When data is collected, Luu notes, it’s important that it doesn’t stay with development or customer-facing teams, remaining invisible to the executives who set the company’s strategic direction.
“Not everyone has to know exactly how to set up an A/B test or do customer research, but truly embracing the customer means every part of the enterprise understanding the needs of the customer,” she says.
Active customer-centricity means making customer viewpoints more ‘in your face’ for everyone - even senior executives. Luu cites the example of a leading international telco that has set up channels for management to view a steady stream of customer complaints. “For some leaders who aren’t used to embracing the good and bad of customer feedback, that can be really uncomfortable. But for them that’s just the way it is. They’re constantly looking at that data, and they do something about it.”
Unfortunately, Robinson notes, the technology architecture at many organizations is not designed in a way to make this possible. Monolithic code bases that serve multiple domains, often constructed over decades, can make it difficult for teams to act autonomously to source the right data or capabilities to serve customer purposes.
Platforms with a well abstracted layer of APIs can bridge these gaps by allowing teams to access data and functionalities on an as-needed basis, without leaving them dependent on an IT or platform team, or demanding fundamental change to the systems underneath.
Optimizing the technology aspect of the operating model is therefore always a possibility, but has to be seen as an ongoing journey. “You can’t get to perfect in one jump - so move in the right direction, start to remove dependencies, revitalize your organizational structure, and improve your capabilities,” Robinson says. “It’s not a reorg where everyone shuffles their chairs and gets a new job. It’s more likely slow, incremental steps that constantly move you towards better.”
New models of leadership
No operating model can be sustained by technology alone. A lot of organizations “think they’re going to (improve the operating model) by tools or technology first,” says Luu. “But actually it’s people first.”
This is particularly true when it comes to how an operating model is governed. “The big stumbling block in this space is the idea of decision rights shifting to different people,” says Robinson. “Instead of the executive team describing what they want to build, or how they want to build it, we’re saying define the outcome and let the team that’s actually going to deliver be in the how business. That’s fundamentally moving a decision to another group. Obviously you’ve got to build a tremendous amount of trust in order to do that."
Giving teams more autonomy, Robinson notes, doesn’t mean outsourcing decisions to them altogether. “A certain amount of autonomy is helpful, but it should come with a big chunk of accountability. You get to make the decisions, but the result is on you as well. If you have that accountability, and the ability to measure the outcomes, the organization will get more comfortable with this idea, because everyone will be able to see that it works.”
Operating model transformation can prove especially challenging for middle management, which ends up “stuck between teams who are trying to do things differently and leaders who are still pushing to get things done in a traditional way,” Luu says.
It’s up to the organization’s leadership to help middle managers - and their teams - through this ambiguity by making it clear the old goalposts no longer necessarily apply. “(Leaders) have to align performance measures to what the enterprise is trying to achieve for customers,” Luu explains. “If they’re misaligned you end up with employees who are confused, or operate in a way that maximizes their benefits to the detriment of the customer.”