In the ten years that I have been working in the culture development space with small business to large enterprise, a few common threads have become evident within those that succeed as well as those who fail. Below are my observations with specific reference to the correlation between junior management and the successful (or unsuccessful) development of a customer-centric culture.
The notion of working smart and not just relentlessly hard is an important point of departure within the more successful purpose-driven organisations. By that I mean that in order to effectively build a customer-centric culture, one has to develop a way of thinking and doing primarily within those who influence behaviours daily within the organisation. Nobody has more influence over the execution of the customer experience than junior management. These staff members, whilst no longer at the coalface of the interaction, are close enough to the action to influence the consistency and long term public perception of the brand from a customer experience perspective. Alarming to note is that many of these junior managers are thrust into these positions with little or no guidance of what it means to drive a culture of customer-centricity. Instead they either walk the line of the authoritarian and lose any connection with their teams or alternatively try and win the most popular boss of the century and consequently lose the respect of those they are meant to be leading. The result is a group of people on the executional level that do what they think is effective but without any unified approach required to build a customer-centric behaviour-set.
The outlook and approach taken by the junior level of management is therefore critical towards the customer experiencing the optimum degree of value from every relevant touch point of the customer journey. The junior manager, in essence, sets the tone for the behaviour-set that will follow from their team and be felt by the consumer. The current reality however is that the majority of these junior managers have little or no idea of how to proactively construct and communicate a set of expectations in order to achieve the necessary accountability.
Root Causes of the Problem
One of the most fundamental errors in decision-making made on a consistent basis, is the assumption that a staff member strong in execution will be a strong and effective manager. The skill-sets are in fact vastly different and the reality being that highly effective managers may well not be as effective at execution. As a result, the person often placed into the management position isn’t the best person for the job. A strong junior (and senior) manager has to be a naturally strong and proactive communicator. Somebody who is organically inclined to disseminating information but also understands that different personality types listen in different ways. This is not to say the manager has to be loudest person in the room. It means that they have an acute sense of timing and inherently know when to step in. The difference is that when the effective manager decides to communicate, it properly resonates with the audience and strikes the necessary chords to ultimately effect change.
Building a Progressive Customer-Centric Culture
Any manager leading a customer-facing team must always be cognisant of the need to tow the line and set the example they wish to see in their team’s behaviour-set. You cannot be a reactive manager and expect proactive service. Junior managers must get into the habit of setting specific expectations before the fact. Once these expectations are clear in the mind of the leader, the communication of said expectations to staff becomes critical towards the objective of building a strong culture. The mistake that many inexperienced managers (and experienced for that matter) make is to initially communicate the KPI or requirements and then visit it again during appraisal season. A culture, like a living organism, needs to be fed to survive. Effective managers and leaders reiterate and reinforce their values and expectations with unrelenting frequency, not because they want to police their team but because they understand that for the expectation to become behaviour, it needs to become part of the team’s DNA. This is also the exact reason why the lazy manager will never build a customer-centric culture. They are too disconnected from their team to know when to push and when to give a bit of slack.
Being an effective junior manager requires a lot of courage, especially when they have been promoted from within the team they are now managing. Very few of these managers fully comprehend how to break the old dynamic with colleagues and establish the requisite degree of respect and commitment to the short, medium and long term objectives. Instead, the majority default to becoming a glorified version of whatever their previous job description was because that is what they know.
World class young managers understand the necessity to feel uncomfortable on a frequent basis. They know that in order to achieve a culture of customer-centricity that expectations need to be defined and communicated with little to no compromise. They realise that there will come a time when the tough conversation needs to be had with a familiar colleague, not to show who’s boss but to realign the behaviour-set towards the ultimate objective. The great managers of arguably any industry are not the most popular people, but they are the most respected, because the ultimate objective has remained at the core of every decision.
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