Someone from a large mobile phone company asked the following question the other day: “What would make Vodafone the home of smartphones?” It’s a question I hear pretty often – I heard it as: “how do we become leaders in such-and-such new technology”?
I posted this reply. I thought you might enjoy it:
Hi Tom, here’s an answer:
Step 1 – Radically redefine the purpose of your company. Maximising stake-holder value is never going to work – because it will never inspire the company’s employees. And to become a leader a company has to have inspired employees. Replace that purpose with another one – to serve your customers and increase the well-being of the employees.
[I used the words stakeholder-value and then half-regretted it. I really meant shareholder-value, because “stakeholders” often will already include customers and staff. I only half-regret it though because I also think that stakeholder-value is often really code for shareholder-value. What is needed is a real re-think of purpose and a change of emphasis – not just fancy word-smithing.]
Step 2 – Change the way the company is structured. Employees will never be happy or inspired in a workplace where a few people at the top wield all the power and earn 20 times more than the customer-facing employees.
In the old days power was concentrated in the hands of the unions and the “bosses”. Nowadays it’s usually just the “bosses”.
Employees, like all of us, need fairness, transparency and a sense of being able to make a difference through what they do. They need to feel they have a fair share of the power.
Step 3 – Change the focus of the company so that it is focussed on what customers want, not what shareholders, or even just the employees, want.
You’re looking for a win-win – a solution where customers get what they want, and employees get what they want – but more as a by-product of pleasing customers.
To find this everyone in the company needs to learn new skills – to learn how to talk to customers in new ways, to really listen and understand them.
Then, having understood what customers want, change the company so that it gives customers what they want.
Customers, for example, don’t want to be shuffled around from department to department. They want to speak to someone who is knowledgeable and can help them with all the problems they may have: billing, contracts, hardware, software, network issues and so on.
This may require reorganising into different groups that stick with clients for a long-time. Customers want personal and meaningful relationships – not call-centre queues.
Giving clients what they want isn’t rocket-science. Once you realise that what they want isn’t rocket-science either. Customers want what all human beings want: respect, honesty, trusting relationships and so on.
This approach will, I believe, lead to leadership and success for your company – in smart phones and anything else you turn your hands to. Customers will become happier and more loyal, revenues and profitability will rise, the company will be able to pay everyone better, and train and support everyone better.
Is this vision hopelessly naïve? Well, there are companies out there doing this already if you look, which suggests that even if I am assuming things can get better, I am not the only one; there are others out there who believe it and are proving it every day.
The biggest problem that these successful progressive companies seem to have is being killed off by their success. They get good at all of the above, and other bigger companies buy them and destroy them and their culture.
So if you embark on this journey a fourth step (or maybe it should be step zero) is to choose a set of managers who really buy into all this and won’t sell you down the river later on. I’d recommend exploring employee share ownership as a way of ensuring you can hang on to your rights.
And, finally, what do you do if you are the single employee in a corporation of a hundred thousand who reads this and believes it? How on earth can you start to make this happen, alone?
The answer is simple actually: start with you.
Firstly, think or feel your way into this stuff – is it better than what you have right now?
Secondly, if so, decide to make it happen. Commit to not giving up at the first hurdle.
Thirdly, seek allies – in your company or else where. Use social networks – that’s what they’re for.
Fourthly, learn those new skills of communication and start doing the customer service bit with your existing customers. This will prove to the cynics and skeptics that this can work. That customer happiness and loyalty rise.
By the way, this probably won’t lead immediately to better profitability because your company structure may still be wrong – remember all those powerful, top-level high-earning employees for example?
Fifthly, keep going, just for the hell of it. Keep flexible, adapt when you need to.
At the very least, you can trust that this approach will:
- make you happier
- earn you allies
- build your reputation
It may attract better offers and opportunities.
And remember that this is an unstoppable trend anyway. Wherever you look you’ll see these kinds of changes taking place as our economies mature. As this trend rolls out, you’ll be caught up in it anyway.
So why not take the first step yourself?