Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Mindless Pursuit of Customer Indifference

Everybody loves the customer! At least, that's what I'm consistently told. Why, then, does it not feel that way to me, when I'm a customer? Why are my customer experiences a seemingly endless stream of mediocre performances? My hunch is that it is attributable to the difficulties involved in moving managerial conversations beyond desired outcomes.

How many times have you heard senior-level managers proclaim that their ambition is to be: "number 1;" "the provider of choice;" "the preferred partner;" etc., etc.? It goes on all the time, but what do these slogans really mean? Nothing, in and of themselves. They are dreams, but more important they are the outcomes of more fundamental managerial actions that must be taken and coordinated if these outcomes are to be achieved. Without taking the conversation to the next, deeper, level, and specifying those other actions more precisely, it is left unsaid how, exactly, we are going to reach these dreams. If the hows are not specified, the paths to achieving our dreams remain abstract and implicit; and, all too often, unfulfilled. Achievement of organizational dreams -- the fulfillment of corporate strategy -- requires the leader to go beyond clich├ęs and address the real nuts & bolts details of which managerial choices are going to change, and how we're going to change them, in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Don't settle for mere outcomes in managerial conversations!! Always drill down deeper to find the hows that will make these outcomes achieveable. Good intentions are not enough; as George Bernard Shaw so famously observed, "the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."

What I believe is needed is an understanding of the "deep competencies," or deep masteries, that are necessary if the desired outcomes are ever to be achieved. Takahiro Fujimoto talks about this in his recent book Competing to Be Really, Really Good, which explains Japan's successes in automobile competition, as a function of such deep competencies. One of the most useful ways of addressing this issue, and in my experience the one absolutely vital tool in forcing conversations to go beyond mere outcomes, is Jay Galbraith's "star", which ties managerial choices regarding: strategy, people & skills, organization, processes, and measures and rewards, together. I find this an absolutely essential part of a managerial "toolkit."

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