Any CEO in a customer-facing environment will likely tell you that technology is re-writing the nature of their customers’ demands and giving them more and more new ways to express them.
Smart phones and social media are giving customers greater choice and a far louder voice. The reality is that when a customer is dissatisfied with any aspect of service, the company providing the service should expect them to inform the world… immediately.
Take the travel industry and the power of Trip Advisor as an example of how much and how quickly an industry can be transformed by this trend. Negative reviews make or break a reputation overnight. This is fast becoming the reality for all businesses – just ask United Airlines.
Facing customers, fast
So what does this mean for organisations trying to keep their customers happy?
It means that there is very little room left for cluttered leadership structures and the processes and time that comes with them. Competition is so fierce that if the employee handling customers ‘checks that with a manager’ every time there is a query or issue, soon enough they’re going to lose the business.
Organisations need to be more agile and better able to respond quickly – so their customer-facing employees need to be empowered and equipped to make decisions and act on them in real time.
Traditionally businesses organised themselves with leaders and managers doing the thinking, and everyone else getting on and doing the job.
But today, people at every level need to be able to respond dynamically to customers. They need the freedom to make the right choice, and the responsibility that comes with authority. We don’t just need leaders at the top, but at all levels in an organisation.
Intent Based Leadership – creating leaders at every level
That’s why the concept of Intent Based Leadership (ILB) – developed by American leadership expert and former US nuclear submarine commander, David Marquet – strikes such a chord right now.
IBL evolved after Marquet transformed the US Navy’s worst performing submarine into the highest achieving operational vessel. He went on to write the Forbes best-seller, ‘Turn the Ship Around! A True Story of turning Followers into Leaders’.
Intent-Based Leadership was founded on the experience and principles of giving others control and driving decision making at all levels – creating leaders, not followers – to ultimately deliver success.
It is a fundamentally new way of thinking about leadership, which can help CEOs and those in other senior roles reassess how they, and the organisations they lead, can respond to the way the world around them is changing rapidly.
‘E’ stands for Enabling
If successful organisations will see leaders at all levels, what’s the future for the role of CEO?
Well, for the concept of leaders at all levels to work, everyone involved must have a clear understanding of what the organisation’s purpose, values and overall aims are, and where they fit into them.
So maybe we need to redefine the CEO as Chief Enabling Officer, with a mission to ensure that the organisational structure and working environment enable people to perform to the best of their potential, and to take more responsibility for delivering the right thing to customers.
To keep pace with customer demands the CEO might have to step back from hands-on responsibility for the business’s day-to-day running and more about taking accountability for HOW the organisation is. CEOs will need to spend more time developing the culture and architecture of the organisation and its people.
Pushing performance levels
This new way of thinking about how to lead organisations is built to transform customer service and change the way employees think about meeting customers’ demands. But there are other potential benefits to an organisation’s performance too…
Even with the UK’s record high employment rates, it has surprisingly low levels of employee engagement. Just 11% of people in the UK feel actively engaged with their job and this may go some way to explaining the on-going challenge of low productivity.
An obvious solution is for organisations to give employees greater responsibility – the opportunity to step forward and take the lead. It’s logical to expect employees who understand the organisation’s vision and values, and are trusted and enabled to take responsibility, to work harder and perform better.
It seems clear that leadership has to change to keep pace with the markets we operate in. Leadership can no longer reside simply around the boardroom table, in the hands of a few senior managers who have the authority to make decisions.
People at every level need to be able to respond dynamically to customers. So, as digitisation continues to mobilise customers and swallow up process-based roles, we want to be left with companies of thinkers not just doers.