Some time ago I listened to a national sales manager exhorting his sales team to take critical look at the appearance of facilities within their franchise network. While some facilities were in tip-top shape; others were sub-par. Getting the franchisees to upgrade, or at least, maintain their facilities properly was the job of the sales team. In talking to his team, the national sales manager urged his people to take a “fresh-eyes” approach to examining franchise facilities. The executive was asking his folks to adopt the mindset of customers. That is, if you were a customer would you do business in a place that was run-down, shabby, and in need of paint? Probably not, especially if you could go elsewhere and find a similar product in a better facility!
Adopting the customer perspective means adopting the mindset of someone who needs to be persuaded. To be persuaded you need to believe that what you are hearing or seeing is credible. Sales people work on credibility by making certain they understand their customers as well as linking their offerings features and benefits to customer explicit and perceived needs. Good sales people in fact adopt the customer viewpoint in their sales process; they see what the customer sees.
Adopting the customer perspective applies not only to sales people; it applies to management. For example, if you walked into a restaurant and saw a mouse run across the floor, you might think twice about sitting down and ordering. On the other hand, if you were in a lumber yard and saw a mouse, you might not think twice. You eat food, but you don’t eat wood. The customer perspective enables you to see things as they are rather than as you wish them to be. Easy to say, but hard to implement. So here are some suggestions
Open your eyes. Imagine you are a visitor to your department. What’s the first thing you notice? Furniture or people? Some of the most impressive looking office spaces that I have visited have the most withdrawn people. It is as if you are tip toeing through museum or library and must hold conversation to a minimum. On the other hand, down-at-the-heels office spaces sometimes contain the most cheery and enthused people. If you are a manager you need to pay more attention to people than décor.
Open your ears. What do people talk about? Is small talk the only talk? That is, do people avoid talking about their work because they find it boring or uninteresting? If you were a first-time visitor would you find people focused and attentive to their work, or would they seem distracted and preoccupied with non-work matters. If so, you may be managing a work force that is disengaged.
Listen to the walls. Consider the walls as metaphors for imagination in play. Places with lots of “walls” constraint behavior. Places with “no walls” spark interactivity. Furthermore, observe how do people treat one another? Is there a sense of collegiality? Do people work cooperatively? Or do they avoid contact with each other? Efficiently run departments need not be chummy places but there needs to be a sense of coordination so people can share ideas as well as try new things.
As novel as the adoption of the outsiders perspective may be, you cannot maintain it for long. And that’s not a bad thing. As a manager you need to represent the mission and values of your organization as well as stand up for the people you lead. You understand their point of view as well as how they they think and act. That understanding is critical for two reasons. One, you can understand why things are the way they are. Two, you can use this understanding to shape and frame your argument for adopting some new ideas that may emerge from your “fresh eyes” perspective.