- In a rapidly evolving business environment, a customer-centered purpose provides everyone with a true north to enable greater agility
- Customer focus gives people a stable grounding as they navigate toward their objectives, even in the midst of uncertainty and unpredictability.
- • When employees have a shared purpose centered on the customer, they’re more engaged and empowered to work together, listen to the customer, advocate for change and take action quickly.
When you think about how rapidly the business environment is evolving, the impact of customer demands and expectations is unmistakable. Today’s customers are looking for greater value, new features and more options. They also have higher expectations around the social and environmental impact of the products and services they buy.
At the same time, the data that’s being captured through interactions between companies and customers is revealing new insights. Facebook targeted ads, for example, combine transactional, social, lifestyle, geographical and opinion data to point to new needs. And companies are using technology to anticipate and inspire new purchases. Amazon recommends products based on past shopping habits, while ad retargeting allows a searched-for product to follow the consumer around the web, nudging them to buy.
All of this is happening against a backdrop of unprecedented disruption. At the rate things are changing, the current wave of disruptors—Uber, AirBnB, Netflix—could be next to get upended by promising start-ups with a new twist on meeting customers’ needs, even the ones they haven’t yet identified themselves. No wonder organizations across industries are scrambling to become more agile, to be able to gather critical data, make decisions quickly and take action to meet evolving demands.
While a host of tools and technologies are helping organizations become more efficient and better able to predict and target customer preferences, technology alone won’t make an organization agile. From tools to skills to the behaviors and mindsets of the people, agile organizations are united around a common purpose that serves as a true north in volatile times. And for highly agile organizations, that purpose is centered around creating value for the customer.
How a Customer-Centered Purpose Powers Agility
To understand the power of purpose, it helps to look at some tangible examples. Starbucks, for instance, wants to be the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world, and by doing so it will reach its purpose: “to inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Not only is that a guiding light for the organization, it connects employees and the work they do directly to the customer.
Apple’s mission centers on being a leading computer company, but Steve Jobs’ purpose was to create beautifully designed, intuitive, innovative tech products that people love. The purpose is about the people.
Having a clear purpose that’s focused on creating value for customers enables agility in several ways:
- Establishes the “why”: As the company’s “true north,” the purpose makes it clear why the company does what it does. Agile organizations recognize that they operate in an environment where the path forward isn’t set in stone; it’s understood that new information may prompt a course adjustment at any time. A customer-centered purpose is the compass that allows employees to continue to navigate toward the ultimate objective, even as the path there takes unexpected turns.
- Provides the reason for change: That reason—to fulfill the purpose more fully by meeting customer needs more efficiently and/or effectively—empowers engaged employees to suggest and advocate for changes that will make the organization more responsive to those needs.
And because it keeps the business more closely connected with its customers, employees are more attuned to customer needs and wants. They’re more motivated to capitalize on the intellectual capital of their customer base and create more value that truly matters to the customer.
- Breaks down silos: A shared goal that focuses on the customer supersedes functional metrics. As a result, it helps break down silos and helps people work through conflict.
When disagreements arise over strategy and tactics, for example, a shared commitment to delivering on the organization’s purpose can help keep people in dialogue, working together toward solutions. Cross functional teams have a common gauge for evaluating what’s most important so they can make the trade-off decisions that may be necessary to keep the organization moving forward.
- Increases engagement: Having a customer-centered purpose that employees can connect their achievements to helps each person see the value of what they do. This kind of purpose-driven work increases engagement—and engaged employees help make organizations more agile. When the direction is clear, empowered people will naturally innovate new and better ways to get there in the fastest way possible.
What happens when companies are more connected to their customers? They become more innovative. LEGO, for example, a toy company that’s known for its innovation, has tapped into its customers as one of its greatest sources of innovation.
LEGO’s online community allows fans to submit their own ideas for new sets and vote on the suggestions that they like the most. If a project gets 10,000 votes, LEGO reviews the idea, picks a winner, and creates a new LEGO set that is sold worldwide. In return for the great idea, the creator gives final product approval, earns a percentage of the sales and is recognized as the creator on all packaging and marketing.
That’s innovation that serves the customer, and the reason it’s possible is because it’s conceived through a shared purpose that encourages people in the company to get on board with new ideas, make quick decisions and implement change with confidence. That’s agility.
To learn more about how to increase your organization’s agility, download our white paper, “The New Competitive Divide: Building the Foundation for Organizational Agility.”