Getting the Message Across Loud and Clear
Just caught up with my November HBR. There is an excellent article by the CEO of Siemens, Peter Loscher, on how to use a scandal to activate change in an organization. There is a section in the article on Loscher’s first 100 days, a favorite topic of mine. He says that he was the first chief executive at Siemens who came from the outside and mentions how it actually worked to his benefit because he brought an outside perspective to his early start.
In the article, he mentions that one of the things he wanted to do in year one (post 100 days) was to get the organization more focused on customers. And then he proceeded to explain how he did it. I thought it was such a cool idea that I wanted to share it. Here is what he said:
“In my first year, I tried to find other ways to emphasize to the entire organization that customers should be our primary focus. Once a year, our top 600 or 700 managers gather for a leadership conference in Berlin. Before my first one, in 2008, I collected the Outlook calendars for the previous year from all my division CEOs and board members. Then I mapped how much time they had spent with customers and I ranked them. There was a big debate in my inner circle over whether I should use names. Some felt we would embarrass people, but I decided to put the names on the screen anyway.
The rankings were a classic bell curve, with most people in the middle. I was number one, having spent 50% of my time with customers. I said to the people at the leadership conference, “Is this a good sign or a bad sign? In my opinion it’s very bad. The people who are running the businesses should rank higher on this measure than the CEO.”
I put the rankings up again in 2009, in 2010, and in 2011. And now things have changed. The curve has shifted. Some people have passed me, and most are near me at the top of the distribution—because everybody knows this matters and that names will be up there at the next leadership meeting. With this simple approach we have achieved a much, much stronger emphasis on customers in the top management echelons.”
What a smart way to get management focused on being customer-driven. As he concludes, “But if you want to change a big, complex organization like Siemens, you have to make your agenda known, and you have to communicate in simple terms.” I’d say taking stock of everyone’s calendars and tallying up the time spent on customer activities, sent the right message, clear as a bell.