The key to digital transformation involves organizing around the customer. To do that you must continuously test with the customer.

“We don’t have the budget or the time.” How many times have you heard those excuses when it comes to testing with customers? But it’s not about budget and it’s not about time. 

Organizations don’t test with their customers because they don’t want to. They make a choice not to spend money and time on testing because they don’t think it’s important enough. That’s the bottom line. Most organizations simply don’t care enough about their customers to give them products and services that are easy to use.

Being customer-centric is like world peace. It’s a nice goal, but real managers have to be realistic and focus on what’s important to the business. It’s the job of marketing and communications to convince the customer that what’s important to the business is also important to them. That’s been the model for a long time. That model is a broken record, but every day I come across organizations playing it.

Recently, I listened to a government entity talk about how important the customer/citizen is. All these lovely words and nice quotes. When I asked the speaker how often her organization tested its services with its customers, her reply was: “We don’t have time for that right now. We can’t do everything.”

I have often listened to senior managers talk enthusiastically about digital transformation. But many of these managers don’t even use their own websites or apps. “I’ve been informed it’s easy to use,” a senior manager recently told me.

It seems that the further up the management chain you go, the further away from the customer (and ordinary employee) you get. In this bubble management culture, delusions flourish. Everywhere we look we see this "establishment" becoming more and more disconnected.

Learning Opportunities

This management establishment is modeled on royalty. It expects subservience from employees and from customers. It believes that the role of management is to make decisions and the role of employees and customers is to follow those decisions. The idea of co-design and co-evolution with a network of employees, customers and other stakeholders is alien and is resisted.

Such management establishment elites have no problems with spending millions on technologies, but will resist and avoid any process involving understanding their customers. Managers don’t want regular testing because it would prove that very often they actually don’t know what they’re doing.

Not knowing what you’re doing is a perfectly reasonable position in the complex world we live in. But pretending you know what you’re doing is dangerous. Making big predictions, and three-year plans, and signing off big budgets may sit well in the macho culture that is much of traditional management, but it is a sure recipe for failure.

What is the role of management in the digital economy? First, the robots came for the factory jobs, but now the algorithms are coming for the traditional management jobs. (You wouldn’t believe how wrong most experts are most of the time.)

How do we succeed today? How to we build a successful career? We do it by being facilitators, collaborators. By constantly, constantly testing and adapting, testing and adapting. The organizations that do not reach out deep into the network — and do not let the network reach deep into the organization — will not survive long in the network.

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