It’s incredibly damning to watch the Banking Royal Commission roll on, and see leader after leader give token responses to quite serious questions. The type of questions that try to uncover further abuse of a completely disenfranchised customer cohort.

Reading some of the headlines, quotes, and transcripts, and even watching footage on the news breaks my heart. As someone who advocates for customers, and knows that putting customers first in business can actually grow profits and reduce or even remove customer churn, I find the examples of leadership from some of our most profitable organisations disgraceful at best.

I have done work with NAB before; including presenting the benefits of incorporating Systems Thinking into their senior leadership teams, and working with their innovation (and other) teams to improve customer-centric thinking. To watch Andrew Thorburn – the CEO – act in surprise as customer stories came out. Hundreds of customers experiencing the same issues, and the leader of the organisation acts in surprising tones as these are put before him. 

Worse still, Ken Henry – the Chairman of the board at NAB – acted with arrogance that many wouldn’t tolerate from their worst enemies. His response of “perhaps” when asked if these potentially illegal behaviours by the bank should have been looked into by the Chief Risk Officer is damming, and shows how disconnected the most senior person in the organisation is from customers.

This arrogance is one major problem I see continuing to spread throughout other organisations in Australia. A continual tightening of the screws, capitulation to ridiculous targets and measures, and unreasonable behaviours towards the customers they are here to serve. Being paid to serve. 

Hearing things from front-line staff such as ‘I understand and apologise for the inconvenience – but I can’t help you’ must be as hard for some staff to say as it is for customers to hear. It often feels like everything they may have said right before the ‘but’ is meaningless. In a way, that it completely true. The reasons why they can’t help though are simply because the leadership has tied their hands and told them that they can’t. They have taken away access to tools, resources, or authority that would empower them to provide the help.

Australian leadership often suffers from a traditional rot: what we have done in the past has worked, and as such we don’t need to change anything we do. Let’s keep plugging away, toiling harder, not smarter. There is often minimal recognition that doubling down on the same old thing not only leads to the same result, it also burns out staff twice as fast. 

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!” – Peter Senge

On the flip-side of this, we see amazing Australian leaders doing incredible, innovative, different things in the marketplace. Things that empower staff, bring leaders to the same level as their customers, and things that buck the trend of most leaders in Australian traditional businesses would think could never, ever work.

Many businesses do this out of necessity – overseas competition has encroached on their ordinarily solid monopoly and they have realised that change-or-die might actually hold some truth. Reasons why the change don’t always matter though. The fact that change is taking place is the most positive thing of all.

If you are thinking right now that your business is one of the transformative, change-embracing ones that works hard to treat their customers and staff to the best they have to offer, I would challenge you to run this simple test to see.

  1. Can you define the purpose of your business in your customer’s own language? The way they would describe – at a barbecue – what your business does?
  2. Can you demonstrate that everything you do in the business adds value to the customer’s experience? Absolutely everything?
  3. Can you receive customer feedback and not be surprised by anything that comes from it? Are you completely fine with everything you’re receiving from them?

The answers to these questions will often knock the socks off most leaders, even in the most agile, adaptable organisations. What it does is demonstrate that no matter how great of a job we might think we are doing, a reality check and a dash of humbling humility is always needed in order to keep us moving in the right direction. That direction being empowerment of staff for the sake of our customers.

There’s more to these three challenge questions than meets the eye. If you are looking to engage your staff and customers, taking those engagements to the next level, we can help you answer these questions and map out experiences throughout your organisation. Drop an email, give us a call, and we can chat further about challenges and how to become the next great Australian leader, putting an end to the crisis.

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