idea what you can do to fix the problem, and you and your co-workers are being pulled in many directions. Everyone higher up in the organization has a different idea about what is important.  [And you don’t even work inside the Beltway.]  Well, that is exactly what is happening in all size businesses all over (except for a very few like Amazon, Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and USAA.)

What has to be done to start migrating the business to customer centricity?

While there are a number of places to begin, I believe that aligning the goals and objectives throughout the organization is the right place to start because changing organizational culture can only happen if everyone follows the leader as she changes.  This means that the MBO’s cascade down the organization levels with everyone understanding what the organization is committed to accomplishing, how each organizational level will make its’ contribution, how each person is part of the solution, and everyone gets to see the progress that executives, managers, and individuals are making as the planning period unfolds.

How to begin

It all starts with the CEO.  She negotiates the overall business MBO’s with either the Board or, in a diverse business, the top headquarters executives. The process then follows as shown:

When this process is complete all goals should be linked and should look something like this:

To me, this process sounds easy, but remember that I am left-brained.

Along the way, there will be many obstacles to overcome

  • Getting CEO buy-in – may be a non-issue or a dead end
  • Getting Executive team buy-in  – make sure to include the senior HR executive since this falls within their sweet spot
  • As the process gets deeper into the organization, the emotions around jumping on-board or digging their heels in will get stronger -education and communication are mandatory, not optional
  • Developing a common language is critical  – confusion can set the process back quickly
  • In many businesses, the culture is win-lose – people now will have to cooperate and be open about their capabilities, challenges, and limitations
  • There are always strong individualists who resist working with a team – this may be OK at the individual contributor levels but can be death for managers and above
  • Procrastination and creative needs can waylay the initiative – people may complain about how awkward the process is and spend lots of time searching for an easy way.  Don’t let this happen.

How long does this process take?

The first time the organizations tries this process, it can take months to quarters to get meaningful MBO’s for most people.  Don’t be discouraged; the end results are worth the effort and frustration.  No matter how long it takes, keep it up.  The first attempt may be 50 to 80 percent appropriate but everyone will have gone through the process.  Along the way, the detractors will be identified and coached or moved and the proponents will feel satisfied that their vision of the right way forward finally saw the light of day.

It may take 2 to 3 years before the organization has a smooth goal setting process and the survivors all embrace the interactions and outcomes.  While this is happening, your customers will be becoming more loyal!