Apr 242016

How would you answer were one to ask you what is a hallmark of good branding? How would you respond were someone to ask you to cite an example of a successful internal organization?

Customer First Organization

The thought came to me when I realized that during the last fifteen or so years I have read about so many Cisco reorganizations that fact became fiction became legend which, in turn, became one melding into another. This is not meant to be an exercise in being an armchair expert, but the number of public, as well as less publicized, reorgs at the networking giant are widely known. Why mention Cisco? The changes are examples for inward looking organizational structures.
The most recent organizational structure has the company divided into the following divisions:

• Networking
• Security
• IOT & Applications
• Cloud Services & Platforms

One notes that the business is organized according to internal imperatives (development, engineering, marketing and fiefdoms probably) and not according to customer needs. It would indeed be the scarce customer, which would have a group or department dedicated to Cloud Services, which would be distinct and separate from IOT. The same applies to any other combination of Cisco’s four groups.
This is not a knock against Cisco, which certainly makes competitive products, or even an article about the Silicon Valley mainstay. It is about what the successful companies of the future should give thought to.
So, let us take a look at the quintessential success story of the day, namely Apple. What is Apple known for? It certainly is not divisions for computers, phones, mp3 players and operating systems. Apple is known for, wait for it, simplicity, elegance and functionality. These are things customers care for, garners their attention and for which they certainly pay extra. Moreover, all its products are sold under one roof. The Tiffany & Co. company is known for style and luxury. Customers are not expected to deal with a salesperson for earrings, another for gemstones and another for third party products. In fact, the salesperson-slash-concierge personally takes the shopper from corner to corner and ensures a seamless transition. Again, the experience is designed to be oriented towards what the customer would like and enjoy. Contrast that with HP where customers would have had to speak to different persons for printers, laptops, servers and so forth. It is no secret that HP’s star had been diminishing and the company recently threw in the towel by chopping itself into two. Ironically, the move may be a harbinger of focus and good things for the remaining parties, although past experiences do not bode well (does anyone remember Palm and 3Com, to pick a HP-related example)?


The Brand Pivot To Culture

We are here to hear an argument for creating a uniform culture that is focused on customers, for customers and based on employees winning when customers win. By definition, such a culture negates fiefdoms, internal divisions, competition and trains and rewards employees to deliver on the brand promise, but there is a catch. The brand promise too has to be focused on the customer

• Here is a brand focused on the customer: See Your Business In Our Software – Oracle (where I used to work)
• Here is another: Grow Your Company With Our Solutions – Fictional company
• Here is the reverse and one that is misguided in that it is inwardly focused: The Largest Distributor Of Cola

You see, customers do not care that you are the largest distributor of anything and least of all a certain brand. In contrast, companies do care what you can do for them. It should be about them.

Walking The Talk Of Culture

More critically, and this is actually important, there should be a supporting structure behind the outward and customer-oriented brand. Everything should be designed to support the outwardly focused branding. Aside from deliberate hiring, structure and the functional day-to-day work the company must absolutely insist on employees behaving as such. Companies must align pay, bonus and promotions accordingly. What is the sum total of the design just enumerated? Culture. A culture, which is the enabling structure for a successful company.
This would be a real shock to the system for companies, which foster internal competition, tolerate nepotism and turfs and reward managers who are in it for themselves and their egos.
However, if there is one thing you take away from this article it is this most important concept. The key is that the organizational culture will conform, follow and match what the leadership puts in place for the group. It is not about instilling the culture per se; it is about creating and moderating the enabling structures and guidance that points to the correct orientation. The analogy is that of children and their parents. Parents can say whatever they wish and could instruct their children as much as they want, but unless the walk matches the rhetoric the organization will never follow.

*Things That Need To Go Away: Arrogant Corporate Culture