How Well Do You Know Your Customer(s) ?

Welcome back to the grind. I hope all of you had a nice Memorial Day weekend. Weekends like this do wonders for “recharging the old battery” and reconnecting with family and friends. And if you’re anything like me, weekends like this are also good for doing a little introspection on how the first half of the year went (ok, we’re not quite at the halfway point, but we’re close enough)…the challenges we faced, how we dealt with them, and a staging of priorities for the balance of the year.

It’s in that spirit that I thought I’d spend a little time on an issue that I know many of you have been wrestling with recently. Many of you have shared some rather challenging experiences in defining and executing your role organizationally as “service provider”. Not that we all don’t understand the role of a service provider, but in the context of endless restructurings and reorganizations, many of you have had to deal with redefining your relationships, both with your executive leadership, and the line organizations which many of you are responsible for supporting. And while this has been an age old problem, it seems achieving that balance is getting trickier than ever.

Many performance management organizations report administratively to a “staff executive” (HR, Finance, Strategic Planning, are among the most common). But while these executives may serve as our primary customer, we cannot effectively do our jobs unless we win the support “line management”. In the end, these are our real customers. And while its easy to get caught up in the daily grind of producing Board Reports, Executive Committee Briefings, and Corporate Performance Reviews, we must not lose sight of who the real beneficiaries of our services are. They are the real connection between what we do and the ultimate shareholder value that gets produced.

So as you think about your own YTD “report card” for 2005, here are a few things to consider:

1. What kind of relationship have you established with your internal customers? Is it one of cooperation and partnering, or is it more of the “corporate watchdog”? One of the biggest pitfalls I see performance managers fall into is misinterpreting the charter and authority they are entrusted with. Often, performance managers will look to their staff executives to reinforce the plans they’ve put into place. What do you do if the line organizations won’t “”play ball? Be careful of falling into this trap. Before you look for more “backing” from your boss, try to inventory your relationship with the line organizations. Sometimes, the solution lies simply in how you VIEW the relationship. Do you see them as working for you, or do you exist to serve them? Simple but big distinction.

2. Are you a provider of “projects” or do you strive to “enable” your customers with the requisite tools and capabilities? I know many of you spend a LOT of time producing reports, presenting them, and gleaning insights FOR your customers. That’s OK, but that, in and of itself won’t produce actionable value. In fact, I would argue in favor of producing fewer deliverables, and a heck of a lot more emphasis on coaching and teaming with them on what these reports mean for their bottom line.

3. Key to being able to deliver on #2, is a clear understanding of what keeps your customer awake at night. What drives her success? What is the biggest driver of his P&L? What factors most impact their career/ personal success? If you don’t know, ask. If you can position your initiatives in this context, you’ll instantly produce a lot more buy in and alignment. Sometimes, its just a matter of reprioritizing what you do first, in the context of what will most impact their success.

4. How do you evaluate YOUR success? I’ve talked to some really good performance managers who view their ultimate success as getting a PM PROCESS in place, rather than a long checklist of completed projects. One performance manager once told me that his success would be having such a good process in place, that he would ultimately work himself out of a job. Scary for most of us, until we look at the value that gets created, both organizationally, and with you personally. Trust me, if you create that much value, and God forbid your organization doesn’t value it, there will be many organizations waiting for a shot at hiring you.

5. Have you spent a day in your “customer’s shoes” lately ? When was the last time you got out of the corporate HQ and really saw “first hand” the activities you are responsible for measuring? I’m not only talking about the “young gun” MBA types, but many of us who have spent a little too much too much time on the office.

A client once told me that the best test to find out whether you know your customer, is the degree to which you can name his/her customers and their needs (i.e. one level removed).
How well do you know your customer’s customers???

6. How often do you ask “SO WHAT”? Take your last report or presentation, go to your conclusion page and ask, from your customer’s standpoint- “SO WHAT?” If you get stuck on that one, its back to the drawing board, because that’s what the ops folks are asking every time you put something new in front of them.

Of course, there are many questions like these that will help you reconnect with your internal customers. But my real purpose in posing some of the above questions to us is to get us back (I say back, because if your worth your salt as a performance management professional, I know many of us get this intellectually, and have practiced it in the past) in the mindset of your customers. We all know what makes our boss tick. But remember your boss (CEO, CFO, VP Planning) are not going to get your recommendations and ideas implemented.

So as you wrap up this holiday weekend, do some good introspection on your internal customers and THEIR business. It’ll make tons of difference in how the rest of the year goes.

-b

Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com


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