Jim Clemmer: How “Internal Customers” Create Silos, Turf Wars, and Tyrants

The following is a management-related blog by Jim Clemmer. To read more of his blogs, click here

As many organizations work to focus on customers and increase service/quality levels, we’re seeing a growing problem with “internal customer tyranny.” That’s where one department uses its status as a “customer” of another department or support group to make their own lives easier. Too often there’s little or no connection to whether the real customer — those paying the bills or being served by the organization — gets better service/quality. In fact, the service/quality real customers get is usually worse.

Jim Clemmer - Practical LeadershipAs he so often did, Peter Drucker, the insightful management author, pierced straight to the heart of the customer focus issue:

“The single most important thing to remember about any enterprise is that results exist only on the outside. The result of a business is a satisfied customer. The result of a hospital is a healed patient. The result of a school is a student who has learned something and puts it to work ten years later. Inside an enterprise there are only costs.”

The big difference between an organization producing a consistent level of customer-defined high service/quality and one with low performance ratings can most clearly be seen in the perspective from which they view the world. The common and least customer-focused approach is to narrowly see the world through the lens of internal disciplines, functions, or technical expertise. This is compounded by vertical structures, lines of accountability, and individual performance management systems. Measures, priorities, and resource allocations with an internal perspective are a root cause of the large gaps between what customers expect and what they perceive is delivered.

Stellar service/quality can only be delivered by finding a multitude of ways to keep everyone in an organization looking at what they do from the outside in. This means that everyone throughout the Service/Quality Chain is able to define, plan, implement, and measure their job around external customer expectations. However, since many people are not dealing with external customers directly every day, they need to define their contributions on the basis of how well they are serving their internal partners so that external customers can be better served.

During these times of falling dictators and tyrants we’ve repeatedly heard them talk of having the best interests of “the people” in mind while disempowering and even slaughtering them. While it’s nowhere near as extreme or deadly, internal customer tyrants often talk of serving customers while actually dictating or bending others toward meeting their needs and priorities. Highly customer-focused organizations integrate their entire production or service delivery change around customer needs. Everyone needs to pull together as internal partners to directly produce products or deliver services, or support someone who is.

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For over 30 years, Jim Clemmer’s practical leadership approaches have been inspiring action and achieving results. He has delivered thousands of keynote presentations, workshops, and management team retreats to hundreds of organizations around the globe moving his audiences from inspiration to application. He’s listed in the World’s Top 30 Most Influential Leadership Gurus based on research with 22,000 global business people, consultants, academics and MBAs. His website is www.JimClemmer.com.

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