Thursday, April 8, 2010

Creating Customer-Centric Organizations: Where Servicing Customers is Everyone's Job!

The other day, I gave a presentation to an association's board of directors and one of the statements I made was "membership is everyone's job, including the board" (implying that it's not only the job of those who work in membership departments). Upon hearing this, the Board Chair perked up, leading to an energetic and meaningful conversation with and among the leadership. Afterward the chairman came up and said THANKS for bringing up this important topic. Since then I have experienced similar "perking up" in other meetings with leaderships of various organizations.

I have been serving associations for nearly 2 decades and I started to reflect on a more deeper level as too what's causing this gap and what are some potential solutions that will lead to membership being viewed as everyone's job. And to me this topic became even more important for I observe similar challenges within the for-profit sector also.

The more I reflected on this, the more it occurred to me that the answers lie in how we respond to the often asked question "What do you do".

Whenever this question comes up, I have noticed that nearly every individual responds from their own role's perspective, their position within the organization. Actually, this was a realization and learning for me also.

For example, the Executive Director will introduce themselves as the ED of...exhibit person will respond as the exhibit person...and so on. However, when, specially when, we are attending business functions, in most cases we are not being asked to respond in-terms of our own functional role but rather as a representative of the entire organization for whom we work and therefore the more appropriate response would be from the broader perspective of what the organization does, for at that time, to the other person, we are the organization.

Thus, in the question "what do you do", the you being referred to is not the singular you but rather you being the entire organization, group for whom you work and represent. When this realization occurs, the self-view as well as the resulting response naturally shifts.

So what causes this in the first place, and more importantly what are some potential solutions? To understand the cause, it'll help to view 3-concentric circles. In the center of the circle we note the reason the organization exists--it's reason for existence (Purpose-WHY we exist). The second circle represents the organization's functional departments, it's internal structure (HOW we do what we do). And the 3rd circle represents, which is often closely and directly related to the 2nd circle, our products and services (WHAT we produce). For example, conference departments produces conferences and publications outputs publications.

Moving forward, currently when we place individuals within our organizations, we place them into various functional roles and soon each person begins to look outwards through their own lens, through their own role, and in the day to day fire fighting that often takes place, looses sight of the fact that they are just a spoke in the wheel. They forget that all spokes are interconnected, all are important, and all connected to the same cog, and that everyone is moving together towards a common destination.

So what are some potential solutions?

1. I believe it's be helpful for each person to view and understand the organization from say a 10,000 foot view, understanding each of their own roles within the broader system, see how they are interconnected, and are part of the wheel--part of the system but not the system itself. In other words, world doesn't revolve around any one of us but rather that we are part of a larger system, that we're all interconnected and we all exist together to fulfill a central purpose.

2. Instead of looking outwards-away from the circle, we need to view inwards, towards the center of the circle, realizing that it is the customers who are at the center--at the heart of the organization--the cog that keeps the spokes together and around which the entire wheel revolves. For without the cog, the wheel falls apart.

3. On a more tactical level, I believe it will be helpful to start with developing and arming each and every person with an elevator speech, that is consistently used by everyone within the organization. So when they are asked, what do you do, they can more effectively respond from the place of representing the entire organization rather then from the individuals role perspective.

While establishing such an understanding may take some time and effort, it is this type of understanding once infused will contribute to starting the shift the mindset, the thoughts and natural outcomes are likely to be more the case where customer service begins to be viewed as everyone's job, and not just that of customer service departments alone.

What are your experiences and suggestions that can help to establish stronger customer-centric organizations?

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Social Media: Source of Manure or Pearls?

Recently, a very experienced, educated and highly respected consultant in the association community made the following statement:

"Social media can spread piles of manure or pearls of wisdom."

The word manure caught my attention. My initial reaction was that of complete agreement for there does seem to be lots of useless chit chat. Upon further reflection however, I wondered if I jumped to agreement too soon, if I am viewing this from a very narrow and limited short-term perspective. I wondered if this manure is not so much a waste but rather a fertilizer. Please allow me to elaborate.

As I think of social media, aside from what appears to be idle chit chat, I see 3 benefits, which I like to share with you:

1. Emptying the Cup: In Buddhism it is commonly stated that before one can pour in tea in a full cup, one must first empty the cup--a metaphor for opening the mind to receive new information. Social media I believe provides that emptying of the cup.

As we know, everything begins with a thought. It is also true that when we keep thoughts in our minds, they being to circulate, eventually causing short-circuiting and blocking of new thoughts from flowing in.

Therefore, social media provides an important forum for us to pour out our thoughts. As that is done, it allows for new thoughts to flow in. And one never knows when a new thought arises that can be revolutionary.

For example, when I started this blog, one of my concerns was what if I run out of things to write about. So far it hasn't happened. With each post, new thoughts flood in. It seems that to tap into that infinite source of thoughts, it really is necessary to empty one's cup and social media provides a great means to do just that.

2. Random Connectivity: In the context of business, it is often difficult to know upfront which shared thoughts have value and which don't. It so often happens that a thought, which at first and as a stand alone thought does not have value, yet it somehow triggers series of thoughts, within or with others, that can turn out to be immensely valuable. Yet which could not have occurred without the others that came before, those which at first appeared as waste.

For example, couple of years ago, I read the following 3 words somewhere: Marketing for Introverts. Being an introvert myself, these words stuck with me. Later, those words served as the seed that lead to number of posts on this blog on introversion.

Reading further, one of my blog readers who is a membership director in a national engineering society, as a result of my posts, asked me to prepare a 1-hour webinar entitled "Selling for Introverts", where nearly 40 association leaders attended from around the country. Since then, this presentation has been converted into another live presentation entitled "Sales Made Easy", which has been delivered already over 5 times. In addition, I have also been asked to write couple of articles on the topic of introversion for a national magazine. All within a short period of time and this journey has just begun--all originating from those 3 words which I coincidentally read on some social media site.

3. Diversity: As in human populations where inbreeding within close circles can lead to diseases, communications and idea exchanges limited to small circles can lead to group think, which can be dangerous. Social media provides a forum through which larger segments of the population can exchange wider range of thoughts, ideas, topics, knowledge, and information which can lead to greater individual and collective creativity and innovation-as one personal example shared above in #2.

With the above in mind, when I now view social media in the broader context I can't help but wonder if the term manure used really is more in the context of it being a fertilizer. After all, we live in the world of relativity and very few things are absolute. Moreover, growth of any kind requires fertilizer and manure is certainly one of those.

Therefore, when I look at the original statement from this perspective, social media is actually quite powerful, even though at initial glance much of the dialogue that takes place may appear to be pure waste.

Well, these are few of my thoughts on this topic. So, what do you think? Does social media generate waste, or fertilizer?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Business Enterprise: A Living Organism

The other day, as I was viewing a city skyline at night, a thought "hit" me. Instead of seeing it as consisting of some sort of distant inanimate objects, it occurred to me what's in front of me is a form of symbiotic relationship between man and steel, where each structure is very much like a living breathing organism, say as in humans.

As in humans, these structures were in various shapes and sizes. And for each some type of inputs occurred, those inputs underwent various processes resulting in variety of outputs--which then became inputs for another series of structures. In that sense, various entities which at first appeared to be independent of each other were actually interconnected.

Furthermore, metaphorically speaking, these structures were like the human bodies, where the outer is what we could see. And as in the body, where the decisions, actions and outcomes are determined by the central brain and the quality of those are a function of the mental clarity and health, within each enterprise it is the senior most leader and the leadership team that determines the decisions and actions of the enterprise, with the outcomes being directly related it's mental clarity and health.

Going deeper within, the furniture, the technologies, machines, and other various items represented the bone structure which supports life. And as in living forms where the nervous systems transmits signals and damage to the nervous system can lead to paralysis, within the enterprise, breakdown in communication has similar impacts. In my experience, the business' nervous system can be deteriorated an damaged by miscommunication, conflicts, misunderstandings, and breaks in communication channels, so too can it be restored to health which can be accomplished by improving communications which often occurs with improved understanding of self and others .

In addition, the movement of materials and information occurs through various processes and systems which is similar to blood carrying oxygen, nutrients and waste products. And similar to the organs in the being, in the business they are the various business functions, divisions and departments and breakdown or malfunction within any one organ can impact the entire system. Finally, as food energizes humans, the entire business enterprise is energized by humans who are natures batteries. Then as in batteries, they come in various sizes, power level, function, and shapes and therefore to most effectively harness and utilize these power sources, they must be properly matched to the system and the entire system must be in tip top shape to optimize performance.

Finally, for the human body to maintain optimum health, it must be well fed, regularly exercised, undergo regular checkups, and cured when necessary. Still, sickness and deterioration occurs. Therefore, as in the human system, when problems occur in the enterprise, before prescribing any cure, the problem must be viewed within the framework of the entire system, diagnostics must be run, ti eradicate the root cause for optimum performance.

I don't think I'll ever view another skyline, or even just a stand alone structure, the same way again.