How do you overcome organisational inertia and deliver great CX to maintain category leadership?

We have been hit by monumental organisational changes in these last few months as customer needs and expectations have shifted drastically. All industries have had to adapt and innovate to stay on top. One of the challenges most business leaders had to face is that of change management and organisational inertia.


In the last couple of months or years, we have seen an increase in this inertia, we know it is mainly due to the pandemic and the changing landscape of the way business is being done and things like working from home, online shopping etc. Are there underlying causes and driving forces behind this increase other than the pandemic?
Companies must have processes that allow employees to collaborate with different teams, so you can have different points of view, and decentralize power – this is important to accelerate innovation and avoid inertia.

Given the overall focus in most organisations has been to be adaptive in the face of external changes brought upon by the pandemic and therefore, the big question is how do we overcome this inertia to ensure we deliver the best possible customer experience to remain category leaders.


CX Live and The Customer Institute's Leaders Connect with Hussein M. Dajani, Head of Customer Experience, Nissan Motors; Mike Wittenstein, CEO, Storyminers; Sue Duris, Founding Principal, M4 Communications; Sebastien Munar, Managing Director, Clientrika.


What exactly is organisational inertia and what causes this?


Mike: I think we tend to think about people who are stuck and people who aren’t stuck, and we always put ourselves in the unstuck category. It’s really a matter of perception. I think one of the healthiest ways to look at organisational inertia is to analyse that when you’re on a track you are unaware if it’s taking you to a place that you don’t want to be. When we look at it that way we realize that everybody makes choices. We have thousands of employees in our companies and they make thousands of choices every day about where to spend their time, and their energy, where to invest their emotions, where to work hardest and where to excel.


So, if we have a different sense of where the track is going, we can kind of get a little stuck in it and lost. Yet it may be a very comfortable place to be. Therefore, it’s more about perception and maybe re-perception of where we are and why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Sue: One thing that has been interesting to me is – and I think we really have seen the organisational inertia during this pandemic – everybody rushing to be digital, digital-first and the two big areas that I saw was the companies that already had a digital plan They wanted to speed that up and the companies who really weren’t working in digital suddenly figured hmm if we do digital, that’s gonna be a new revenue channel for us. But are companies being digital for the sake of being digital? Companies need to go digital to create a competitive advantage and be ahead but when digital first eclipses customer first and even employee first, that’s when we run into some issues. It's important to address 3 questions.


What’s the purpose and how does that impact your company? What is the business or customer issue you are trying to solve? And what is that going to optimize your customer experience?

Hussein: I would add one more thing – it’s when an organisation loses sight of the Why term, and this resonates very well with what Sue was saying is we want to turn digital – Why are we turning digital? We need to transform – why do we need to transform? So, true. You’ve got the external factors taking place but there must be more reasons of why are we doing this? Why do we need to do it? What’s the end purpose of it? What exactly are we trying to achieve? Because there are many organisations that actually became digital due to covid but digital did not serve their purpose. So, it’s not about implementing a transformation in the organisation if it doesn’t serve its end purpose and this is where it becomes extremely important. Again, you have got to make sure you serve two kinds of customers: your end customer and your employees. So you really have got to get the buy-in from everybody on what you are doing in order for you to succeed. So when we are talking about changes it can be COVID, it can be anything of that sort. Right now, if you take a look at what’s happening in the world, and how it's going to lead a lot of organisations to re-adapt their businesses.


The why always needs to be answered, and organisations must figure out how they tackle that, and this why needs to be revisited regardless of the external factors.

Another interesting factor is the semiconductor. As you know this is a major issue. It’s not only affecting the automotive industry where I’m working, it’s affecting every single piece of electronics that’s out there – be it smartphones, be it fridges, microwaves, TV sets – anything of that sort. Again, this is an external factor. You’ve got a factory which doesn’t exist anymore. It was supplying the world’s needs of semiconductors – how do you address that?


In the last couple of months or years, we have seen an increase in this inertia, we know it is mainly due to the pandemic and the changing landscape of the way business is being done and things like working from home, online shopping etc. Are there underlying causes and driving forces behind this increase other than the pandemic?


CX Live: When we look at the external circumstances, especially for any organisation that operates on a local, regional or global level, there are so many external factors that have played a part until very recently in creating organisational inertia. It’s the situation in Russia and Ukraine but then there are the federal interest rates that are going to be rising everywhere. They're obviously the new expectations that customers have and irrespective of geographies and boundaries, all of them are driving internal transformation that causes a shift in the thinking and culture and again makes us circle back to the ‘why’. Why is it that we are embarking on a journey to change?


Sebastian: I find it interesting because I actually thought that inertia is like it’s one side of a coin, you know, we have a coin and there are two sides. And the other side is the change management theory.


Steven Robbins, an author who investigates inertia, mentions that organisations are by nature, conservative and mundane and want to resist change. So, when there are inter-dependent systems, and departments in a company, it’s really difficult to drive change and that’s where inertia starts. This challenge of interconnecting all the leaders, all the departments is massive and a company has to accept that when it plans any modifications.

Is organisational inertia caused by a wrong mindset, culture, or company structure, What is generally wrong internally and how can the culture and structure be improved?


CX LIve: Organisational inertia is an issue that’s affecting every organisation at this point in time. Given that we are all dealing with this problem internally, can you shed some light on what is generally the way it can be improved? Is it the mindset, is it the culture, is it the structure? How can we improve organisational inertia?


Mike: Good question. Well, my first answer was about perception, so let me stay on that track so that there will be some different points of view. Let’s assume for a minute that inertia is not a bad thing. What does inertia do for us? Well. It provides efficiency because the more people do the same way, the more routine they are and when things change and ships get stuck in the Suez Canal, and wars break out and chips are available, that’s not that good a thing – doesn’t work all the time. But if you are going to your favourite restaurant and you want that special dish prepared that special way, you want it to be the same every special time. So consistency and inertia go together and loyalty and inertia go together. So I would say that there are certain parts of your business that you need to foster this inertia. One of the places that it’s missing is emotional connection. Lots of businesses try to standardise the way they work like my bank here in the Atlanta area just merged with another one in the last couple of weeks and everyone’s been going through the difficulty of this marriage and it’s interesting. Where we’re missing a lot of inertia in a good way is in the emotional side of things. When things go well and we feel good, as we’re buying in the store, and then we buy online, and then we do some other kind of buying and it feels the same, we really appreciate that from the brand. This bank is doing a very good job of making sure that the customers feel the same even though everything behind the scene is really different. So that’s part number one.


Part number two is where do you need to make the change. Sebastian and Hussein hinted at organisations are really complex and there need to be changed in lots of different places but it doesn’t have to be the same effort applied in each of those areas. So if you’re looking to increase the aperture for change, maybe you should look at things from the place where does change need to happen? And who wants to change? So, you could do something that involves making it easier for the employees to do their job right now so they have a few free cycles. At the strategy level of an organisation, you might introduce new capabilities around what we learn. Inside the organisation, we are kind of stitching the parts together, like Sebastian said, maybe there is some kind of an exchange program where people can experience each other’s lives and work and decisions and things like that. So, we don’t have to just look at processes or matrixes and try to get everybody the same. That’s actually very boring.


Each micro-part needs its own little surgery and it’s up to us as customer experience facilitators, designers, thinkers and doers to figure out what’s needed in different parts of the organisation. But you don’t have to change everything at once.

Hussein: Mike, I liked a lot what you said, it’s spot on. I would add just one thing. It’s that the more an organisation grows, it falls into the trap of its own silos where every single department starts working on their own and for their own objective rather than the collective objective of the organisation. If you want to make sure change happens in an organisation, you must make sure you break the silos. You must make sure that organisations are working with each other, coordinating very well and working towards one objective. This is extremely important. The other thing is the culture of agility in the organisation in order to be able to manoeuvre, in order to be able to adapt to change in a seamless way rather than feel like a titanic of a ship that is so hard to steer it to the right or to the left. This is extremely important. For the change to happen, you must have the mindset, the culture in an organisation must be there. You need to welcome and encourage and always push employees in order to adapt to this culture of change, So again I would say the emphasis should be on breaking silos, being more agile and last but not least having an open channel of communication in an organisation. This is extremely important so where we talk about the voice of customers, I talk here about the voice of the employees. Because sometimes, some employees are able to foresee things that others cannot, and they are the ones who need to raise the flag about them in an organisation and say hey, be careful, we see this happening. Especially when you are talking about a multi-national company made out of so many different nationalities, each person can come with objective and learnings from their own countries and so on.


Sebastian: The most important thing is to accept that you have the problem of inertia. We have to move, we have to continue, we have to innovate.


And for this companies must have processes that allow employees to collaborate, to talk, to really be in touch with different teams so you can have different points of view, and decentralize power – this is important to accelerate innovation and avoid inertia in a company.

CX Live: It’s interesting how innovation ties into this because at the end of the day, the whole point of this stability, Mike and Hussein what you spoke about having the agility, a lot of it is actually dependent on how – unless that foundation is there for that innovation to happen, it’s actually quite difficult and we can’t sustain in today’s day and age without that creative and innovative bend as well. As Mike when we started this conversation you said that in some ways it is a good thing, it’s actually true because unless you can have the confidence that okay a lot of my people know what they are doing, so if I just have to pick up a team to work on a new exercise, it’s much easier done than trying to get everybody geared up to bring that change. Sue, I think you had a point of view that you wanted to express?


Sue: I was going to tie it all together with a nice little bow. I really liked Mike talking about consistency and my favourite hated word “silos” from Hussein and Sebastian talking about awareness, I know that consistency is really key and I think a lot of people get confused, “is consistent the same as being the same?” and it isn’t. I know that customers want consistency in their journey, in their experience. I know Salesforce even said that when they were polling, they said over three-quarters of their respondents said that we want that consistent experience because consistency breeds trust. The more trust drives loyalty, drives customer lifetime value, drives growth.


When you can have all those connectors, where culture and employee, employee experience and customer experience are aligned across the organisation, then you eliminate issues, and you actually maximize and optimize the customer experience.

So when everything can be aligned, it’s actually a really good thing. Of course, it’s easier said than done and you can’t do everything at the same time. That’s where prioritisation – where’s the value for not only employees but also for customers?


Ayusha: that’s a very interesting viewpoint, Sue and that brings me straight on to one of the thoughts that always come to mind when we are talking about CX and that’s about that internal alignment and those partnerships and that collaboration, that sets the foundation. Given that with all the disruptions that have happened in the last couple of years through the whole ecosystem, we’re seeing that there’s employee experience and then there’s customer experience and then there’s this whole wave of automation and digital transformation that’s driven all that change.


What role do partnerships play in overcoming inertia? Do they rub off each other?


Sue, would you like to start commenting on this given that you’ve just summarized the earlier viewpoints beautifully? What is the best way of forging partnerships and making them collaborations rather than competition in the race?


Sue: I like to think that the CX leader is the master uniter in an organisation. I use as an example of the CX leader’s relationship with the chief technology officer. One of the things that I hear a lot from CX leaders and I’m sure that I would have a unanimous feeling amongst our panellists here is that technology – driving CX technology in an organisation is much easier said than done. But as CX leaders, what we can do – and I think it’s the beauty of where we are – we sit centrally a lot of times and we see what’s going on in different groups, how we can help improve processes, the whole customer journey looking at gap analysis, where the holes are which in turn are opportunities. I brought the CTO up because if there are things that the CX leader can do and it’s nurturing relationships. Do we talk about how can we influence?


Well, to be able to influence, we need to have a recipient listening to us. And from a CTO aspect, for instance, if the CX leader is trying to develop relationships with the CTO, and they want their projects to go forward, why not take on your CTO as one of your internal customers, find out who they are, what drives them, what’s their agenda and help them, because what you’re doing here is you’re adding the customer-centric viewpoint to their project so they’re first understanding – I really get this customer-centric thing now.

This is very important and the CX leader is also showing how much value they’re adding to the conversation. So it’s really a win-win for both sides and that drives influence and that drives more solidifying of customer experience throughout the organisation.


CX Live: Now Hussein, obviously, in the case of Nissan, there has been tremendous adoption of technology and digitization in the last couple of years. There are a lot of initiatives that you’ve rolled out which clearly shows that that collaboration, internal alignment that we are talking about was set in stone before you went ahead to commission these projects at Nissan. Can you shed some light on how you were able to achieve it? What were some of the success parameters that you set out for yourselves and how were you able to go through that entire transformation so beautifully?