Strategy & Risk

What to Look for During Customer-Centric Transformation

Published: November 22, 2018

Read Time: 5 minutes


Government reforms in NDIS and Aged Care mean many for-purpose service providers must transform to become customer-centred organisations and many are struggling in this journey.

To complete any successful business transformation, CEOs must have four foundations in place – the right language, leadership, people and business model.

Whether your organisation is transitioning to a customer-centric model by deploying a new company-wide IT system, merging to provide a national footprint or trying to re-engineer your culture, these are all forms of business transformation. Some organisations might be concerned that having the right stuff to transform means they are becoming too much like a for-profit business and might lose sight of their purpose or the support of their stakeholders.

Yet the essential principles that any organisation must follow to transform successfully do not depend on the profit orientation of the organisation. If you talk to a good CEO in any sector, they will have a clear vision, a strategy to realise it, a meaningful mission or purpose statement, great people, integrated processes, robust financial models and something of value to offer their customers.

Many business transformations fall short and leave the organisation floundering. The problem is often in the execution. Where a transformation is executed successfully, the entire organisation and its customers will ultimately benefit.

The following four steps provide a solid foundation for executing a business transformation successfully.

Right Language

The starting point is the language you use. Organisations interchangeably use terms such as ‘client’, ‘patient’, ‘consumer’, ‘participant’ or ‘stakeholder’ to describe different recipients of services. The term ‘customer’ is now becoming more prevalent with individualised models rather than terms such as ‘client’, ‘participant’, ‘donor’ or ‘patient’. Every interaction or conversation, whether in a corridor, water cooler, meeting room, or one-on-one, needs to use a common language that best articulates how your new world will look. That way you are always talking about the same thing and you are on the same page.

What you want to avoid is people persistently harking back to their good ol’ days by using obsolete language. These conversations can be exhausting and a way for people to feel secure by clinging to past norms and behaviours. Meaningfully engage everyone by bringing your people together to design your new language.

Tip 1: Engage all levels of your organisation to create all your communications and messages around your new reality while being respectful of the past.

Right Leadership

Leading socially-oriented organisations require leaders who can deal with complex governance issues and facilitate consensus from multiple (and passionate) stakeholders. Further, these organisations may be limited in their capacity to change due to the inertia of their well-known, long-standing (heritage) brand. Another major challenge is the uncertainty created by government reforms with persistent implementation problems and shifting targets (e.g. NDIS and Aged Care consumer choice).

Firstly, as a leader, it’s critical to focus on your people by building relationships, trust and commitment within your organisation. The process of transformation is not linear. It’s all about people and every organisation is different because their people are different.

Secondly, ask the tough questions to decide how valuable resources are used (or wasted). The quality of being open and honest with every stakeholder will be critical.

Thirdly, having a project plan does not mean that things will get done. Nothing will change until the people doing the work embrace the change. Look for exceptions of brilliance, organisational bright spots and employee success stories to build momentum for change.

Tip 2: Effective leaders enable transformation by making the right decisions for the long-term benefit of the organisation, no matter how difficult or challenging they are.

Right People

Leaders fail when they don’t recognise the strengths of their people or give them the opportunity to contribute in an authentic way to defining their path. How can a senior management group decide what is best for operational staff without proper engagement? This breeds contempt and possibly a belief that senior managers themselves don’t need to change. In fact, senior managers need to live and demonstrate the change journey, rather than lecture others about it.

If your organisation needs new people, cast the net widely to find candidates who are genuinely self-motivated and aligned with your organisation’s purpose. Just as importantly, you should identify any of your people who are not on the same journey as the organisation and have effective ways of moving them on, and quickly.

Tip 3: To deliver customer value, you need the right people. This requires candid conversations and development plans to ensure you build on their strengths, and quickly identify those that will not come on the transformation journey.

Right Business Metrics

How will you know you are making progress with your transformation? As part of building momentum, your people will need feedback on how they’re performing. Be very careful about what you really need to measure and what may be useful to motivate people. Often, some of the important things may be hard to measure, especially when dealing with intangible care and support services. Keep your measures in perspective as one part of evaluating the performance of your transformation efforts.

Tip 4: You will need to gather data (both quantitative and qualitative) from multiple sources to form a complete picture of how your transformation is tracking. Consider asking your employees what measures would be most appropriate for them and their role to build engagement?

Where to Next?

If it’s not working out as you’d expect, you need the courage to call it out, and that may mean letting go of some strongly held practices or moving on people who are not aligned with the transformation. An organisation is a living social system and typically defends itself against change, preferring the status quo.

Yet with sector reforms in full swing, the status quo is not an option. Following these tips will mean your organisation is well placed to be successful in any context, and especially during uncertain times of sector transition.

With the right language, the right leadership, the right people and the right business metrics, there is a higher probability of sustained change and becoming a successful organisation during, and, after the transition period. With these foundations met, you’ll have the right stuff to be successful.

This article was originally published in the Better Boards Conference Magazine 2018.


Chief Executive Officer
The Purpose Driven Group

Bruce Mullan is CEO and Founder of The Purpose Driven Group – a boutique management consultancy dedicated to the for-purpose sector. They apply corporate strategies to help for-purpose organisations do good, and do well. Previously, Bruce, a former consultant with PWC, provided consulting services over many years to large corporate organisations in Australia, New Zealand, North America, Asia and the UK. To date, Bruce and the Purpose Driven team has helped charities, community care organisations, disability care providers, aged care providers and like-minded organisations to optimise their people, culture, processes and business systems to grow, save money or do better.

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