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McKinsey’s customer-centric people function framework lacks focus

McKinsey built a business on trust-building, with multiple components and then has gone on to sell this very model to its clients. The framework deconstructed addresses the stentorian cry for help that people functions require to become customer-centric.

The four elements of this customer-centric framework are propitious beyond people functions too and can be added across recruitment, people analytics, learning and development.

Customer-centric HR:

How customer-centric is your organisation?

Cambridge Analytica: Learnings on customer-centric traits

The big refreeze: HR’s role in helping organisations adapt post-pandemic

The first is credibility: do you have the expertise and domain knowledge to be effective? The practicality of credibility is based on previous results, endorsements, certificates and earlier experiences. Essentially do you know what you are talking about?

Second, reliability on commitments. Is your people function trusted and counted on by the rest of the business? As obvious as it may seem, being on time with deadlines, communicating clearly, delivering when committed, providing confidence with affirmations such as “people like dealing with our people function”. This comes down to committing to what you promise.

Third is self-orientation for key stakeholders. Do your organisation’s stakeholders perceive the people function as selfish or aligned to a common goal? Self-orientation requires real interest, being supportive and making this about the goal. Getting on the same side is vital.

My favourite is intimacy – is there a safe connection in the working relationship? Are you providing a perceived safety? Is there a common comfort level between discussions? This is about finding common ground and being open about the support that will be required.

Most people functions will review the above and feel confident they are focusing on the right things. But unfortunately, this still won’t be enough. McKinsey’s success framework has one huge asterisk.

Reframe focus and prioritisation of what matters by using the concept of anti-goals, where you invert the process of traditional goals and services. Instead of determining the optimal service or product and then create goals around this, anti-goals allow you to focus on moving backwards. By inverting the problem, the focus shifts to the creation of services/products with the starting point defined.

Let’s use the example of a haircut. A potential customer or main stakeholder is a man with long hair in need of a haircut. The haircut is the regular product or services you provide, and a confident and excited customer is what comes after your product or service.

The focus here tends to shift automatically to the service – talking about the achievements of the people functions, the features and attributes of the now. HR should shift this to focus on the confident and excited customer that employees will become after your service provides what you need it to.

So the onus is on HR to learn the knowledge customers/stakeholders will gain and subsequent decisions they can make, including the mistakes they will avoid, the success they will accumulate and the reputation they will gain.

However you decide, and no matter which element of McKinsey’s success you try to apply, people functions need to learn to provide a service/product with confident and excited customers as the goal.

One of my favourite quotes comes to mind when thinking about people functions and leaders that go through this transition of focusing on service to focusing on the end customer: “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.”

Beyond the hedonic treadmill, we face moments of uncertainty. Refocusing allows us to highlight the importance of perspective to focus. This is what matters now and in the future. Do this and avoid compunction from trailing behind.


Yasar Ahmad is global vice president of talent at HelloFresh