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Brain circuits

The questions that reveal your company’s culture

Published 5 July 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

Your customers ultimately decide whether your company is successful or not. Which is why most executives acknowledge that making their customers happy and earning more of their decisions should be their ultimate goal. But very few companies are truly customer-led. In our research we asked why a few exceptional companies manage to do it while the majority fail. We discovered the answer is to do with the shared beliefs of the organization.

What are a company’s shared beliefs?

The shared beliefs of a company are the unspoken assumptions within a group about what is rewarded, respected and valued – essentially the ways colleagues get ahead in the business. These beliefs tend not to be discussed overtly. They can be seen in subtle, unspoken actions and choices that require careful examination to recognise. Some of the things people won’t tell you include:

What meetings get moved for

What a crisis is

Which numbers going in right or wrong directions get people excited

Which teams get attention

These observations provide a good sense of is really valued in your company. Seeing the answers can be one step in the direction of making changes, crucial if it turns out you have been sending unintended messages.

In relation to being customer-led, it is helpful to recognise two particular belief systems. Most companies have inside-out beliefs. Executives making decisions are separated by layers of people and process from their customers. They are surrounded by financial reports, quarterly targets and a sense that their company matters a great deal. But of course, to their customers it might not.

Customer-led beliefs work outside-in. The business understands the problems their customers really want to solve or the outcomes they want, and they can see this is bigger than the products or services they buy today. By finding new and better ways to solve these customer problems or achieve these outcomes, by innovating, customers get continually growing value.

If you want to shift your company to having outside-in beliefs, to being truly customer-led, you need to recognise what you are dealing with. Words alone won’t be enough, and strategy famously gets eaten by culture. The answer to how you manage it comes in our next piece.

If you want to learn more about what we learned about how to be customer-led, dive deeper with our book the Customer Copernicus. 


Seán Meehan

Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management at IMD

Seán Meehan is the Martin Hilti Professor of Marketing and Change Management at IMD, and author of The Customer Copernicus.

Charlie Dawson

Founder of The Foundation

Charlie Dawson is Founder of The Foundation, a London-based consultancy that helps organizations create customer-led success.


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