Why and how to engage your leaders
As a CX leader you are often not the person in charge. Ultimately, that is someone from the board or C-Suite. You have to take that into account in your stakeholder management. You do not only lead and advise your team, but you also have to guide top management on the route towards customer centricity. No one in this quest is more important than the other, but you have to define who the high priority stakeholders are at this moment with regards to your roadmap.
As a CX leader, you need to figure out who the key stakeholder is and make sure you bond and work together. The better you understand this leader, the better you can understand and respond to the needs of all stakeholders.
I will list the three best tips for properly involving the accountable leader with regards to the customer centric transformation (and yes, I will guide you how to engage all other leaders 😉).
Tip 1. Provide good and relevant information
Communication is key. Without proper communication it is impossible to build a good relationship with this key stakeholder. It is your job to provide your accountable leader with information that specifically meets her or his needs.
This information is aligned from the organization’s strategy. Make sure your information is data driven, accurate, quantitative, but also qualitative. Provide customer stories, storify data and give the customer a human face. Define how often the information is needed. Is it weekly or is monthly a better cadence?
This information helps her (or him) to made decisions, ask the right questions and have the honest conversation. Those leaders are busy and don't like surprises: the more you provide them with adequate information, the better.
If you proactively provide relevant information, you build your own credibility and help her/him lead with a true customer centric focus. Step in their shoes and understand what is important to them and how your CX program fits in their route. When you deliver to them, you build true understanding, create a bond, and gain credibility yourself.
Providing CX information is good but think carefully about what you provide and more important: why. We all know that question ‘can you make a report of it?', which of course you can do. But you determine what is in there!
Tip 2 on how to engage your leader is all about being helpful
Let's start with guidelines for the right information:
- Goal-oriented: think about why you are giving this report. Is it to raise awareness, bring about a change, provoke a decision, or something else? What is the goal to action you are going for?
- Targeted: make sure your information is specific to your stakeholder and that she/he can use this in meetings, decisions, and strategic sessions
- Appropriate in terms of form and content: how can this data be presented best? In a presentation, a spreadsheet, an action list, an infographic or maybe even a video? Try to build a cadence but also try to get your story across
- Monitor for effectiveness: do you see a change in attitude? Has the communication been effective? If not, change it.
Adjust your way of communicating or reporting, to make sure you get the call to action you want.
Be helpful. Recognize that your CX program is one of many programs (this is often true) and you need to help spend their time as effective as possible. This will help you build your credibility in case shit hits the fan.
Don't confuse being helpful with being submissive. No manager expects his team members to follow blindly. Your manager does expect you to think along and take responsibility and guide the customer centric transformation.
I for sure know one strategy that always works. The strategy of letting others ‘trip over the truth’. This means you are not going to say what customers are saying, or what is hurtful for the organization. No, you are going to let them find out themselves. Dan Heath himself explains how this works.
Tip 3 on how to engage your leader: be functionally disobedient
Leaders are normal people 😉. They may get to learn new things too (I hope everyday!)
Know that you don't have to do everything by the book.
I think there are two elements in being functionally disobedient:
1. What if you are asked to do things? If you director asks you to do something, that you know isn't the best for the organization, the team, the leaders and of course yourself; say so. Have the confidence to challenge decisions and come with other solutions. To continue the conversation, even if they think the conversation is over. Being able to say “No, this is the alternative” to your leader helps you build your credibility.
2. What if you see and hear decisions are being made, strategies being developed, products and processes being designed that are not good for the organization and the customer in the long run?! It is your job to represent the customer, so it is your job to have your voice being heard. Be aware that organizations encourage people to give feedback and be whistleblowers, but in practice not everybody is fond of the whistleblower. So be careful in your strategy.
I for sure know one strategy that always works. The strategy of letting others ‘trip over the truth’. This means you are not going to say what customers are saying, or what is hurtful for the organization. No, you are going to let them find out themselves. Dan Heath explains how this works himself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZ_N77OquQA
Finally, the following aspects might help you to involve and engage your top managers:
- Define the active role top management has throughout your CX program and keep them engaged; show that excellent leadership is important within CX and CX programs.
- Have empathy for those at the top; remember they have limited information and many demands on them.
- Know that they also have to advise, to the CEO and other stakeholders. So, give an example of the business impact (preferably the ROI) of good individual and organizational competencies of your CX program.
- So, give an example of the business impact (preferably the ROI) of good individual and organizational competencies of your CX program.
- Make it clear that the CX program or project is a means of achieving the organization's strategy and that the top managers are therefore the top project managers.
- Know that they also need to advise, to the CEO and other stakeholders. So provide an example of the business impact (preferably the ROI) of good individual and organizational competencies of your CX program.
- Get rid of the idea that risk is bad news.
- Focus on the business impact and strategic benefits of the CX program – the bigger picture – and reduce the level of detail in communication.
- Build a sponsor culture upwards and downwards: support each other.
- Knowing your manager's motivations will help you manage expectations.
- Share customer stories. Work on building credibility and trust.