Every manager and executive aspires to grow and improve their organization. I’ve never heard a successful executive say “We don’t need to worry about improving the organization.” However, those goals are often met with skepticism and opposition – from within their own organization. For example, say you have an idea – it would be an excellent revenue opportunity and would give your company an edge over the competition. But it requires technology to support it. So you meet with the IT team and all they seem to want to do is provide the solution that is easier for them – not the customer. Suddenly the idea you thought would enhance the customer experience has become “nearly impossible” and their feedback is anything but constructive: “Our system can’t do that – we’ll just require the clients should do this instead.” So, now, your technology team is serving as a barrier to growing business and capitalizing on opportunities within your market, instead of what they should be doing – finding solutions to support it. Understandably, risks are often involved with implementing a new system (or retrofitting an older one), but in a work environment where this reality is typically met with resistance by the team, how can we solve that problem and make sure customers are the central focus?
Advancing Organizational Culture: A Long Road That Few Walk
The most important change that needs to happen is the organization’s mindset towards creating a culture of can-do, rather than a culture of can-not. Since business growth today requires technology, this mindset shift is especially important within the IT department. The department must embrace that it’s their team’s responsibility to go through the process of understanding and improving the technology until it has significantly enhanced the customer’s experience – their needs and wants drive the business forward. Just meeting the basic user expectations is not enough anymore. But, how do you help them do that? Here are some ideas based on years of practical experience working with programmers and technical resources:
Bring IT in early. In many cases, the IT department is brought in at the end of the business discussions instead of the beginning. If you know that your idea is going to require programming support to implement it (almost all do), engage the programmers throughout the process – not just at the end expecting them to execute your plans quickly. And, we can assure you that the programmers will have really good ideas on how to improve and support your plan.
Speak in business terms. Unless you truly understand programming languages, speak to the IT team in business terms. What do you need? How will it impact the organization? How can it improve a process? Let the IT team translate your business needs into a software solution.
Have IT engage directly with clients. Never underestimate the power of direct engagement with clients. Most IT people want to make the client happy. However, they never get to meet or hear from them. You will be amazed at how “customer-focused” programmers become when dealing directly with the people that are having software usability problems.
Take small steps. Your idea needs to be tested. Not every idea should be implemented in the enterprise platform at launch. Use basic web forms and databases outside of your current system. It’s much faster and easier. And, expect some manual labor on your part. But, if everything works according to plan and your idea is successful, everyone will be motivated to improve the system. Success definitely breeds motivation.
Culture Change Means Behavior Change
Change generally isn’t easy – especially when the change must occur within an individual’s behavior. Since a workplace is composed of many individuals with various backgrounds and opinions, it can be challenging to come up with a unified understanding. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. A company can ingrain a customer-centric culture within the employees by defining the mission and the vision, by explaining the role of each employee, and by soliciting the key players involvement in early discussions . Each person should feel a personal obligation to contribute towards a positive customer experience – even if they don’t directly interact with the customer on a regular basis. Companies must tackle barriers head on through transparency and open communication.
Sustain and Maintain Focus
Building the culture of customer focus is not a one-time activity. Instead, it’s a continuously evolving process that may require more changes along the way. Flexibility and cooperation are two of the most important characteristics that ensure success. Once a customer-centric culture is achieved, the goal shifts from transforming the culture to maintaining the culture.