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Who do you work for? It’s a simple enough question but delve behind the answer and you can uncover a whole world of complexity. Some may answer with the name of their organisation; others may pause and say that they work for themselves, for the benefit of their family or for their colleagues whilst a few, a very few may say that they work for their clients.
But what do any of the answers mean in reality? When people arrive in the office in the morning what actually motivates them to carry on with the daily task. For starters is it just a task, an exercise in paper shifting or box ticking or is it an all consuming passion; what actually drives and motivates us to be in that place for more hours than we spend at home?
Being cynical for a moment there are those who see work as an excuse for being away from home, for mixing with others or as a means to an end with a salary ticking in to the bank on a regular basis. And on the positive side there are those who are in work because they enjoy what they are doing, because they believe in a cause or because they want to make a difference. But whichever side of the fence you are on the question comes again, who do you work for? And once all of the side issues, the self interest and the ambition are laid aside, the true answer should be that you are working for the customer.
Without your customers there is no income; without your customers there is no work; without your customers there is no business. But it can be hard to relate to customers and their needs unless you are face to face with them on a daily basis. In fact even those who do meet their clients daily are in danger of becoming inured to the individuals. Hairdressers talk about the perm in chair six, doctors see patients in terms of the appendix in bed nine; unless there is a case for becoming personally interested in one individual, customers can become an ever rolling stream which passes by without touching.
If it is that hard for those who come into contact with clients daily to connect, how much harder can it be to relate to the client whom you never see? The process which you carry out may be a vital cog in the production of your business offering but if you never see the client, never meet with the client, are never brought to an understanding of the deep needs of the client, how easy it can be to slip into a silo mentality and work not for the client but for your immediate boss, your team or your own satisfaction.
Sadly the larger the organisation the more the silo mentality prevails. Front line staff may still try and do their best to meet the customer needs but when those behind them become disconnected from the reason for their being, then those on the front line may well find themselves constantly being let down, constantly having to apologise for failures and spending all of their time fighting their own colleagues to get the simplest tasks through. That’s the time when reputations start to fail, when clients cast their glances elsewhere and when good employees start to walk.
It’s not easy to turn an organisation around when the isolationist silo mentality starts to prevail but unless action is taken matters will only become worse. When the front line staff spend their time fighting their colleagues, when innovation and development dry up, when process takes priority over action; that is the time for the CEO and the management team to take a stand. The road may be hard, it may need a re-development of the vision, a strong CEO lead cultural change and for those who cannot step out of their enclave it may be time to move on.
Shaking up any business isn’t easy. But there is no alternative. When the answer to “who do you work for” is myself, or my boss, or the team within a team; in fact when the answer is anything other than for the customer then a cultural change is the only solution.