More freedom, more responsibility

In the first part of their New Work essay Johannes Ceh and Marc Wagner devoted themselves to the interaction of customer centricity and employee orientation as the nucleus of a “company rebuilding” process. How can this approach be put into practice?

Customer Focus: yes – but not at any price

The focus on the customer and in particular on creating the highest possible customer value is clearly in the focus of the approach. However, it is crucial that a meaningful level of customer involvement is found. Ultimately, this should be extremely focused, with the help of e.g. from lead users, targeted observations, professional foresight management, and representative market research, and not because customer interviewing and observation is “cool,” fun, and an integral part of methods such as Design Thinking are. Ultimately, in addition to the clear orientation of solutions to customer needs, a company must also shape and foresee this – Apple has impressively demonstrated how this works.

Do not forget to execute

The “Lean Start-up” approach structures very nice classic organizational elements of start-ups and, in a sense, makes it possible to transfer them to established companies. At the center are u.a. Principles such as “fail early, fail fast”, a high degree of customer focus and thinking in terms of “MVP” (minimum viable products), ie to get on the market with product fragments as quickly as possible and then to adjust the product iteratively with intensive consideration of customer feedback.


Lean StartUp gladly comes along with the themes of design thinking and agility. All these are important elements for a customer-oriented organization of the individual cells. However, it is crucial that the emphasis is not placed too much on the ideation and design phase, but that the execution and creation of an “outstanding utility value” is of central importance to the customer.

After all, a miserable and low-quality implementation of a great product idea causes users to switch frustrated to alternatives and trust is directly lost – the beginning of the end of product development. In the end, here too:

“Ideas are cheap, implementation matters.”

Another integral part of product design in the context of Company ReBuilding is the orientation towards transformational products. Does the developed problem-solving and the associated “job-to-be-done” have the potential to reach a critical user base in the shortest time by the use of network and scaling effects?

Maximum “problem-solving autonomy” of the employees

For customers, it can be extremely frustrating when they have a problem and the company’s employees can not promise them any help. In some companies, customer-facing staff are even explicitly unable to accept non-standard customer issues, seek internal advice, or pass on contact. Instead, customers need to look for alternative ways, right down to a letter to the board. Attempting to avoid and control individual solutions ends up in pre-programmed frustration with explosive potential. For both customers and employees.

The alternative: An employee with customer contact is understood as the central interface to the customer. An interface that enables all other participants in the value chain and which also plays valuable feedback back into the company. Each employee is consciously given a high degree of freedom to find a solution that is as appropriate as possible to the individual situation of the customer. In the end, the result counts here: customer satisfaction. It is noted that the respective framework enables an effective and efficient solution of customer problems and does not lead to the waste of resources.

Cross section as a roll

In order to generate a high level of customer orientation, not only does an end-to-end alignment of processes take place in the direction of the customer, but functional and administrative tasks are largely depicted in the form of roles. This means that no functional units for certain topics such as e.g. HR, controlling, but employees take over these within their possibilities as an additional role. Certain cross-sectional issues such as e.g. Legal, compliance of course remain with relevant experts – but with the proviso: as much as necessary, as little as possible. This should be checked regularly.

Structural spring cleaning

Transformational products are characterized by a superior utility that they have not yet discovered and are highly relevant to a large user base. It is precisely this point that is only half-heartedly, not even considered, or consistently pursued by our observation in many Innovation Labs.

We have had a good experience of doing a spring cleaning in every single team at regular intervals (for example twice a year), during which every single activity, meeting, etc. in the team is checked with regard to their respective value contribution towards the customer. Especially the topic “meeting culture” has a decisive contribution to the degree of the actual customer orientation of a company. Have you ever asked yourself the question: in how many meetings is the customer really the focus? At the same time, if it is necessary to carry out new activities and tasks in a team, then the corresponding scope for freeing up resources can be achieved by abandoning or de-prioritizing other activities. Otherwise, the “collective burnout” known in many organizations threatens.

The same applies to the elements listed above: Only the consistent implementation leads to the desired success at the end of the day and to the fact that the respective company cell consistently develops with customer requirements and does not fall behind its competitors. Ultimately this means a tremendous leadership task and anchoring of the Company ReBuilding idea throughout the leadership team. Only if customer and employee orientation is consistently demonstrated and “zero tolerance” for non-value-added activities is created, will a long-term sustainable alignment of the company be ensured so that companies, employees and customers alike can grow successfully.

To the authors:

Johannes Ceh supports companies in aligning digitization with customers and employees. He is a keynote speaker and consultant on new forms of collaboration and digital responsibility. After years at Sport1, SKY, Springer & Jacoby, BMW, Daimler, JungvonMatt and Ogilvy, he is currently writing a book about the “age of the customer” and the associated changes in companies.

Marc Wagner is a member of the management team of tech management consultant Detecon. He accompanies companies in the field of digital transformation around the topics of digital ecosystems, innovation and sustainable work organizations and publishes various studies and publications on New Work and Innovation Culture.

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