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Toppling the Organizational Hierarchy

If you were asked to draw your organisation’s hierarchy, what would it look like? Draw it, or get an existing copy of it. There is probably a crucial element missing: Customers. They are not drawn because they are considered “external” stakeholders. However, being external does not mean they are unimportant. To the contrary, both are the main reason the organisation exists — to increase shareholders’ equity while serving the customers.

Go ahead and draw “Customers” in a box into the hierarchy. Where did you place the customers? if you placed them on top of the CEO box, that would be unrealistic.  Actually, the real contact point between your organization and the client are the staff members usually drawn at the bottom of the organization structure.  So the customer should go “under” that level.  But now we have a problem with the hieraarchy: The most important element of the hierarchy i.e. the customer, is at the bottom of the hierarchy.  That cannot be right.  Can it?

Of course not: Clients must be at the top of the hierarchy.  So, we need to turn the organization structure up-side down.  To put the customers on top.  Look at the structure now: This is the structure that really matters; with customer on top, then staff, then mid management, etc, down to the CEO.

This up-side down structure is the one that matters, and must be communicated to customers, employees, management and shareholders. More importantly, this is the type of attitude all stakeholders need to have about the organisation, how it works, and who it serves.

Customers belong at the very top. By serving them, the organisation achieves its mission and charters its path towards the vision of a better tomorrow. If the CEO is at the top, then the organisation is doomed, or at least limited in its growth. While the CEO leads the organisation, his aim is to serve the customer, employees, management and the whole organisation. He is “carrying” the company and the interests of its stakeholders. He is the person with the biggest burden, and with the most number of people to serve.  He is at the bottom of the organisation.

Staff are the first line of defence. They are the ones with the heaviest interactions with the customers. Their interactions play a big role in achieving customer satisfaction, way more than anyone else in the organisation. Nothing is a bigger turn off than an employee who neglects the customer, does not present the company products and services in the best light, and does not believe in the company mission. Management cannot win customers over with strategic plans. It is the employees who impress customers and convince them the company can serve them better than the competitor. Remember that in war, even though generals put down strategies, it is the soldiers who win the battle. The same thing applies to the corporate world. As far as internal stakeholders, staff are at the top of the hierarchy.

Of course, reality dictates that a company must serve its shareholders, otherwise they will take their money elsewhere and stop supporting the organisation. However, shareholders have figured out, over the years, that the only way to make money long term and build a sustainable business is to take care of the customers in a systematic fashion. So, by focusing more on the customer, in essence, the company is taking care of its shareholders.

This sounds like common sense, but can easily be forgotten in the hustle and bustle of a hectic day at work. Employees look at customers as a nuisance, instead of as the people who put bread on the table, and forget that customers are the greatest supporters of their salaries and provide the assurance of employees’ career development. Management sometimes frowns at employees and labels them as disloyal or even useless, forgetting that the staff are the only ones who can assure customer satisfaction. If you do not believe in your troops, whether you were right or wrong, how will customers have confidence in them?

The idea of turning the organisation structure upside down is part of the customer-driven organisation concept, which focuses on complete organisational commitment and focus on providing customers with quality products that achieve highest levels of customer satisfaction. The idea is proposed in the works of many marketing and quality practitioners and experts.

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