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  • Writer's pictureIvaylo Yorgov

Starting a CX revolution: a user's manual (3)

CX leaders around the world face a formidable task every day: how to change the focus of an entire organization to make it a truly customer centric one. This process of scoping, igniting, and managing this evolution is a matter of masterful change management.

In a series of posts, I offer you different perspectives to managing change and share ideas for applying them within your daily work. These perspectives are inspired by what the thought-leaders in the field of change management know and have shared with us.

We adapted the framework of Dan and Chip Heath from "Switch. How to change things when change is hard." to Customer Experience management. Then we had a look at what Jonah Berger, one of the most prominent researchers in the field of word of mouth, advises us to do to 'change anyone's mind' (in The Catalyst).

Here, we'll explore how the ideas of the leadership guru, John Kotter, can contribute to our thinking about Customer Experience Management. Specifically, we'll look at how to create a sense of urgency around CX transformation.


Kotter's change management framework

John Kotter identified an 8-steps process for successfully leading and managing change:

  1. Create a sense of urgency

  2. Build a guiding coalition

  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives

  4. Enlist a volunteer army

  5. Enable action by removing barriers

  6. Generate short-term wins

  7. Sustain acceleration

  8. Institute change

Here, we'll focus on the first step, as more often than not it is this lack of impetus to act that stops companies from embarking on the CX transformation journey. Remember what we learned in high school - an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.

So how can we create or introduce this force that will generate momentum?


What does 'sense of urgency' mean?

Creating a sense of urgency is vital as it leads to very different actions compared to ones driven by complacency or disengagement. In the words of Kotter, "When people have a true sense of urgency, they think that action on critical issues is needed now, not eventually, not when it fits easily into a schedule. ... A sense of urgency is not an attitude that I must have the project team meeting today, but that the meeting must accomplish something important today. (Kotter, John P. A Sense of Urgency (pp. 7-8).)"

Note that urgency does not mean jumping into frenzied action just for the sake of it - this is simply panic. It means putting a relentless focus on what can we improve right now; it requires us to to what's right instead of what's easy; and it requires action instead of over-analyzing things. Here is, in a nutshell, what we are after:

"Create action that is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at winning, making some progress each and every day, and constantly purging low value-added activities—all by always focusing on the heart and not just the mind." Kotter, John P. A Sense of Urgency (p. 60).


How to create a sense of urgency?

Kotter offers 4 tactics to generating this impetus for action:

  1. Bring the Outside In

  2. Behave with Urgency Every Day

  3. Find Opportunities in Crisis

  4. Deal with the NoNos

The Outside In perspective

The goal of bringing the outside in is to fight the tendency of companies to focus on the way they work internally rather than to focus on what's happening in the wider ecosystem. A crucial part of the outside in perspective in my view is the customers' (incl. prospects) view of the company. CX studies help tremendously in this task, be they in the form of focus groups, large-scale studies, or user-generated content analysis. And don't forget that you have a major, often untapped, source of information for customers - your customer-interfacing employees. While not always objective, they will still provide a plethora of insights you can complement with more impartial views coming from surveys or other analyses.

An important point Kotter makes, and one to which I fully subscribe, is to not shield people from troubling data, or at least not always. This is in line with Ray Dalio's advice to practice radical transparency. I'm a firm believer in this for one simple reason: if we don't provide people with enough information, how do we expect them to take the right decisions? No one stands to benefit from us not sharing the results from customer satisfaction studies with a wide audience within the company, and I recommend companies to spread the word, no matter if it's positive or negative.

Other tactics that help bring the outside in include the power of video, bringing people in, and sending people out. The last two I find to be underutilized by companies: rarely I hear my clients saying that they visited competitors' stores just to check what are they offering; and rarely I see real customers in meeting rooms with customer experience teams for example. Both are very effective techniques for they are really simple to implement and can move the proverbial needle significantly.

Behave with Urgency

The very heading of this tactic says much about what is about. It is not reasonable to expect that if we don't behave with a sense of urgency, we can inspire others to do so. Every individual can incite and lead a change management effort, and this is the crux of the matter - show others how you think the company should act.

There are a number of things you can do to lead by example. For one thing, Kotter says, "purge and delegate". Get rid of unproductive activities and focus on what makes an impact. Set your own agenda as much as you can. Clear your schedule so you have the time to jump in when needed. Oh, and manage the meetings so they end up with clear action plans - who will do what when; unless you have that, you don't have an action plan. Easier said than done, I know; nevertheless, a reminder for all of us to focus on what works instead of what's habitual.

You can put this time you just freed up in your calendar to talk to people, call customers, gather outside information and all kinds of other activities that promote your cause. Perhaps most importantly, make all of this visible, Kotter says. The goal isn't to create buzz for the sake of it - no one likes that. The goal is rather to draw your colleagues' attention to the matter and spark their interest. Success breeds success - the more successful you are, the more people will want to join your cause.

Find opportunities in crisis

In a previous post I shared my view on the benefits we can reap from the current crisis. Obviously, disruptions to our daily lives are painful, especially when they come with an enormous loss of human lives.

Nevertheless, crisis times also open opportunities to become better at what we do, or simply put - to become better people. Why so? Because they rupture the tissue of everyday life and expose what's beneath. They draw our attention and make us look at things like we never did before. They make us ask questions on why and how are things like that. They make us explore what's out there as opposed to exploiting what we have.

In the memorable words of Rahm Emanuel,

"You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

This is exactly the point of view John Kotter is advocating for as well. To instill a sense of urgency in our companies, we need to use what crises give us - a window of opportunity to change the typical way that we do things. There are two recommendations Kotter gives for using a crisis to create a sense of urgency that I particularly appreciate:

  • "To use a crisis to reduce complacency, make sure it is visible, unambiguous, related to real business problems, and significant enough that it cannot be solved with small, simple actions. Fight the impulse to minimize or hide bad news."

  • "To use a crisis to reduce complacency, be exceptionally proactive in assessing how people will react, in developing specific plans for action, and in implementing the plans swiftly."

And then you also have the option to create a crisis, instead of wait for one to happen. This is risky of course and should be used sparingly, but it's worth mentioning it here as it's still a viable option.

Either way, a customer experience crisis represents a major opportunity to draw the attention of coworkers to this vital element of a company's offering. We will do well to see it and use it as such.

Deal with the NoNos

And finally, there are always people who will fight on the side of the status quo. No matter how much you try to convince them and how many data points you share, these people consistently refuse to accept the facts, for example, that customer experience is vital for building a viable business.

Kotter advises us to do one of three things: "keep them from creating mischief by actively distracting these distracters", "push them out of the organization", or "expose their behavior in ways that allow natural social forces to reduce or stop it" (Kotter, John P. A Sense of Urgency (p. 159).)

Now, with all due respect, I would much rather do what Jonah Berger advises doing to change anyone's mind - check out his ideas here In short, Berger urges us to work to remove the 5 obstacles that stop people from changing:

  • Reactance: an action has an equal and opposite re-action. You push people, people push back.

  • Endowment: we like it easy so we stick with what we are doing. Unless there is a terribly good reason for it, we tend to do what we've always done.

  • Distance: we like to work within our zones of acceptance. New information that is within it can land well but pushed too far it has no chance of success.

  • Uncertainty: if we are not sure in the outcome, we are unlikely to act. 

  • Corroborating Evidence: we need more than anecdotal evidence; we need many people to show us or tell us something to start believing it.

This is super valuable, because no matter what we do to bring the outside in and to act with urgency ourselves, not everything is up to us. We also need to convince and work with other people to make our companies truly customer centric ones. This is what both Kotter's and Berger's ideas help us achieve.


Shifting the focus of an entire organization towards customer-centricity is a huge task, and one that requires masterful change management. I hope John Kotter's insights are going to come in handy in your journey towards making CX a priority for your business.

My best wishes for a great day ahead!

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