While doing some research on change management and organizational transformation, it struck me that as CX professionals we tend to see the impetus for any change initiative as deriving largely, if not totally, from looking at organizational issues primarily through a CX lens. I suppose that’s natural when, as passionate CX practitioners, we want to impact the business world in a way that is congruent with our beliefs, knowledge, skills, and experience. There could be a downside to looking at business results either exclusively or overly so through a CX lens.
In the Psychology of Science published in 1966, Abraham Maslow wrote, “I remember seeing an elaborate and complicated automatic washing machine for automobiles that did a beautiful job of washing them. But it could do only that, and everything else that got into its clutches was treated as if it were an automobile to be washed. I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
Are we, as CX professionals, acting too much like hammers and are we seeing business problems primarily as nails. It’s a rather simplistic yet intriguing question and at times I have wondered whether this might be more often the case than not. The primary reason we are at all concerned about customer experience is to determine how that might be contributing positively or negatively to business results and to act accordingly. Those actions are based on change management or, in certain special circumstances, organizational transformation. Either way, the goals, and objectives are essentially identical.
Further investigating change management for a curriculum I’m developing, I ran into an interesting article in the November-December 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review written by N. Anand and Jean-Louis Barsoux titled – What Everyone Gets Wrong About Change Management with the tagline – poor execution is only part of the problem. Here’s a summary of the article in brief.
The Problem: failed corporate transformations are usually attributed to execution but often leaders misdiagnose what changes need to be made.
The Costs: when organizations pursue the wrong changes or tackle them in the wrong order, existing problems get worse, new ones are created, and employees, having been burned become wary of future initiatives.
The Solution: Before setting their change priorities, leaders should analyze three things: the catalyst for transformation, the underlying quest, and the leadership capabilities required to pursue it.
They go on to say that there must first be a catalyst for change and that this typically involves improving efficiencies through both streamlining and cost-cutting – but warn that too much of either one could tip the scale and undermine any growth objectives. The bottom line here is that either a period of declining performance or a growth opportunity are typically the catalyst for change, and it could be both.
As CX professionals, we are an integral part of change management and we own our portion of the change process especially in the early stages where the decision is focused on what to change rather than how to change. This leads to the second phase of change – choosing the direction or as the authors call it the quest.
This is where we see CX emerge as one of or a combination of five prototypical quests:
- Global Presence (international market reach)
- Customer Focus (CX insights and integrated solutions)
- Nimbleness (agility and simplification)
- Innovation (ideas and new opportunities)
- Sustainability (social responsibility)
Choosing the right quest and prioritizing it is a difficult decision and often this is where the change management process stalls or completely falls apart. Each quest involves a specific focus and has promoters and detractors of the process as each requires the organization to do something different with resources, operations, customers, employees, and partners. Understandably is can’t be all of them at once as you lose focus and internal disagreements pop up as to what should be the top priority.
Lastly, there must be leadership that can see this change process through to a sustained organizational transformation. Leadership changes amid transformations can often derail the process entirely so this is not an arena for the faint of heart. Within all of this stands the CX professional perhaps more inclined to disengage if the quest does not include the customer focus component—after all, that’s their inherent passion and purview. And this essentially is the hammer looking for that nail of a problem to solve.
What’s a CX professional to do under circumstances like this? My advice would be to step out of the role for a moment to understand the reasons why the transformational quest(s) were chosen and to champion and support them as you might have expected those from the Marketing or R&D teams to support a CX quest if that happened to be among those chosen. Customer focus is a solution to many business problems that require change management and or transformation but it is not a solution to every business problem. Thus, the CX professional, although a hammer by trade, must be agile and flexible enough in business to become an open-end wrench is and when the situation requires one.
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