United Leadership

CCO Survival Skill: Creating a United Leadership Team

United leadership is important.

I’ve been doing this type of work since 1983 (wow), and united leadership — which I regularly call one-company leadership in my books, speeches, and my five competencies — is as important as anything else. (If not moreso.) I’ve been honored to do 13 episodes of my customer experience podcast so far, and in each episode, I talk with the guest about these ideas. When you start CCO-level work, it’s often a new role for the organization — or a role that maybe the other, more traditional C-Suiters and senior leaders don’t understand as well. People can give you quizzical looks for up to a year (if not longer). That’s why united leadership, or one-company leadership, is crucial to establish.

I’m going to briefly outline a few things about united leadership in this post. If you want a deeper dive, I’d consider my book Chief Customer Officer 2.0. Some of these ideas come from pages 47-50 in the hardcover edition, with even more information in Chapter 7.

United Leadership: Necessary to move from talk to action

This is a little bit of semantics, but it’s crucial. When you do CCO work, oftentimes the CEO comes to you and says, “Tell me what you need me to do to support your work.” On the face of it, that’s a fine thing to say. If your boss came to you and said that, you’d be happy in general. But it gets to the root of why this type of work often stalls out. Here’s the problem: this work has to be his work too, and the work of a united leadership team. It can’t just be your work. It’ll never go anywhere in that context. United leadership. One-company leadership. It’s what you must seek.

This is what the idea comes down to: actions must be congruent with stated commitments to customer-centric growth. That’s a mouthful, but here’s what it means. If you say “We love our customers!” and then you release products before customers have given feedback to make your sales quarter? Well, then … you don’t love customers. You love sales metrics. Those are different ways to run a company. I’m not necessarily saying a hyper-focus on sales is bad. Many companies succeed that way. But it’s very different than being a customer-driven company.

Much of it comes down to this, too: “customer culture” is talked about by many leaders, but most organizations get it wrong. Why? Because “core values” are things most orgs tack on a wall. They’re not living, breathing documents that the leaders follow. Until this happens, it’s hard for a customer growth engine to really get going.

United Leadership Principle 1: Unite the leadership team

Three common categories of behavior are necessary as the united leadership team works together on the five competencies above. The first is uniting the leadership team. If I were to go back through my first 13 podcast guests and average how long they said this took, it’d be about 9-14 months. It’s somewhere in there. If you work at a very quarterly-focused place, that’s 4-5 quarters. That’s why sometimes you need a quick fix; more on that here. The fact is, though, silo-by-silo management, metrics, and mentality kill a business. This is where you have the COO claiming “We’d be sinking if it weren’t for Ops!” and the sales chief screaming back, “No, this is a sales organization!” Every leader is translating, interpreting, and communicating the real priorities and metrics of the business inconsistently back to their teams. It’s all through the prism of that silo. It’s not united leadership. You need to move away from that and towards one-company leadership.

United Leadership Principle 2: Give permission and behaviors to model

With every decision you make, employees and customers are watching. I cannot state this enough. People model the example you set with your decisions. (Another way of saying this is “all monkeys do what they see.”) If you give permission with good examples to follow, what you’re doing is marketing hope. If you make good decisions and you market them, that gives life to customer-focused transformations. Now, there is documented research that much executive decision-making has too much variability, but good leaders who focus on these united leadership principles can get to the “marketing hope” place.

United Leadership Principle 3: Prove it with actions

At the end of the day, most jobs are about results. That’s what typically matters to those with the most authority and accountability. You absolutely have to show it with results and actions. If it’s all fluff, no one will buy in. If no one buys in, then the COO and CFO don’t see you as an equal. United leadership can’t result. I often recommend trying a “customer room” here. This can be done quarterly. The leaders are united to discuss who your customers are, how they move through your products and services, why they’re with you and not a competitor, where you acquire them from, and what they want to see from you in the future. In short, you’re mapping customer journeys. The key is, though, you’re doing it as a united leadership team. This isn’t about the CCO presenting a slide deck to the other execs. This is about decisions being made together. It’s about united leadership.

That’s some of my basic thoughts on moving towards united leadership. What else would you add?

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