CX secondment reflections — leading through uncertainty & building our CX capability

Uncertainty decreases over time and leads to clarity

Last May I had an opportunity to join the newly formed Customer Experience team, where I worked as a Lead Delivery Manager on a secondment basis. I had been looking for a way to help me develop as a leader in Co-op and luckily got the chance to work with the team. I have learned a lot both personally and professionally from the experience. So as the secondment has come to an end ( spoiler alert I’m now a permanent member of the team), I wanted to share my reflections. I hope they resonate on two fronts:

  • For anyone considering a secondment opportunity to develop their career (part 1)
  • For customer experience practitioners forming new internal capability (part 2)

Part 1 — Personal learnings on growing as a leader

Think about how uncertainty might impact you within a work context

I did not anticipate how much I would learn about myself during the secondment. The uncertainty of whether or not the secondment would become a permanent role in the team made me feel unsettled. I ended up having a very personal battle with uncertainty as a result of a past traumatic experience. This was the first time uncertainty gremlins started to interfere with my career (last time it was from moving house). A by-product of this was that a lot of my mental energy was spent worrying about what would happen, which resulted in me not being as effective as I could have been.

The reason I share this is if you are going to go for a secondment, take a moment to think about whether you have any uncertainty gremlins that might appear and decide how you plan to tackle them. Be honest about them and consider how best you can manage them.

Ensure you give yourself the space and time to reflect, learn and influence

When I first joined the team I wanted to be involved in everything. As the only Delivery Manager, I thought I needed to be working with every team across all of our CX projects. On top of this, at the start I had taken on the opportunity to work with the Technology Leadership team to work with them on a capability and investment priorities project.

It took me a while to come to the realisation that I had started off in the role as a busy fool. I was becoming misaligned in my focus and impact. It had become apparent that my focus needed to be narrowed, as the rest of the team work more effectively concentrating on a single project. So after a tough chat with the leadership team I recognised things needed to change and I re-focussed my efforts.

Admitting it wasn’t the right thing to be doing too many things was an important lesson. I also had to be honest with myself you can’t do it all!

In retrospect, I can see how powerful it is to agree a focus upfront. We do this via our product and experience strategies but sometimes we can forget how important personal focus and alignment is to enable strategic impact. Under Katherine’s leadership, the team have set out a new strategic focus for 2022. Off the back of this it’s been easier for me to identify where and how I can best add value to our strategic priorities, and I know it’s helped the team with their own personal development objectives as well.

I’ve made some observations and come to learn a valuable lesson on how important our time and energy are: powerful things can happen when we channel ourselves in the right direction.

Imposter syndrome grows stronger when surrounded by top talent

Prior to joining the CX team I had experienced pangs of imposter syndrome. When I first joined Co-op back in 2019 I was working with established Delivery Managers. Peers I looked up to. I had always worked as the sole Project Manager / Delivery specialist in previous companies, so I had no one to compare myself to. It’s easy to fall into the comparison trap when working with incredible colleagues.

The CX team is mostly made up of designers as well as CX strategists. As Co-op is building out a CX new discipline and approach, they have included some of their top experience design talent within the team. I have learned a lot about what best in class experience design and strategy looks like and it’s been a privilege to watch and learn from some industry leaders. However, this experience also added fuel to the fire of my confidence gremlin.

There’s a quote about hiring people smarter than you: a strong leader works with people smarter than them as they challenge them to make things better.

I have had to challenge myself to remember the value I bring. That a good leader gives a team the space and support they need to perform at their best. A team leader welcomes the challenges, rolls with them and grows as a by-product of the people they surround themselves with.

Growing as a leader

My secondment within the CX team has been a rollercoaster. This is where I believe secondments present vital learning and development opportunities within organisations, which as a result, pushed me out of my comfort zone. I have had to face some of my limiting beliefs, lead with courage and practise humility. Most of this experience has been with a fully remote team with some in-person interaction — at most a day a week, and it’s not everyone in the team in the office all of the time. I’ve come to realise that that I thrive on human connection and interaction so I am working on getting back into the office more, as well as finding ways to better connect with my colleagues (for my own mental wellbeing).

What I do know is that this secondment experience has helped me become a better leader. I know it’s equipped me with skills to be able to empathise and support colleagues on secondments in the future. You can’t show up at your best and drive change when you are worrying about worst case scenarios that are beyond your control. I have developed a greater appreciation for the environment we need to create for personal and professional innovation in order to truly thrive within an ever-changing consumer landscape.

What lessons or tips do you have for working through work uncertainty?

Part 2 — Professional CX learnings

In addition to my personal secondment learnings, I wanted to pick out some professional highlights from my first year working in the Customer Experience team.

My career to date has involved working on digital projects and products. The fascinating aspect of working in CX is getting a truly holistic end-to-end view of the customer experience, as well as understanding where and how to make improvements across the entirety of the value stream and proposition. This might sound straightforward but in a large scale organisation the size of Co-op, connecting the dots and data within and across experiences is still a mammoth endeavour.

So here are a few key learnings from a customer experience perspective.

Our colleagues are also customers

As an internal team, an important audience we need to keep in mind are our colleagues. I like to think of my role as ensuring we’re creating psychologically safe environments to enable our colleagues to become even more customer-orientated.

An area I’ve enjoyed focusing on is getting colleague feedback. As we evolve our approach as a team it’s equally important we get colleague feedback on how we work. For example, if the environment is not working for our colleagues then we’re going to be limiting the scale at which our colleagues can advocate for changes to improve client interactions. I have been trying out a few ways to keep checking in with colleagues. Running retros and end of project wash-ups with wider collaborators allows us to be both colleague and customer centric. The by-product of this is to keep evolving and iterating our CX approach in Co-op.

What gets measured gets managed

A key theme throughout my experience in the CX team has been understanding how we identify and report on the performance of customer experiences. The first project I got to work on was a CX measurement project, which involved reviewing our entire product portfolio to look at how we measure the customer experience . We’ve been able to build out our understanding of what CX metrics looks like in Co-op and set the foundations of a CX measurement framework.

In addition, I’ve learned a lot more about NPS and CSAT scores, which are the overarching determinants of customer satisfaction outside of commercial performance indicators.

In an organisation as large as Co-op, we can succumb to a laser focus on optimising for metrics that are linked to performance incentives. This is where adding in multiple yardsticks of success and getting clarity on the key customer satisfaction metrics can counterbalance an over zealous focus on operational and commercial metrics. As this erudite summary from HBR points out we need to guard against a commercial or operational metric obsessive culture that impacts on our ability to deliver strategic customer value.

Project Achievements

I’ve also got a number of project achievements from my first year in the team.

CX visibility — a series of talks on CX day to raise awareness of CX across Co-op.

Last summer I worked with the team on a short 3–5 week project with a few of the team to understand how we communicate the role and work of the CX strategy team across Co-op.

We identified a global CX day event that we could piggy back off and spotted an opportunity to deliver CX day talks to raise the visibility and understanding of CX across Co-op. We reached out to colleagues across Co-op to raise the profile of CX across the BU’s and spotlight colleagues working in CX. We set a target of getting 100 attendees to the event.

In the end we achieved 200 registrations and had 74 playbacks of the recordings. 64% average attendance rate across the 3 talks. Looking at the 202 benchmarks for Leadfest leader/panel type events the CX visibility talks were comparable to the leadfest L&D sessions that are put on which is brilliant.

We had great feedback and discussions from the talks helping colleagues to share experiences of what good CX looks like as well as developing colleague understanding. “CX is an area I am aware of but don’t know much about but these lunchtime talks are helping me understand.”

Team kick offs and building a team remote first

We form teams around the work based on the skills we need, allowing us to constantly form as a team and build out an understanding of how we like to work. There’s been a lot of work up front on how we kick off and set ourselves up for success. I think there could be a whole separate blog post on this.

What’s next for me in CX?

As I’ll be continuing in the team on a permanent basis I am now looking forward to amplifying my learning within the team and across the sector.

Here are a few areas I’m working with the team on to address.

  • Learn from other folks doing delivery in CX
  • Building out Sponsoring and change models for CX
  • Team contracting — building shared team contracts for collaboration
  • CX training
  • Setting up a CX community of practice

If any of this is of interest I’d love to chat to sharing CX learnings

Drop me a Tweet @rachaelashah or you can find me on LinkedIn as well.

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Delivery Manager @coopdigital |Deputy President @JCIManchester |Mentor with @1millionmentor1 | MMU MBA student & Mrs Vikas to @MrVikas Views my own.

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Rachael Shah (Ball)

Rachael Shah (Ball)

Delivery Manager @coopdigital |Deputy President @JCIManchester |Mentor with @1millionmentor1 | MMU MBA student & Mrs Vikas to @MrVikas Views my own.

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