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Sheryl Pattek: Change Your Culture Before Your Technology

6 minute read
Scott M. Fulton III avatar
In the first stage of what promises to become Forrester’s biggest extension to its customer experience framework, the firm’s vice president premieres a compelling new model that removes tech from the center of the picture.

Technology will not provide your organization with the customer experience you’re looking for, any more than a hammer can build a house or a hose can extinguish a fire.

We’ve heard hints of this viewpoint before from Forrester Research. But in recent conferences with its key clients, followed up by this month’s publication of a highly refined “customer obsession” operating model, this viewpoint has now been officially codified.

Sheryl Pattek
“When there’s changes in business models or technology models, if you think back to [enterprise resource planning] ERP, if you just bought an ERP system and you didn’t change your process, you automated a bad process and you got a bad result,” said Sheryl Pattek, Forrester’s VP and principal analyst, in an interview with CMSWire.

“And it’s no different, now that technology models have evolved. Technology is the facilitator of the people and processes. While technology may improve efficiency and effectiveness, and allow you to work better as an organization, it has to start with culture, people, and process.”

Forrester's Role

Historically, Forrester has been referred to as a “technology analyst firm,” implying that clients retain it to observe, judge and render opinions about technology — particularly, the best technologies for an organization to choose.

Yet Pattek’s report, co-written with Sharyn Leaver and Michelle Moorehead, casts Forrester squarely in the role of a business analysis firm, rendering observations and analyses about how organizations can rework their business processes — in this instance, in the interest of focusing upon customers.

Indeed, the firm’s newest Customer-Obsessed Operating Model, which appears for the first time in this report, repositions technology as equivalent in stature to five other “levers,” which work like coefficients in a formula that has, itself, become customer-obsessed.

Literally taking its own medicine, Forrester is re-centering its efforts here upon personal processes, directly implying that the only way an organization can achieve the one-to-one connection customers are looking for is through a level of direct contact which digital experience may help facilitate, but with which it should not otherwise interfere.


“One of the key pieces is to have an aligned leadership team around this initiative, and to put the customer in the center of the organization,” explained Pattek, “and then start to shift the culture to have a shared set of beliefs and practices around this idea of customer obsession. Because unless you have that, it’s very difficult to turn the organizational battleship.”

In the past, Forrester Research has acknowledged the resistance to change within organizations. Last year at this time, the firm’s principal infrastructure and operations analyst, Jean-Pierre Garbani, referred to resistance to change as a key roadblock to what he described as “the right technology management strategy.”

While Pattek and her colleagues are certainly not downplaying the importance of managing technology, their conclusions this year rearrange the order of cause and effect.

It’s not the technology that’s being resisted, they’ve discovered, but the cultural shifts under way.

Furthermore, these shifts are not cast as the result of technological evolution — at least, not in this report.

Rather, it makes a very strong case that technology may be evolving as a direct result of the failure of older technologies to meet the evolving demands of customers.

At one point, the report notes that when technologies are adopted by organizations in a purely reactionary mode, they create more CX problems than they solve. They also fail to scale, because they were designed to patch over those problems rather than rebuild infrastructures.

In one of the most dangerously worded parts of the report, in a bullet point headed “People get in the way,” the Forrester analysts suggest that the cultural divide within organizations is a natural outgrowth of conflicting forces — not from technologies, but from stubborn individuals seeking to preserve their organizational structures at the expense of customer experience.

Crest of the Slippery Slope

Is Pattek suggesting that CX can be best improved through downsizing?

“That’s not really the point — we’re not necessarily talking about the number of people in an organization,” Pattek responded to CMSWire, very carefully.

“We’re really talking about rethinking the way the organization works, and moving from a siloed approach — where functions are built for operational efficiencies for marketing, finance, etc. — to a model where you work in a team-based environment, driving effectiveness around the customer, and the customer is in the middle.”

Organizations may still need to grow their talent, she added. But how these employees interact with one another, share tasks and discuss practices and policies, must come under scrutiny.

Learning Opportunities

Hiring decisions, Pattek said, are just as much about skill set as mindset. “You’re looking at putting people in the organization who have the right mindset.”

Yet team-building with a richer, larger talent pool will inevitably result in more teams. You can do the math several times and come up with the same result.

If organizations simply end up developing more teams, how do they avoid re-forming new analogs for the old reporting structures, new titles for old bureaucracies, new silos for old processes?

Pattek concedes that the current report does not take this question into account.

“We did see that, the simpler the business model, the easier it is to make this pivot — and we call that out in the document,” she said.


She did argue that certain organizations studied by Forrester were able to at least begin improving customer experience, as a result of a top-down realignment of standards and practices led by the CEO.

If the C-suite can pull the entire firm to its feet by its marionette strings, she implied, in the end, it might not matter how many strings there are.

“This is the first piece of work that represents a stream of research, which each of these levers will be going deeper on,” Pattek explained.

“To make this transition, it is really about change management, and how do you then manage the organizational change that allows you to get to a customer-obsessed viewpoint?

“One of the things we see within customer-obsessed organizations is not a resistance to change, but an openness to change,” she continued. “So when I talk about this idea of mindset versus skillset, one of the mindset pieces to look for in the way that you hire people for your staff, is that comfort of dealing with ambiguity.”

(I could take the opportunity here to put in a dig at some former editors of mine, but I’ll refrain.)

“Because the world we live in today is ambiguous,” Pattek said unambiguously, “and it does change on a constant basis, and it does make it uncomfortable for people to deal with that change. So it’s more important to set out that roadmap for where the organization is going as a vision: What does that mean to me as an employee of that organization, and how are we going to facilitate and manage that change?

“Change management is a core piece of making that transition.”

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Title image from the Library of Congress, through Creative Commons license