August 25, 2015 Anil Saxena

Leadership Follies – Avoiding The Customer At All Costs

“What does it matter? If I get it done by Monday, that’s not going to make or break us.”

In the hyper-competitive world of work, it does not seem logical that anyone would not feel a sense of panic or anxiety when it comes to customers.  Based on the recent economic downturn, people should see the costs of not paying attention to the customer.

And yet, the notion of understanding the impact that each employee has on gaining and/or retaining customers is foreign to many.

But why?

Although I am not a trained Harvard or University of Chicago economist, I feel it is same to assume that the key to business success is gaining more new customers and retaining more customers than your competition.

But in a recent studies, the evidence is:

  • 50% of professionals survey felt like retaining customers was not part of their job and;
  • over 75% of those same professionals indicated that gaining customers was not their job.

Everybody’s Job

So the question is, whose job is it?

Companies have dedicated sales and customer service departments, so that must be the answer, right?  Not so fast, if it is true that the most important aspects of business is to gain and keep customers, how can it not be everyone’s job?

Many highly successful companies know this to be true.  Every person in an organization must take the customer into account when completing tasks, developing projects, giving evaluations, etc.  Why?  If employees are clear about how they impact the customer, they will be inclined to drive towards high performance AND hold others within the organization to a higher standard.

How do you get people to see that?

That is the $64,000,000 question.  Over the years executives have stated concerns about getting employees into the conversation about how to gain/keep customers if they are not directly involved with them.  Hogwash.  It has been shown that employees that feel as if their work is meaningful are more productive and actively increase organizational profitability.  Employees want to make a difference, they want to work hard to produce results.  There are two tactics to unlocking this potential and make sure employees see their impact on the customer.

Line of Sight
Line of sight is the straight line that each employee has to gaining and retaining customers.  Regardless of the role, each employee needs to see that impact.  Understanding the impact their role has on the customer adds context to their actions and decisions.

Think about it like this:


Great managers not only tell their team a task/project that needs to be done.  They tell them why it should be done at all. What is the greater overall impact, how will if affect other teams and ultimately the customer. Knowing the purpose ensure that employees don’t feel like just another cog in the machine, but an important part of the overall strategy.


Great Leaders provide role clarity to the folks on their teams.  It is not enough to simply be clear about what a team provides to other teams, but how they impact the customer.  Whether a janitor, programmer or marketing executive each person plays a role in gaining and retaining customers.  Some roles are more direct than others, but all have an impact.  It may mean that leaders need to do some digging themselves and determine  that path.  But each person needs to see it.  Understanding the impact on the customer will add meaning and credibility to their role and the tasks associated with it.


Once teams (and employees) are clear about their path to the customer and the purpose of their roles it is time to turn them loose.  In Daniel Pink’s latest book Drive, he states shows how Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose enables huge positive impact on organizational outcomes.  Since purpose has already been discussed,  let’s spend just a moment on Autonomy and Mastery.


Within reasonable boundaries, employees should be able to carry out their roles (tasks and projects) in the best way to support gaining and retaining customers.  Creativity stems from the autonomy to develop, think and sometimes fail.  When held to outcomes, specifically those related to gaining and retaining customers, employees will strive to do more.

Therefore, it is better to allow employees to try, experiment and possibly fail than do the same thing that has worked (or not) for the past number of years.  It s vital to get work done, but unless you are working on an assembly line, they is probably a number of different and valid ways to get things done.


Employees should be pushed to pursue mastery in their role.  Mastery is all about engagement. It is immersing oneself into a particular role, task or project.  Although mastery of anything is nearly impossible, the journey towards it is enlightening and enlivening.

Now what?

As a leader, there are three steps to providing line of sight for your teams and employees:

1. Learn and explain the purpose of each project and task as it relates to the customer.  Link actions back to impact on the customer.  This may take a bit longer and may mean a little digging, but it is well worth it in the end.

2. Understand the link between what your team does and the customer.  Present that to the team and discuss what that means.  How will that impact their actions?  Make it a visual that can be seen by everyone on the team.  Start to ask the question – “How will this action impact the customer?” or  “How will this help in gaining and retaining customers?”

3. Stress outcomes.  Evaluate performance on outcomes.  In the context of supporting gaining and retaining customers, people will generally do the right thing.  Focus on what they accomplish and not on the steps taken to get there.  Allowing for autonomy and focusing on gaining mastery will enable teams to do what is best for the customer in the long run.

4. Encourage employees to talk about how they impact the customer.  Employees need to understand the link between what they do and the customer.  Encouraging them to find out on their own increases the likelihood of it sticking with them and informing their future actions.

Companies that don’t focus on gaining and retaining customers are doomed to not have to worry about either sooner than they think.  How are you going to clarify the line of sight for your teams?  What other actions can you take?  Please let me know.

Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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