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3 ways project teams are adopting a customer centric culture

Innovative practices to support change 

An organisation’s project structure is the optimum vehicle to drive transformational change and new competitive initiatives. 

Senior executives we interviewed from progressive* project-facing organisations stressed that organisations need to adopt a customer centric culture across their project teams to counter the increasing lack of trust across communities. Extreme measures have even seen organisations walking away from proposed projects that clash with community ethics to emphasise their commitment to the environment and quality of lifestyle for the future.

There are three ways in which their project teams are working to build a more customer centric culture:

1. Building a customer empathy mindset

Building the foundations for customer empathy requires a change in mindset from leaders and across teams. This requires a cultural change for many and whilst they are embracing this as important to the future, they recognise it is a journey which will take time and require deliberate interventions to embed the principles within the organisation.

Progressive organisations we talked to have customer centric ideals as part of their organisational values. A senior executive from the energy sector explains that their executive team is starting to put in place those values by asking the right questions of their stakeholders to make sure their opinions are heard.

We have empathy for a variety of different viewpoints. We genuinely want to help the communities that we operate in

2. Using metrics to move beyond licence to operate

Organisations are making a consistent effort to move beyond a licence to operate model to more inclusive and engaged arrangements.

Many are developing performance metrics that measure the relationship the company has with their external stakeholders. They view successful programs not just through a traditional budget and schedule perspective but also how they are perceived by the communities and their customers, capturing and embedding these perspectives through key performance indicators for their teams and leaders. So understanding stakeholder perspectives at the beginning of a project is critical, aAs a senior executive from the energy sector notes:

“We are looking at metrics that show us how our actions and the activities will have an effect... and what engagements we can do early on before you put the first shovel in the ground.”

Some of the most important questions these organisations are seeking to answer to ensure external stakeholders are on board are:

  • Why are we doing this project?
  • What part can the community/customer play in how to get there?

Along with answering these questions, organisations are also focusing on explaining and generating shared understanding about the benefits of their activities. The importance of having questions from communities and customers addressed and acknowledged was a theme across all conversations. 

3. Investing in customer stewardship capability

The capability of building engagement in communities and with customers is seen as important, and a priority is being placed on upskilling teams on their customer stewardship literacy. Customer-led approaches are honed through organisational training programs, and on the job mentoring through client champions. The aim is for teams to understand the need to ‘earn’ the right to be a trusted entity, by acknowledging the demands and sensitivities of the community and the external stakeholders.

People who have a depth of knowledge or an existing understanding of a community are aligned with certain projects. A senior executive from government noted the measures they put in place to have senior level commitment to achieve community outcomes,

We match the right project directors with the right communities to get the best results.

Overall there is increased spending and more time being dedicated to maintaining relationships with external stakeholders and their customers as organisations recognise customer advocacy is key to delivering on long term outcomes in projects. 

For organisations, building customer and external stakeholder empathy and awareness, through engagement and upskilling their staff helps project teams adopt a customer centric culture  These executives credit more positive outcomes and relationships from their projects as evidence that these measures are working.

Read the full paper here.


This article was written by Professor Suresh Cuganesan,  Chief Executive of the John Grill Centre for Project Leadership at the University of Sydney and Professor at the University of Sydney Business School.

Suresh specialises in the areas of strategy execution, organisational design and performance measurement. His area of focus is on how public and private-sector enterprises can improve their achievement of policy and strategic goals through being better aligned, collaborative and innovative.


* Progressive organisations recognise that the status quo is not an option and are building project and change capability to find new ways to deliver strategic outcomes and value and help navigate their challenging and dynamic operating environments.

Our network of progressive organisations with international and domestic presence we spoke to both the public and private sector, including ANZ, Bank of Queensland, Broadspectrum, Exxon, GE, Lendlease, Mirvac, Telstra, Woodside, WorleyParsons, and state and federal government entities.

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