It’s a natural tendency, perhaps a genetic trait, for individuals and organizations to think, work, and be managed from an ‘inside-out’ perspective. Thinking inside-out, or ‘IO’ means a greater emphasis, sometimes total, is placed on how the work is performed, rather than why, and for whom.
Unfortunately, inside-out thinking is commonly associated with a failing to associate things as diverse as, the impact of issues, suggested improvements, or the benefits of a project or initiative, with customer outcomes and satisfaction levels.
In short, inside-out thinking ignores, and therefore is destined to fail, the organization and more importantly, the customer. So how can you tell if you, or your organization, are thinking inside-out? Well here are some simple key indicators:
- The key performance measures used for management decision-making are focused on internal processes, activities and events;
- Organizational and individual reward systems are primarily focused on work completed and project achievements, not customer satisfaction levels;
- Key staff are unable to state easily, clearly and briefly, who the customers are, what is done for them by the organization, nor the basis for customer satisfaction;
- The view of the customers, what they care about, and how they are served, differs significantly across the organization;
- When compared, more time is spent on internal issues, processes and conflicts, than on discussing the customer outcomes and needs;
- Few decisions are explicitly driven by customer needs and outcomes;
- The organization has trouble adapting to normal variations in the customer operations and get easily blind sighted by changes in their strategy and behavior;
- You market your products and services based upon them having superior functionality, or being ‘best of breed’;
- The mission statement and/or objectives of a project or initiative, or improvement effort, is peppered with, and biased towards the terms process, best practice, infrastructure, or service;
- You are trying to apply one rigid ‘best practice’ or process framework to a situation shared by many customers;
- You have adopted, and are adapting, perhaps ‘implementing’ best practices tied to one or more onerous frameworks as the primary driver for improvement;
- You are using continual or continuous improvement of one or more processes, as the primary driver for improvement;
- You are using a capability maturity level progression model for improving practices or processes as the primary driver for improvement;
- You are using the implementation of a technology as the primary driver for improvement;
- You are using the development of one or more artifacts as pre-requisites to improvement, including a service catalog, or a ‘configuration management database’;
- You do not know how your (improvement) efforts relate to the interests and desired results or outcomes of your customers, and so on… I’ll stop here. I think you get my point.
So what is the alternative? Simple, just flip the term to outside-in. Yes, change the words around. Because outside-In (OI) thinking places the interests of the customer first.
Outside-In, OI thinking, makes sure an explicit customer reason is in every decision. This includes what products and services to offer, the makeup of those services, and the interactions, touchpoints and moments of truth you need to co-design in, to properly manage the overall customer experience.
Today’s service economy is an experiential one and OI thinking is a must do for any service provider organization. OI thinking ensures you and your organization are centered on your customer. Terms like ‘best practices’, ‘processes’, and all the other inside-out vocabulary, is specifically positioned and designed to help you, help your customers achieve their successful customer outcomes.
OI thinking and management of the customer experience, the service experience, is at the forefront of the business and customer relationship management strategies of today’s most successful enterprises. Oh, and for all you readers I have likely just labeled inside-outers - relax.
Inside-out thinking is not all bad, just be sure it happens after you have been thinking outside in a while. It is a secondary objective dependent on the first – the customer.
Remember, as I started out, I believe it’s a natural tendency and genetic trait to revert to inside-out thinking. It takes discipline and management motivation, and a suitable reward system, to think and act differently. So, just be sure you set a few alarm bells, or key performance indicators in place to remind you its time to think outside-in first, and every now and then.
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Ian Clayton applies outside-in and lean thinking to service organization transformation and improvement efforts. He also helps rescue failing IT Service Management and ITIL® initiatives by incorporating outside-in thinking, and specializes in establishing self-funding continuous improvement programs.
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