Companies need to operate in environments that are more dynamic than ever before. What’s causing all of the changes?
- Shifting consumer needs: Increasingly, Baby Boomers are getting closer to retirement while Gen Y are becoming a more important segment of customers and employees. The combination of these demographic shifts and the unique needs of both aging consumers and younger consumers creates a shifting set of demands on companies.
- Increasing competition: Across most industries, competition is becoming brutal, thanks in part to the transparency and reach of the Internet which provides instant access to information and alternatives. Even historical monopolies and near monopolies like telephony, TV service providers, and banks are seeing more heated competition.
- New capabilities: Technology is enabling new offerings and business models. For instance, Service-oriented architectures and business process management applications allow companies to make faster and broader changes to how they operate. At the same time, Web and mobile applications dramatically increase the opportunity for interacting with both larger and more targeted groups of people.
These changes generate an onslaught of new opportunities and threats that challenge firms’ drawn-out planning processes and hierarchical command-and-control structures. To succeed in this fast-paced environment, firms must master a new skill that I’m calling “Enterprise Listening” which is defined as:
The continuous processing of feedback from key constituents
Here are some ways that executives can cultivate Enterprise Listening:
- Listen in a variety of ways. Companies need to listen to customers in a lot of different ways. To start, execs should identify opportunities across these five areas: Relationship tracking, interaction monitoring, continuous listening, project infusion, and periodic immersion.
- Listen by example. Senior executives can’t expect their organizations to care about listening if they don’t practice it on their own. That’s why senior execs need to actively listen themselves. The executive team at Alaska Airlines, for instance, takes turns calling back key customers who have had a service problem.
- Listen to employees. In many cases, key insights about the market can come from front-line employees. So companies need to make it easy and rewarding for employees to share their insights. A key reason for Zara becoming the largest clothing retailer in the world is the insight that salespeople provide about shifting fashion demand.
- Listen for soft voices. Not all important insights come from volumes of customers or prospects. Sometimes, feedback from a few people represents an important emerging trend. So companies need to examine isolated responses with an open mind.
- Listen to online communities. The Internet enables fast, dynamic interactions across groups of people. That’s why companies should develop online communities of their key constituents. Kraft, for instance, tapped into an online community to define and launch its successful South Beach Diet product line.
- Actively encourage listening. To keep everyone across the company focused on listening to customers, get in the habit of talking about customer feedback. Execs should consider asking these three questions about any project: Who are the target customers? What are their goals? How are we helping them achieve those goals?
The bottom line: Enterprise Listening allows firms to embrace change.
P.S. Here’s a link to all 6 New Management Imperatives