What About Joe? Knowing Who Your Customer Is

For years, company executives have forgotten about Joe.

Their only concern was to do everything – and sometimes even anything – to satisfy the stock market … in real time. And since exchanges are open 24/7 around the globe, they got addicted to their decisions, now made above all to react to changes in stock prices. Some company executives, under intense pressure, even anticipated disaster scenarios, thereby committing hara-kiri.

They rushed headlong into a handicap race that slowly but surely led their businesses to a dead end.

In their obsession, they failed to realize that stock markets and shareholders are ungrateful, that their loyalty goes to dividends rather than the companies that generate them, simply because sooner or later the same companies will generate fewer dividends.

It is like an unequal love relationship, where one person will do anything to seduce the other, who is quintessentially unfaithful. Submission inevitably leads to failure – of the company.

Meanwhile, what has Joe been doing?

Joe has tried to survive redundancies and business plans. He has kept a low profile, said yes to everything day after day, learned to navigate between management’s contradictory decisions, and become more and more disconnected.

One spring day, an acclaimed consultant, all excited and looking important, demanded an urgent meeting with the chief executive.

According to the latest survey of customers and prospects, consumption was down because people feared for the future. They were unhappy in the company, no longer felt fulfilled, and were working not to satisfy the company’s customers but to reassure their supervisors, who had replaced customers.

Basically, these people didn’t like their company any more.

The acclaimed consultant’s brilliant discovery was that the majority of consumers were also employees … Joe was therefore a customer or a prospect and an employee. This fact came as a shock to the consultant. He realised, “We have to include Joe”.

The acclaimed consultant was familiar with company executives but did not understand Joe. He decided to make Joe the company hero, but not seriously of course. He persuaded the chief executive to shout “The company is Joe!” from the rooftops. Posters, TV commercials and newspaper advertisements starring Joe popped up all over the country.

But since the consultant worked for several company executives, the city was soon covered with Joes from different companies all saying basically the same thing: “Without Joe, the company doesn’t exist”, “Joe is your partner”, “Joe makes life easier”, “Joe is a person who works for people”, “Joe has team spirit,” etc.

Came the ridiculous day when every Joe, with different company names, were all over the city saying the same thing. It was insane. And a big mistake. They really had no idea about Joe. They took him hostage in an attempt to give a human face to the company. But Joe is no fool.

The consultant, lazy and in a hurry to invoice his services, thought he could solve a real problem with an advertising gimmick. An incredibly contemptuous attitude towards the chief executive he was supposed to be advising!

As for Joe, he just wants to feel fulfilled by being given the opportunity to contribute his ideas and experience to a company he can be proud of. A company’s first source of growth is its employees. Traditional corporations need to realize the value of their workforces.

The new companies that are generating high profit, growing fast and appealing to consumers all take an open-minded approach. They listen to Joe and encourage his initiatives. They are not paralysed by the hierarchical organization of a bygone era, their eyes glued to stock prices and analysts’ reports.

It is up to the chief executive to set the pace, depending on his company’s economic and financial situation. Let’s close our eyes for five minutes in remembrance of all those great companies and fantastic brands that lost their panache and stopped being attractive or innovative because of an addiction to the stock market that stifled initiative, research and development, and employees’ pride in belonging to a great company. All the talent and values that were sacrificed on the altar of real-time performance. As if there was no future anymore and it could all come to an end at any moment.

How pessimistic to stop believing in the future!

The world has shifted. New technologies are no longer new but are an integral part of our everyday lives. The geopolitical environment is constantly changing. A chief executive’s role is to take all these changes on board. This is a social and human responsibility that he or she must take on to keep our society going.

Shareholders will continue to seek the highest dividends. That’s normal and healthy in our system, which depends on investors. But chief executives need to rediscover their companies and the people who work for them. They need to come back down to earth. Their employees are the backbone of our society.

A chief executive should look to the people around him, and realize that the most reliable source of wealth he can draw on is called Joe: “We need to listen to Joe and strive to make him happy”.

by Didier Stora

General Manager, Paris

Cross-posted at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network