Not seeing and hearing from customers, directly and frequently
In the early stages or when there are fewer than twelve employees or so, it is easy to know what customers are feeling. Leaders are still doing. They are still selling, servicing and probably collecting. Feed-back is a natural by-product of their day.
As an organization scales, the leader’s attention is necessarily drawn in to internal (people and process) issues inherent with adding people. The leader's market facing orientation turns inward.
The leader and the leadership team must make a commitment to staying in touch, directly and frequently.
Here's the danger: Unverifiable assumptions about what customers/clients like and don’t like can form from the serendipitous comment. For example, an unsolicited raving review can become company legend, taking on credibility disproportionate to the overall market’s feeling about the company.
A more disciplined approach to gathering representative understanding is required. As a Certified Gazelles Int’l Scaling Up coach, we suggest the “4 Q” questions, from Verne Harnish’s book Scaling Up. (See the section on Rockefeller Habit #6)
The “4 Q” should be asked by leaders weekly in person, and goes like this:
- How are we doing?
- What's going on in your industry (or neighborhood)?
- What do you hear about our competitors?
- How are you doing?
Finally, make sure everyone shares insights from their conversations at the weekly exec team meeting. Close the loop by acting on those insights.