Leaders: If you want to improve your team’s performance–become a better customer

If you lead a team or organization, you’re a Customer. And if you want to dramatically improve your team’s performance, you need to become a better Customer.

Knowing more, having a more compelling vision, or being more charismatic are all great leadership attributes, but they’re not enough to transform and sustain your team’s performance.

Sustained collaborative performance and real accountability require something more from a leader: They require being an exceptional Customer. It’s a critical but poorly understood leadership skill in many organizations today.


Customers drive performance.

In the marketplace, when Customers want something new or different, leaders and their companies figure out how to deliver it. Even when companies invent a new product or service the marketplace never dreamed of—yet suddenly can’t live without—it’s the Customer who decides how valuable it is.

Take away the Customer, and you take away the company’s reason for being and the opportunity for performance.

This is just as true for Customers within a company.

Almost all of an organization’s work gets done through promises made by one person to another within the same organization. The person making the promise is the Promisor and the one to whom the promise is made is the internal Customer. As a leader in your company, every promise made to you gives you the opportunity to improve performance—as long as you know how to be a good Customer.

Here are a few ways that you can become a better Customer…

  1. Make sure that every promise made to you has a clear and explicit outcome that you (the Leader/Customer) deem valuable to the company. The Promisor could go to the ends of the earth to deliver what he thinks is valuable, but if you don’t see value as the Customer, the promise wasn’t fulfilled, time was wasted, and performance suffered. This puts the onus on you, the Customer, to really understand and represent what’s valuable for your team and your company.
  2. Know how to have the difficult conversations when your Promisors don’t deliver—and commit yourself to actually having them. In far too many companies, I’ve seen that leaders don’t do this. Instead, to avoid discomfort, they let poorly kept promises slide. This only leads to recurring poor performance—and to much more difficult conversations later on. Having what I call the “Make it Right Conversation” when promises aren’t fulfilled is actually one of the quickest ways to dramatically improve performance.
  3. Insist that your Promisors keep each of you apprised of how each promise to you is going, so you’re never surprised. This includes letting you know when situations arise that might jeopardize a promise. If you have enough notice, you might be able to do something to keep the promise on track. Otherwise, the impact could be much greater for you and the company.


These are just a few ways to become a better Customer, but if you actually do them, you’ll be transforming the mindset and behaviors of your entire team, and you’ll quickly see performance start to improve.

Once your people grasp the importance of making and keeping valuable promises for their internal Customers, your company will also get much better at satisfying its external Customers. It’s the gift of performance that can keep on giving.

I go into much more detail about being a better Customer (and a better Promisor) in my new book, Full Contact Performance, available at bookstores and online booksellers everywhere. And if you’re looking for potent leadership coaching for you and your team, reach out to us at info@FullContactInstitute.com.


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