I’ve been thinking about what we can do in 2011 to make our organizations more resilient and more prolific when it comes to building smart social and economic ecosystems. When I started to write this post, I thought that I had found the answer in the “Golden Rule” – the maxim of doing to others what we’d want them to do to us if we were in their shoes. But as I think about it now, the Golden Rule just may be the line of thinking that is getting us into trouble. Often, by building organizations according to what we want, we create systems, processes and relationships that actually stand in the way of our long-term success, rather than facilitating it.
Here are three ways to turn the Golden Rule on its head and produce sustainable, mutually beneficial results.
1. Forget about yourself. Think about this in terms of customer interaction, marketing campaigns and acquisition strategies: How many are designed more for the marketers than for the customers? I’d like to see a number for that, because I have sat through more pitches and plans and messaging schemes whose major quality check was a “Do you like it?” or “Whaddaya think?” aimed at the management team. No matter how much industry experience you have, no matter how long you’ve ‘led’ in your organization, the things that drive you in your work are not necessarily the same things that drive your customers to buy your product, service or your leadership. Basing your actions on the assumption that you are the same as your customers is naive, at best.
This same thinking can lead us to erroneously go about leading others at work, home or hobby. Individuals that embark on leadership practices because they themselves feel good about the implementation of such are missing out on developing the needed characteristics required to accomplish repeated extra-ordinary results. Simply put, you may sit in your castle thinking that you’re loved, all the while the villagers are collecting torches and sharpening their pitch forks. This is especially poignant in the family.
2. Find out who the real relationship should be with. The reason why the situation mentioned above is so prevalent in every organization throughout the world is because most of us work in management systems and styles that drive us to focus on our individual customer (the person that is signing off on our performance evaluation and employment) rather than the organization’s customer (the one’s who evaluate our companies with their patronage). I would venture that the positive momentum of potential in an all-too-many organizations is often critically reduced by the need for the majority of employees to serve “up the chain” in their jobs. Energy directed up an organizational chart is most certainly lost on already understrength lateral connections with customers.
The reality of work is that our first priority is to keep our jobs, and the income they provide. The customers often get left in the dust, whether they be purchasers of goods or subordinates of a manager. With everyone supporting Adam Smith’s theories, we’re left to wonder who will look up and see the long-term need to sustain the greater organization.
“Determining who the ‘real’ relationship should be with” is more about keeping a conversation going on what’s most important to the organization, than it is about strategizing office politics (a.k.a. covering your rear end). That said, if you have formal authority, be aware of your current management practices and their potential to subdue the relationships that pay the bills of the place that pays your bills. That will take some practice. Pay attention to what you do and how you do it and how it impacts the entire organizational system.
3. Do unto them what THEY want you to do unto them. This is the third spot where the Golden Rule can mess us up. We’ve all heard, read and probably even said that our customers don’t care about our business, just what we can do for them. Well, if that’s true, then why are companies executing on sales programs designed to make themselves feel better rather than doing what their customers (and all of us, really) want: building strong relationships of respect by listening to understand (This is exactly what is at the heart of Alan Belniak’s recent post, when he mentions ’empathy’ as a tool to stand out from the competition).
Oh yeah, I know it sounds touchy-feely, but marketers must realize that our current financial crunch is reforming old spending habits, and now-tight budgets will evolve into prudent financial discipline. The wild west of check-writing is gone. People actually want to know that where they are spending their time and money will pay off. Can you believe it?!
Be interested in your customers – the game is changing. The future value-center of the organization will not be the catalog lists of merchandise or services, but the relationship-building practices it institutionalizes as part of its culture. In a networked world, our expanding circle of connections and rekindled ‘friending’ will actually narrow our range of most-trusted relationships, through which we will source the majority of our needs.
What this means to you: You need to keep a job both now and in the future. That means effectively managing the needs of your customers and your organization’s customers. If your boss really wants you to deliver something that might not add value to, or resonate with the ultimate end-user, then find a way to have the conversation about which customers are the top priority and find a process to help you focus on them (and think about the outcomes of that conversation on your long-term work prospects).
What this means to your organization: Most of us are working somewhere where process is more historical than rational. Sustainable organizations will examine and challenge their own processes and focus continually. Look for opportunities to go lean. Think ‘direct communication’. Set-up systems that prevent ‘boss-worship’ and reward the living of company values. And, realize that constituents of leaders in organizations ARE your number one customers – if they don’t show up for work, the other customer needs will never get met.