When Lou Gerstner was hired at IBM, he was essentially promoted from customer to CEO. He leveraged his experience as a customer to turn the company around. He traveled to Europe to meet his team and to meet with and hear directly from clients. He had dinner with CIOs who were among IBM’s customers, and then he spoke to their colleagues about how he was bringing the customer back to the center of IBM’s focus. He directed his top fifty leaders to meet with clients and report back in writing what they heard and made it clear that they also needed to direct their leaders to do the same. Because of his weakness as a technologist, he leaned on his tremendous capacity for listening to the unfiltered messages of his customers. This is how he guided IBM successfully through its bounce back.
Unfiltered listening is more important today when humanity is creating more data and information each year than in all of humanity’s history. There is so much data, that we can easily get lost in capturing it all, analyzing it all, and determining what it all means. This is a recipe for failure.
There is often a disconnect between the information CEOs need and the information they receive. With every member of the C-suite needing different information to make decisions on how they will run their day-to-day activities while planning for the next quarter or year, the CEOs need something more. They are responsible for deciding the future three to five years of the company, but using the data from this week, last month or last quarter. This is like driving a car by looking into the rearview mirror. If the CEO cannot see through the windshield to the horizon, the company is doomed.
This is where unfiltered listening comes in.
Just like when you drive a car, your head needs to be on a swivel checking your blind spots, monitoring oncoming traffic, and looking for the signals and signs ahead. As the CEO, you need to be looking at multiple sources of information. Most of that information exists outside of your company.
You need to consider the disruptors coming up alongside of you in your blind spots. You need to consider the shifts competitors and regulators are making as they come at you. You need to be watching for signals and signs of changes in your customer’s desires, needs and aspirations. This is why CEOs and their teams need to understand PERMA. Every human is seeking a combination of those five elements of well being and happiness, and competitors will disrupt you by finding new ways to fulfill those desires.
Like Lou Gerstner, you cannot rely only on those in your organization to give you the unfiltered information. You need to hear directly from the people who are the experts: your customers, vendors and competitors.