Edgar was joining a company as CEO. He told us the most important thing he had to do was to change the mindset of the organization to become more customer focused.

 “What are you doing Day One?”

 “I’ve got this planned. I’m showing up, introducing myself to the team and launching five committees to tackle the five most important priorities.”

 “What happened to being more customer focused?”

 “What do you mean?”

 “How does your planned Day One demonstrate that your main goal is to become more customer focused?”

“I guess it doesn’t.”

 “What does it say to your customers?”

 “Well, nothing, they won’t know about it.”

 “Exactly.”

Edgar changed his plans. He did introduce himself to the team, but then explained, “I’m leaving now. Because, before I’m prepared to talk to any of you about anything, I want to get out and spend some time with our customers.”

Edgar then proceeded to talk to customers . . . for the next 10 days. On the third day, the chairman called him to express his concern. “What are you doing traipsing around the country? I hired you to run the business.”

“I can’t do that until I’ve learned a little about our customers.”

By the end of the first week, customers started calling the chairman to tell him how impressed they were with the new CEO. “He listens. We’re excited about him.”

Finally, Edgar came back into the company with a comprehensive understanding of what the customers wanted and knowledge of where his company was falling short. He shared that knowledge with his new team. He met with his direct reports one-on-one to get their perspective on the customers and then used all that information to craft a burning imperative around a customer-centric vision.

He took the message forward by calling the top 50 managers together to tell them how the new company imperative was crafted with their input as well as the customers. He explained how the imperative drove the priorities. He said, “Based on our jointly developed imperative, I’m happy to announce the formation of five committees to work on our top five priorities.”

Although the top five priorities were essentially the same as he’d originally planned, they contained powerful nuances that better fit the customers’ needs, and his initiative had significantly more credibility because he involved the customers and his staff. His early actions sent a strong communication about the customer’s role in the company going forward.

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