thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Making Sense to Customers

By on September 15, 2010

Railroad_lrgThe challenge of making sense to customers is becoming more difficult for product-centric companies. As customers become smarter and less accepting of supplier-driven policies, it requires a corporate culture with a clear, shared vision to unify efforts into a coherent whole that connects with customers and makes sense to them.

The word ‘adhocracy’ refers to a type of organization intended to be better equipped for making sense. It was coined by Alvin Toffler (Future Shock) in the 1970’s as a combination of the Latin ad hoc, meaning “for the purpose” and the suffix “-cracy,” from the Greek verb meaning “to govern.” The concept was later adapted into management theories by Henry Mintzberg, Robert Waterman (Adhocracy), Kim Cameron (Making the Impossible Possible) and others. Back in the day, it was advocated as the way of the future because, as Waterman wrote, it “cuts across bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems and get results.”

It was an attempt to show the world something different than a bureaucracy, which clearly was not and still is not working. Adhocracy was intended to encourage greater employee participation in new ideas, relying on a system in which employees have greater freedom. However, it was still an approach in which traditional organizational structures were slightly modified by putting specialists into market-based project teams, or task forces, to do their work. It was a good idea which did not go far enough. What kept ‘adhocracy’ from being relevant was the “govern” idea in the suffix because it still had overtones of command-and-control.

The freedom and creativity aspects of a new future are indeed critical, but must be developed in the company’s culture rather than mandated. If the philosophy is going to work in 2010, however, it has to be customer-centered. Cross-functional teams are important, but springing up organically rather than artificially. That’s what customer-centering will do to your culture. There is less governing needed in cultures which are set up to do the right thing.

Making sense begins with the recognition that meaningful work involves finding a better solution for the customer. In the past, organizations could dispense a product or service and they weren’t used to uncertainty. The new future will be more solid, built around a foundation that is centered on what makes sense for customers. If the old structure was static, the new version thrives on uncertainty. It is metamorphic: in readiness to become something else if that is what helps it connect with its customers.


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