Innovation Management Wisdom

Posts filed under 'Innovation Workshops'

The Customer Centricity Challenge?

Customer centricity can seem to employees like an abstraction. So, what makes organizations truly customer centric?

“Centricity” implies focusing your attention on someone and responding in a relationship-nurturing way.

Does someone requiring 100% of your attention all day fit in your life? We have to divide our time among spouses, children, bosses, colleagues and friends.

So, when someone hangs a poster in the copy room that says, “We are Customer Centric,” a Dilbert cartoon flashes across my mind.

No one in a corporate office can be customer centric.

If we were, we’d get fired.

Our job descriptions tell us our roles in organizations. Customer centricity might be mentioned. But, most of our time is spent responding to colleagues, bosses and internal deadlines. Not customers, at least not directly.

Imagine a coworker in marketing or accounting who is customer centric all the time. You’ve repeatedly asked him for that report. He’s not actually ignoring you. It’s just that he’s “customer centric”, not you-centric.

How long do you think it would take for this person to be voted off your company’s island?

As consultants, we have to schedule innovation workshops with executive leaders one to three months in advance. That’s because executives’ calendars are chock full of organization centric updates, discussions and emails. That’s not a result of negligence on the part of these leaders. It just reflects the complexities of managing large organizations.

This brings me to my second point.

Customer centricity can only happen for a few, rare moments. You have to make the most of them.

We have worked with more than forty Fortune 500 companies innovating new products, services and experiences. What we have consistently found that no one in them is customer centric all the time. Numerous constituencies, such as coworkers, stockholders, vendors, partners and regulatory agencies, constantly vie for executives’ time.

At best, a handful of executives might devote a few hours each week to customers. Sure, these people are customer centric during those hours. But, for an organization to grow in a customer centric way, there usually needs to be robust, repeatable processes for integrating executive sponsorship, deep customer insight and methods for launching customer-winning ideas.

For most management teams, customer centricity is possible only in fleeting moments. For an organization to grow based on acting on a deep understanding of customers, these moments have to catapult you toward tangible business gains.

For our clients, this catapult usually follows this arc:

1.    Prioritize specific business outcomes and customer behaviors that will drive growth
2.    Learn what triggers desired customer behaviors
3.    Conceive, test and refine new experiences in a fast-pace, agile development process
4.    Show leaders results at every step and sustain executive sponsorship

We operate on several fronts on behalf of our clients: customer experience research, concept design and agile program management, for example…which brings me to my last point.

Executive sponsorship is needed to advance innovation efforts quickly in compressed time frames…otherwise, you won’t get very far.

It’s common for customer centric initiatives to be assigned to teams of mid-level functional managers. Executives take a wait and see approach. These new “customer centricity teams” can come up with some pretty heroic and creative ideas.

But, ideas die quickly.

Ideas evoke mixed reactions among executives, who filter them through their respective lenses. Without clear connections to targeted business outcomes, even the best ideas have little chance of surviving an executive team’s scrutiny.

If you’re committed to improving your customer experience to achieving real business results, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

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Whyze Group works with B2B and B2B2C Fortune 500 organizations. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in product innovation. Inquiries: info@whyzegroup.com, (440) 785-0547.

May 22nd, 2012

How to Stimulate Innovative Thinking

Completes assigned tasks. Meets deadlines…Daydreams effectively? Can companies really stimulate innovating thinking?

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer this Sunday, Mary Doria Russell writes about Imagine, a new book by Jonah Lehrer about how creativity really works.

Lehrer writes that creation isn’t a linear process. Innovators are ordinary people who encounter predictable walls. Rather than beating their heads against them, they quit. They find ways to go around them.

Everyone encounters barriers.

Successful innovators who’ve hit walls have something in common: They quit.

They didn’t quit their jobs. They gave up on unproductive lines of reasoning. “They really, truly gave up, often howling in frustration,” Lehrer says.

That’s when innovators “go forward by stepping sideways.” They quiet the linear, rule-constrained left side of the brain. Then, they unleash the conceptual, imaginative, right side. Your right brain soars with your best ideas when you’re just dozing or standing in the shower. The right brain makes unexpected connections. “Suddenly, you just know.”

Another Sunday paper described a painter who abandoned the conventional rules of the art game and built a $100 million a year business. His name is Thomas Kinkade, “painter of light.” Kinkade’s works hang in one out of 20 American homes.

The Sunday New York Times describes how Kinkade imagined a new path to success. He ignored the art critics, targeted consumers who rarely bought art and bypassed art gallery distribution channels. He chose instead to sell his sentimental, mass-produced paintings directly to consumers. He marketed his works through franchise galleries, cable television and online.

If you’re not advancing on the path you’re on, quit. Imagine another route to connecting with customers.

Successful innovation is about connecting with buyers. Kinkade’s lateral thinking coincided with reconnecting with his faith and others who shared it. He said, “People who put my paintings on their walls are putting their values on their walls: faith, family, home, a simpler way of living…they beckon you into this world that provides an alternative to your nightly news broadcast.”

Thomas Kinkade was one man who thought differently. What about when you’re one manager among a team of managers?

Getting managers to agree on a lateral route to innovation requires a special combination of skills.

After you have your eureka moment, how do you get others to follow along? Chances are that others have similar ideas. But, for reasons related to decision making processes or office politics, those ideas don’t get a fair hearing.

Others with different ideas probably feel similarly frustrated. This isn’t a deliberate or even conscious stifling of creative thought. It’s a natural outcome of diverse people working in one organization. There’s a lot of pressure on company leaders to keep everyone’s oars in the water, rowing in the same direction.

As a result, most leadership teams’ approaches to innovation could be described as “satisficing”. They suffice to satisfy key influencers within their organizations. Satisficing usually results in tweaks that customers don’t perceive or don’t care about.

Has satisficing happened in your organization?

Satisficing is a normally occurring barrier to company innovativeness. It has its own inertia. It usually needs to be acted upon by an outside force to change it.

In upcoming posts, I’ll talk about how leadership teams have acquired and applied three critical skills to overcome satisficing and get innovative in ways customers care about:

  1. inhabiting their customer’s frame of reference
  2. Identifying lateral innovation opportunities
  3. orchestrating the delivery of powerful customer experiences

What do you think? Could more companies stimulate innovative thinking? What’s holding some back?

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Whyze Group works with B2B and B2B2C Fortune 500 organizations. The company has been recognized by the Baldrige National Quality Program, business associations and numerous business media as a leader in research and innovation. Inquiries: info@whyzegroup.com, (440) 785-0547.

 

 

 

 

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April 13th, 2012


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