The Customer is Boss

When A.G. Lafley became the CEO of Procter and Gamble, he sent a strong message to his direct team and to the whole organization strategy: he said that their real boss wasn’t him, their manager or the shareholders. Their real boss, according to Lafley’s words, was the customer, and he would work to help anyone in the organization to win with the customers – at all moments of truth.


Also, during my years at Procter&Gamble, learning from Toyota and experimenting their lessons at our workplaces brought a fundamental leadership learning that reinforced A.G Lafley’s words. I like to reflect this learning with this statement:


“People don’t work for their leaders. People work for their customers. Leaders work for their people.”


In this sense, how you understand “WORK FOR YOUR PEOPLE” makes a huge difference. This isn’t like just being a servant: taking orders, being nice and trying to make people comfortable, etc. but more like being a doctor: asking questions, diagnosing and proscribing for each person what they need to grow and deliver superior customer experience with value.


This is also based on the proven evidence that:


Customer problems are solved most quickly and effectively at their source.



But this requires deep understanding of the customer and full accountability by the teams closest to the customer at all levels. For this, it is fundamental that leaders grow by building other leaders in the organization. This requires that people at all levels are capable to build consensus and make holistic strategy decisions to better serve customers. It means putting the customer at the center of the organization. This requires continuous leadership intervention:


  • Building a safe and nurturing working environment. It is often characterized by trust, that enables every individual at every level to surface customer problems and take initiative to solve them;
  • Facilitating a clear path for each associate to contribute to the company’s vision; creating a strong link between them and the ones that will be satisfied by their value-added work;
  • Unleashing people’s potential by continuously challenging and enabling their self-development, creativity, strategy and autonomy in the broadest sense: building value creators and problem solvers who can continuously participate in effective problem solving to both improve customer satisfaction and develop their full human potential;
  • Enabling effective cross-organizational collaboration and cooperation to take on the challenge of innovating to continually deliver value to the customer experience.


In essence,


to work for people is to continuously battle against the under-development of people’s talents and skills.


The customer is boss – and on a daily basis that means that every value-driven initiative that is not tried out by an associate in our organizations represents the worst form of talent inventory, and the worst expression of disrespect for that individual and for the customer. Not to mention that this is the highest threat to the sustainability of the business.


It is important to understand that customer satisfaction is created through action: experimenting, testing, listening, reflecting, learning and building the ability of all the people in the organization to innovate and solve problems.


Thus this, people and customers are deeply respected. Our teams are inspired by the company’s vision, motivated by how they can personally go beyond their perceived limits to continuously touch and improve the live and experience of the customer.


A conclusion?


The customer is boss – at the heart of everything we do.




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