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Modern problems and lessons from the past

Emma Macdonald

How today’s modern business crises could be avoided using a model pioneered 60 years ago. Successful businesses embed their customers’ needs and desires so deeply within their corporate culture that they are felt and acknowledged by every single one of their employees, a new whitepaper claims. Contributor Professor Emma Macdonald, Professor of Marketing at Cranfield School of Management

Drawing on the example of global brand Disney – which pioneered this approach more than 60 years ago and still lives by it today – Culture by Design explores how organisations can do the right thing for their customers by intentionally designing a culture of customer excellence.

The joint whitepaper, published by academics from Cranfield School of Management and two former senior executives from Disney, shows how enabling employees to stay focused on what matters to customers, equipping them to go the extra mile, and empowering them to use their common sense and judgement within clear boundaries can result in sustained commercial success for businesses that make that commitment.

Professor Emma Macdonald, Professor of Marketing at Cranfield School of Management, is one of the authors of the report. She said: “We believe that every organisation has all the tools at its disposal to deliver consistent, differentiated and sustained customer value. Culture can seem overwhelmingly hard to change, so busy leaders need proven operational solutions, and that is what we are endeavouring to provide with this whitepaper. “There are, of course, many examples of companies out there that are already doing this, and doing it well, but we use Disney as our example as we are yet to find another organisation that has found such a formal way to embed a new culture and make it stick.”

Disney has a specific methodology to instil a customer-led culture, which was launched by Walt Disney himself in 1955 as a way of systematising his vision before expanding his film studio into the highly complex service business it is today. The company’s framework hardwires customer expectations into the heart of the business, and human resources are then deployed strategically to permeate a customer-centric culture throughout the organisation.

Report co-author Chris Humphrey held a number of high-level positions within Disney before co-founding business consultancy Pelorus Jack to pass his expertise on to other companies. He said: “Organisations are hitting the headlines every week for wayward ethics, underperformance and poor productivity. As they have become increasingly complex with narrow functional specialisations and organisational siloes too, many have lost sight of their customers and their employees, leading to a weakening of trust in institutions, business and leadership.

“Many organisations have experienced an exceptional leader who inspires everybody to focus on what their customers value. Very few have someone to establish a methodology and inspire a legacy of customer excellence, continuous improvement and commercial success.”

According to research figures, in 2017 in the UK, trust in business lay at just 33 percent  (Edelman), with only 11 percent  of employees claiming to feel engaged at work (Gallup). This is supported by the findings of a 2013 study by McKinsey and Company, which showed only 22 percent  of directors know how their firms create value, and just 16 percent  strongly understand the sector within which they are working.

The Culture by Design whitepaper shows businesses how to: Grow bigger and more complex without losing the agility, focus and connection to customers that originally gave the organisation its momentum and energy. Improve employee engagement and productivity by empowering everybody to take spontaneous, creative and flexible decisions, at the same time as giving them the clarity to stay on the same course.

Enable customer experience initiatives to force sustained commercial impact, rather than simply patching up the status quo, tackling the low-hanging fruit or remaining exposed to competitors who have a much better understanding of customer needs.

Inspire people with a purpose that unites everybody around a common understanding of what value customers want the firm to deliver. Ensure changes have long-term benefits by using HR strategically to permeate them throughout the entire organisation.

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