On this episode of The Chemical Show, Victoria Meyer takes us through the world of business transformation and the key factors that lead to success. With a staggering 70% of transformations failing to meet their objectives, Victoria believes that a clear vision and a customer-centric approach are critical. She breaks down different lenses, including the “easy to do business with” lens, and how feedback from stakeholders should be considered. Furthermore, Victoria Meyer emphasizes the importance of empathy, as understanding the experiences and values of employees, customers, and counterparts can lead to a more successful transformation. With her years of experience leading and advising companies, Meyer offers a unique perspective on achieving targeted results in business transformation.

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The ABCs of Being Customer-Centric: Boosting Your Business Transformation Success

Hi. This is Victoria Meyer. Welcome back to The Chemical Show. This week I am having a solo cast where we’re going to be talking about how you and your company can beat the odds in business transformation and achieve your targeted results.

In recent episodes of The Chemical Show and in recent discussions I’ve been having with business leaders, it shows that virtually every company is focused on business transformation. This may take the form of Digitization, Product Portfolio and Innovation, Sustainability and ESG, Customer Centricity, and “Fixing the Business”, (which is really popular at the moment), and despite the current economic environment, Mergers and Acquisitions.

Here’s the thing. Strategy projects and transformations always start with a promise, a promise of success or growth, greater revenue, better bottom line numbers, and they end up with….something. Studies have shown that up to 70% of business transformations fail to achieve their financial targets. Studies have shown that up to 70% of business transformation fail to achieve their financial targets. There might be short term wins, but there are often long term failures. And frankly, it’s not through intent or energy or one of a number of reasons that people might talk about.

What I found through decades of experience in leading companies and in advising companies on strategy, execution and business transformation, is that there’s really just one key differentiator: Being Customer-Centric. 

When we talk about customers, especially in the case of business transformation and when we’re trying to drive change, it is not just our external customers, which is what we often think about. It’s ALL customers. It’s all the people that you’re doing business with, whether it’s your employees, your suppliers, your internal business customers, your external business partners.

We operate in a B2B world and the reality is that every business is a people business. And putting people: your customers, your employees, your suppliers and business partners, in the center of transformation is critical to success.

Here’s a problem and this is a problem for me. It’s a problem for you, it’s a problem for everyone I encounter. The reality is we’re all a little egocentric. So, we assume that our experiences, our values must be the same as what others are experiencing and value. And we often forget, especially leaders who are seeing the big picture and have all the big details, that not everyone can sees the big picture and can see where the fault lines are. The reality is your people, your customers, your employees, internal and external customers, your suppliers, your business partners, they’re only seeing a piece of the puzzle.  Their piece, which looks different than your piece.

It’s actually a business leader’s opportunity and their requirement to really help connect the dots, to bring the puzzle pieces together, to demonstrate value to your customers, all your customers, and to get them engaged and ultimately together. When everyone’s engaged – when your customers are engaged, when your employees are engaged, your suppliers, your business partners, ultimately, when you have that level of engagement – you can achieve success.

What I’m going to talk about today is what I call the ABCs of being Customer-Centric and of boosting your likelihood of a successful business transformation of any variety, big and small. So here’s my list.

A. Apply a different lens.

So just like I talked about often, leaders, people that are coming up with these strategies and these ideas, we see the big picture, we see the nuances, we have a certain field of vision. The reality is that field of vision is not the same for everyone. You need to apply a different lens. So one, it’s both a macro lens, maybe through a telescope looking out at the great universe, and the other is a micro lens looking at more details. You have to understand and look through a different lens to be able to identify the opportunities, to identify the gaps and to identify where the difference makers are.

The other piece I like to talk about when I think about the lens, and this is because it becomes really personal, one is the business lens, right? So what does this actually do, this transformation? Whether it’s a product transformation or a sustainability transformation or some other project that you’re working on executing to improve your business, when you look at the business lens, what does this do to my customer business? Why does my customer do business with me? How does this fit their business? How does this improve their bottom line? And not just my bottom line, how does it make their business better? What does it do to them?

So applying that business lens, what does it do to the businesses around me? And then maybe even the more critical lens when we’re talking about change and transformation is the personal lens. What’s in it for the individual? What’s in it for me? What’s in it for them? And when you think about this from your business counterparts perspective, what are their personal objectives? How does it fit with their personal goals? When you look at your employees, how does it change their job, their impact, what they’re doing? Does it make it better or easier for them? Or maybe it doesn’t. Have you asked?

So recently on Episode 96, I talked with Rashta Khan of Barrenz and we were really talking about innovation and product innovation and the role of customers, but also really the role of empathy in innovation. And when you are empathetic, you are putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, or your employees shoes, or your counterparts shoes, and you’re really empathetic to their experience. And when you bring a different lens in, so A apply a different lens, you get to see different things and it allows you to be a bit more empathetic.

B. Bring their perspectives in.

We’ve been taught for years that strategy happens in a vacuum and business change happens in a bit of a vacuum, at least in the decision making and the strategizing part part of its structure, part of it’s the belief about who’s in charge and therefore what decisions need to be made. Part of it is around the fact that there’s often confidentiality that goes along with this. But the reality is you need to bring more perspectives in. Bring your customers perspectives in. Get employee feedback, customer feedback, supplier feedback tested not with just with the as is state, but with the to be state.

As you’re impacting this business transformation, this change, how does that end game affect them? What’s their feedback on that? Bring their perspectives in.

C. Create a clear and inspiring vision.

We’ve all heard the phrase a picture paints a thousand words. Yeah, we don’t always get to use a picture in its own literal sense, but you can paint the vision with words and with a picture and with a demonstration of what it might be. Help your customers, your employees, suppliers, business partners, internal and external customer see themselves in the transformation, in that vision, in that future state.

A recent study from Ernst and Young showed how critical this was. And one of the things they found was that in high performance transformations so these would be the transformations the strategy projects, the business changes in which companies achieve the results they set out to do.

In high performance transformations, 50% of employees and customers said that the vision was clear and compelling. By contrast, in low performing transformations. So imagine the 70% of business transformation that fail fail to meet their objectives. What they have found is that just 27% said that the vision was clear. Right? So a lot of times we think, well, was the direction wrong? Was the vision not clear? Chances are it wasn’t clear.

A recent Harvard Business Review article talked about strategic misalignment. When they asked people, when they ask company leaders and managers who are going through a strategic transformation, 82% of the time, they say, yes, I got it. We are all aligned.

And then when you ask them to explain what that transformation is, to paint the details of not just the vision, but the details of the vision, only like 23% of the time were they aligned. So there’s this huge gap.

How do you close the gap? How do you create that transformation? A big part of it is being really clear, inspiring and painting that vision.

One of the things when I’ve talked with companies recently, and this phrase has been around for a long time, we want to be easy to do business with. What the heck does that mean? Chances are easy to do business with means something different for every company. It means something different to your customers. It perhaps means something different based on generation or location. So paint a better picture.

Perhaps it means we have an omnichannel strategy so that your information is available to you at all times, whether you’re on your computer, on your phone, or another device. Okay, that’s a more clear picture. You might tell me may or may not be the most clear, easy to do business with. We have local customer service in your region, and you will always have a local customer service rep. To some people, that’s easy to do business with. There’s different variations of it. But the reality is you need to get beyond the generic picture of we’re going to be a top quartile company. Well, that’s awesome.

We are going to be easy to do business with. That’s great. What does it really mean? Create a clear and compelling vision.

D. aDapt

So you know what they say about the best laid plans. There’s some parable, some phrase, you guys can tell me what it is and look that. But I learned really early in my career, and in fact, I remember when I was at a manufacturing site, we were starting up a new unit and I was doing all the training of the operators and we had all the parameters that it was going to be run at exactly this temperature and this pressure, et cetera. We had all those details defined. I had all those details defined.

But the reality is, once we started operating, it was different. We had to adapt up until the point in time that you put something in practice, it’s theoretical. You can theoretically understand and believe that you know what the outcomes are going to be. But the reality is it’s going to be different. So D is aDapt. Adapt to what you think should theoretically be. In theory, as I’m implementing this change with my customers, my customers should respond this way. In theory, this action will drive results.

In theory, this product, if I’m innovating in product, should replace that product. The reality is it’s going to be different. We know that. Be ready to adapt based on real life, real outcomes, et cetera, and then go back to the top, circle back, communicate. Right? A, I’m going through our list again. A is apply a different lens. Go back and apply a different lens. B bring perspectives in.

It is a continual process. When you’re going through transformation. You can’t be one and done with getting feedback. B bring perspectives in. C create a clear and inspiring vision and repeat it regularly. What’s really interesting is often when you’re going through this change, when you are implementing a changed approach, a new strategy, a new sustainability story, the closer that you’re working to it, the more you understand it. And so you think, well, I’ve shared that vision. You have to share that vision over and over and over.

Because internalizing, when you’ve been creating it, you’ve heard it already 100 times. You’ve created it. It’s been amazing. Your customers, your people, your employees, your suppliers, your stakeholders, they haven’t heard it a hundred times. Create a clear and compelling vision and tell that story again and again. Indeed. Adapt. Be ready to adapt.

Learn from what you’re doing. Get your customers to provide that feedback, et cetera. How do we drive transformation in this current environment that we’re in 2023, there is a lot of change taking place. Focus your transformation on driving customer value. Remember, this is not the field of dreams. If you build it, they will not come. You have to create value for your customers of all varieties. Anyway, guys, that’s it.

Thank you for reading this blog post. Keep reading, liking, following, and sharing. If you have any feedback, shoot me an email and we’ll talk again soon. Thanks.