Dr Zara Whysall, Research & Impact Director at Kiddy & Partners May 30 2023

Balancing customer focus and vision setting

In this blog, Zara Whysall looks at the third tension of the rapid evolution, which focusses on balancing customer focus and vision setting.

As organisations grow, they become increasingly internally focused. Priorities move away from external trends, customer focus or user needs and preferences to internal matters, such as honing processes and existing products or services. Jeff Bezos describes this dangerous shift as one in which process becomes a proxy for success:

"Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you're not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organisations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you're doing the process right."

Although most business leaders say that they put the customer, client or service user first, the reality is that operational pressures take over and that voice gets lost. Over time, a gap emerges between what the business is focussing on and changing customer wants and needs. Failure to bring the assumptions that drive a company strategy into line with changes in the external environment is one the most consistent culprits found in declining organisations.

Productive paranoia is about maintaining broad horizons and questioning 'are we still relevant, are we still on the right track?' However, this must be done in a productive way that moves things forwards rather than creating paralysis; an emphasis on alternative options and opportunities rather than just problems. In addition, of course, questioning must be balanced with action; committing and moving forwards with confidence. The trouble is, typically there's not enough emphasis on the questioning side, because introspection and self-doubt don't tend to feature in the personality profiles of senior leaders in large organisations.

Instead, research identifies a lack of tension in this area underpinning the decline in organisations - a cycle of disdain, denial and rationalisation that keeps management teams from responding meaningfully to market changes. Strategic assumptions which began life as observations about customers, competitors or technologies, that arise from direct experience, are then enshrined in the strategic plan, translated into operations, and eventually become orthodoxy. Over time, it is the assumptions that management teams have held the longest or hold the most deeply that are the likeliest to be its undoing.

New call-to-action

Subscribe to insights from our blog here:

Would you like to know more?

How would you like to start a conversation?