Customer First or Innovation First?
I realize the apparent implication of the subject line – that you have to choose between customer or innovation makes little sense – in fact, they are inextricably intertwined. All innovation needs to be driven for the customers and preferably with the customers. In fact, I have often held the belief that most innovation happens at the edges of the system. (where your system and the customer system intersect).
That said, imagine that you have just taken over a team or division or company and you realize that there is a grounds up rebuilding of culture you need to do. Across most industries, most companies and most teams, it is safe to say customer focus and growth thru innovation are going to be two of a few underpinnings on which you are likely to rebuild your organization.
If you have tried culture changes in any large situations, you also know the danger of pushing too many levers at the same time. Culture change is less about words, powerpoints and dashboards – and more about sustained example setting, public reward and penalty system and above all driving clarity on why change. Such efforts require both focus and perseverance.
Where would you put your relatively larger focus on – make the organization customer focused and enable innovation to happen thru that or put larger focus on accentuating growth thru innovation and use the customer as the litmus test thru the process?
I first faced this problem thirteen years back when I had to rebuild up a whole technology organization which had to fight the inertia of the existing players (who had been successful for some period of time). While it is dangerous to draw generalizations, I have tilted towards focusing on building the customer oriented culture first. And innovation was an inevitable result (needed work and processes to channelize it though). I will probably do the same again.