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How to trigger a customer-centred epiphany in senior executives

We all know the power of sticking a senior executive in front of a customer and letting them absorb how the customer feels. It’s how you bring them down from whatever ivory tower they are in and get them to ‘confront reality’ as Bossidy & Charan put it in their book of the same name.

Here’s an example, from Renee Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. Mauborgne was impressive at last week’s Leaders in London conference. So, I dug this example out of my research notes for the 60 Second Leader book that I am supposed to be finishing off right this minute (manuscript submission deadline Friday week. Gulp…). It’s an example of how to try and trigger an epiphany in people so they suddenly stand in their customer’s shoes and see things the way they really are – from the customer’s standpoint:

“Philips Lighting North America was a very proud company. So proud that the sales force were convinced they were doing a first-class job even though they weren’t gaining market share and General Electric dominated the industry.

“That’s when the new business head had his sales force listen in on a phone conversation between himself and Bernie Marcus, the founder of Home Depot, the largest retail customer in the US lighting industry.” On this occasion, the cognitive ‘kingpin’ the head of sales was looking to hit was the entrenched assumption by the sales force that they were better than they actually were.

‘So, Bernie,’ he said, ‘How is our sales force doing?’ Marcus replied: ‘Your sales force?’ (His voice rose to a near-shout). ‘They never follow through with what they commit to, deliveries are late, quantities and styles are wrong. It’s a disaster. There are only excuses, no corrective action.’

A dramatic attitudinal and behavioural turnaround occurred fast, as there was no place left for the sales force to hide.”

SOURCE: Renee Mauborgne & W. Chan Kim, authors of the best-selling Blue Ocean Strategy, writing on how to achieve ‘Tipping Point Leadership’ – making big change happen despite few resources. You can find the full texts in their article Tipped For The Top, People Management magazine, April 2003 and the INSEAD Quarterly, 2004.

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