Pope Francis gives a lesson in culture change

I finally got around to reading the Time Magazine article about how and why it chose Pope Francis as its Person of the Year for 2013. Plenty has been written about the choice, but whether you agree with it or not, I found it a great example of how a leader sets the tone for an organization. Pope Francis hasn’t changed any doctrine. There’s no new mission for the Catholic Church. But by reinforcing – particularly in his actions – christian teaching, he has apparently energized millions “far beyond the boundaries of the Catholic Church.”

Time coverAs Time put it, the most remarkable thing is that “he hasn’t changed the words, but he’s changed the music.” He doesn’t just say that we should love our neighbor; or that ‘he that has two coats should give to him that has none’. He has washed the feet of a muslim woman, kissed the face of a disfigured man, and nobody was surprised when he became the subject of rumors that he sneaks out at night to administer to the poor.

Every leader in every organization sets the tone for the entire organization. It’s not enough to preach about mission and vision. Leaders have to demonstrate their true belief in the cause. When Terry Lundgrun changed the title on his door to “Chief Customer Officer” it sent a message to all Macy’s employees that the focus on customer centricity at Macy’s was an initiative supported at the very top. And, so many other firms we point to as “best in class” — Disney, Amazon, Zappos — have leaders that demonstrate their commitment to their customers. It’s not just talk.

To borrow from Time’s phrase, I find most firms have figured out customer-centric words. But they haven’t discovered the music. Too often firms focus on the data and technology elements of customer centricity. But, unless they are grounded in, and guided by a culture that wishes to place customers at the center of the business, then data, analytics, and technology are just tools and instruments. Of course, strengthening customer relationships absolutely requires an understanding of the customer, and also an ability to apply that knowledge. And, therefore data and analytics, technology and systems are important. But the culture and direction of the business; the extent to which it wishes to put the customer at the core of the business, is critical. And, that has to be driven from the top. If your firm doesn’t have a leader that you believe wants to be customer centric, then any efforts you make will be incremental at best and, potentially, simply cosmetic. The time may have come to turn your efforts inward. It might be time to market internally to change the perception and emphasis. Either that, or dust off your resume and seek out a firm with a true believer at the top.

Cheers,

Dave

Comments

  1. Erin Winters says:

    Nice post Dave. Nice connection with the customer experience. I’m thinking of sending your post to Chris Christie…..could be useful.

  2. Truly lyrics of wisdom and very well sung! Marketers that find the perfect “pitch” will win the hearts of their customers. Those who don’t will fall “flat”.

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