The leader of an internal service function recently told me how the CEO’s view of her function was driven by the perceptions of a few influential executives. More than once the CEO came down the hall, into her office and challenged a recent action or program after hearing a negative remark from another VP. “If I had not had the data at hand to push back,” the she said, “those would have been very uncomfortable discussions.” Another frequent paradigm we encounter is “I won’t challenge your function if you don’t challenge mine.” Which really means that no one gets feedback until the situation is dire—until a critical mass of stakeholders is frustrated beyond repair. Good reputations are hard to build, but can unravel over night.
My question is, why does this happen? Functional excellence is about more than doing good work and documenting it. A leader has the responsibility to ensure that the value of his or her function is clear to its stakeholders. That is not something accomplished by sharing operational metrics in monthly meetings. Nor is it sufficient to have an analysis at hand for responding to challenges. Why don’t more leaders systematically gauge and address internal customer needs and expectations?
It does not take long to see that many functional leaders are not managing or measuring their function by the value it creates. How do you really understand customer requirements and expectations? How do you translate those expectations into value producing products and services? How do you know that you are hitting the mark? While there are many tools to help answer these questions, let’s take a look at a key one: market segmentation. Any internal service provider has a number of distinct market segments.
Funders: these are the real decision makers when it comes to your budget and approved initiatives
Influencers: may be peers, other leaders, or managers whose opinions are trusted and respected by others
End-users: those who make direct use of your services; they may be at many levels of the organization and for groups like HR include the general employee population
The needs and expectations of the “market segments” are going to be very different. But it is the rare function leader who has invested the time and effort to clarify those differences and apply that knowledge to design their deliverables, measures and communication strategies.
For example, take a new training program for customer service representatives; its value is different for each “market segment.” Show Funders the initiative moves the organization closer to strategic goals. For example, improved complaint resolution means higher customer loyalty which converts directly to bottom line impact. For the influential head of customer service, it may mean fewer service escalations to supervisors, who will then have more time for coaching, helping the whole call center to meet its goals. For end users–the trainees in this case–the value may be lower stress from being better able to defuse issues with dissatisfied customers.
So too, the metrics and the communications to convey value will be different for each group. The most effective leaders understand that and embrace a strategy of proactive internal customer service based on the unique needs of their stakeholders.