Using your talent management programmes to build a customer focused culture


This is a guest post.

Many businesses aspire to create a customer focused culture, but struggle to do so. Your true organisational culture can be hard to define, let alone actively cultivate. Despite what your mission and vision statements say, despite lofty-sounding posters on the walls, your true culture is “the way things are done around here” and may or may not be customer focused. Your actual culture consists of the sum total of the norms of behaviours that are created and reinforced by leadership behaviours and by your processes and programmes.

How can you make sure that the actual culture experienced by your customers and other stakeholders reflects and supports your organisational strategy? Your organisation’s talent management programmes can be powerful tools for building a customer focused culture. Here are some steps you can take to leverage them:

Define what “customer focus” means in your organisation

  • What are the critical roles, tasks, and activities that impact customers either directly or indirectly? What do your customers need and want, and how would that look like in terms of specific actions and behaviours taken by your employees? Certainly customer facing employees will be most critical, but be sure to examine other activities and processes that impact the customer experience. Does customer focus mean quick response times, high quality products, a single point of contact for all customers, innovative products/services?

Identify the customer focused competencies

  • What are the knowledge, skills and abilities that embody or underpin your organisation’s definition of customer focus? A good way to identify these is to observe or interview the people in your organisation who are most successful at customer service to see what competencies they tap into to obtain their success. Once you have identified the key customer focused competencies that enable success in various roles and activities, make them part of your organisation’s core competency model. Describe them in clear terms and embed them in job descriptions, employee development, performance management, and recruitment and selection programmes.

Identify learning activities to build key competencies

  • Help employees at all levels and in all areas of the organisation develop customer focus competencies by making targeted training activities available to managers and employees. Learning activities can include formal training, on-the-job training, team-building exercises, modelling, coaching, etc.

Assess demonstration of customer focus competencies

  • Now that you have clearly identified customer focused competencies and provided opportunities for employees to develop them, it’s time to hold them and their managers accountable for demonstrating progress. Regularly assess every employee’s demonstration of customer focused competencies as part of your on-going employee performance management activities and assign development programmes as required. Encourage managers and employees to regularly discuss and set development goals in customer focus competencies.

Set customer focused organisational goals

  • Make building a customer focused culture an organisational priority by setting organisational goals, with measureable targets, to improve customer focus. Goals might include developing and implementing the competency model and developmental resources identified above, streamlining processes and improving customer satisfaction rates. Consider engaging your customers in the process of identifying relevant goals and milestones that will make a difference to them.

Cascade organisational goals to the individual level

  • Once organisational goals are set, communicate them widely and provide tools to help managers and employees set departmental and individual goals that support the higher level customer focused goals. This builds purpose and accountability and ensures that everyone is aligning their efforts to improve customer focus. It is also motivating to individual employees when they understand how their work contributes to the larger organisation.

Monitor progress

  • Track both the employees’ and the organisation’s progress on their goals throughout the year. Take opportunities to communicate organisation-wide progress to all. Train managers to observe their employees’ performance and provide objective, targeted and constructive feedback on an on-going basis. This will help employees understand what is expected of them, what they are doing well (and should continue) and what they need to change (and how to do it). Hold supervisors and managers accountable for coaching their employees for improved customer focused performance based on the goals and competencies that have already been identified. Praise is a very powerful and usually underused behavioural motivator. Make sure supervisors and managers are watching for positive customer focused behaviours among their employees and praising success when they see it.

Reward success

  • Celebrate milestones as they are achieved and provide incentives and rewards for employees as they achieve performance goals related to customer focus. This will motivate workers to continue applying their best efforts to improve customer focus.

By analysing what customer focus means to your customers and building it into your talent management programmes through competency models, goal setting and performance management, you can create powerful building blocks to realise a strong customer focus culture.

As a senior product analyst at Halogen Software, Sean Conrad is passionate about keeping a focus on customer needs and satisfaction. He writes regularly about how you can leverage your talent management programmes to support customer satisfaction, employee engagement and organisational alignment in the Halogen Exploring Talent Management blog (

Thanks to the past tends to disappear for the image.

15 comments On Using your talent management programmes to build a customer focused culture

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  • I was once told that if you want to change peoples behaviour you should worry about 5 things:

    Awareness – do they know what the change is?
    Desire – What is in it for them?
    Knowledge – Do they know how to change?
    Ability – Have they practiced the use of all that knowledge
    Reinforcement – Carrots and sticks

    That ties in very nicely with the ideas in this post. The bit that always worried me though was the reinforcement. As you say:

    provide incentives and rewards for employees as they achieve performance goals related to customer focus

    How do you incentivise people to do the right thing without creating undesirable side effects?


    • Hi James,
      That’s a great question and I have asked the guys at Halogen (the guest poster) to respond.

      Personally speaking I think that when we have to resort to incentives to drive change then we may already be on a hiding to nothing. I would suggest that we need to back up and revisit the good old change equation:
      DxV + F > R


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  • I guarantee that if you use this recipe then you will fail to put in place the kind of context the gives rise to an authentic customer-centric culture. Why?

    Because it is the same old mechanistic thinking that assumes that it is the employees that are the problem and need to be worked upon. As opposed to the issue being with the underlying context which is making the numbers – the short term numbers. And the issues being at the top of the organisation- the folks at the top not being customer-centric in reality as opposed to talk.

    Further, it assumes that people are simply objects to be manipulated. That people are not doing what they are not doing because they do not know what they should be doing. Or that you can get them to do what you want them to do through stick and carrot.

    • Hi Maz,
      Thanks for that. I have asked the guys at Halogen (the guest posters) to respond.

      For my part, I get and share your frustration. But, I think that we have to have a reality check and realise that many of our organisations have been built on a 20th century model which is now dating rapidly it is the model within which we conduct our business. Therefore, many business owners will find it easier to operate within existing bounds rather than reinventing them however sub-optimal that may be in terms of getting the most out of the people that work for us and with us.

      What do you think?


    • @James Lawther
      Thank you for the comment. I agree that incentive programs can often end up with un-intended consequences. Careful design, monitoring, and updating of incentive programs is very important.

      @Maz Iqbal
      Thanks for the comment Maz.

      While I don’t think the recipe in my post guarantees a customer-centric culture I think it certainly supports one. I do agree that the leadership of the organization must really believe and act in a way consistent with customer focus in order to build that culture. Where I think we disagree is around the issue of “performance management” – the way you define it seems at odds with the way I think a best practice talent management program works. Done right, performance management (really all talent management) processes focus on development – they are there to help employees find the right areas to focus for development and to help facilitate development. Good processes focus on the value to the employee and how the organization can help them rather than being something done to them.

      I do think some of the issue is knowledge and focus on the right things. Ask line employees in any organization what their goals are, what the organizations goals are, and how their goals align with those. In the vast majority of cases they just don’t know. Certainly it’s not just knowledge that is missing, but that is the fundamental building block.

      I have a case study that illustrates my point here:

      UW Credit Union is focused on putting its members’ interests first. The organization understands that great service begins with a committed, service-minded, performance-oriented and engaged workforce. Company believes that a fundamental building block of performance management is organizational goal alignment — ensuring that every employee uses and develops his or her talents, skills and experience to help the organization meet its overarching goals.

      Just to focus on one point – another one of our customers made that switch I am talking about – they changed their performance process so that the focus of those conversations was development and they gave their managers the needed tools to reinforce the right behaviours and put development plans in place to nurture those customer focused behaviours.

      Thank you for the though provoking comment.

      • Hello Sean
        Thanks for taking the time to think through and respond to my speaking. I have considered your response and here is what it generates for me.

        You say “Done right, performance management (really all talent management) processes focus on development – they are there to help employees find the right areas to focus for development and to help facilitate development.”.

        I say if the right context is put in place and the people at the top embody the key principles and practices that keep that context in existence then the people in the organisation will look after their own professional development. They will see what skills they are lacking and ask for education/training/on-the-job development of expertise. They will help one another to build one another’s expertise. They will speak when organisational stuff gets in the way of their work, their performance, their development, the fulfilment of the organisational mission. I am not talking from theory, I have seen this and I have lived it.

        In both cases, the organisations were one’s where the people who led the organisations were seeped through and through with an alternative concept of persons. Persons as ‘whole-complete-perfect’: persons who have the capacity to determine appropriate behaviour from inappropriate behaviour and were willing to act appropriately as long as the people in power modelled the behaviour and the environment allowed it to show up. And it worked. One of these organisations is a Montessori School and another is a significant ‘for profit’ organisation where some 80% of the work is done by volunteers.

        No, it is the paternalistic mindset that lies behind “performance management”. It is a mindset that gives the message ‘not whole-not complete-not perfect’. And it also gives the message ‘I am the teacher you are the student. I am the doctor you are the patient’. This exercise of authority is masked through the message “I am doing this for your benefit, your welfare, your development”. Rubbish! If that is the case then make the participation in “professional development” optional/voluntary. And then let’s see how many people will show up to be professionally developed!

        Many years ago the company that I worked for put in such a programme. Why? Because sales were not rising fast enough for ambitious growth plans. Turning up at my first interview with an outside “professional development professional” I entered into a genuine dialogue. And I’d sum it up as “Thank you for the discussion. I take my development seriously and take responsibility for it. Given what you have told me about presentation skills, sales skills etc – the content of the course, I chose not to participate. Because, I have already done these courses and practice what I have learned.”

        That turned out to be a career limiting move. The CEO called me in several days after and gave me a telling off. And it was clear that it was time for me to move on, which is what I did.

        No, I disagree with you. And I get that there is room for disagreement. I also get that the context that gives rise to and shapes the practice of “performance management” has a huge impact on how “performance management” shows up for the people in the organisation, how they embrace it or not, and the results that show up.

        I wish you the very best

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