What if a 5 year old sends you a letter, saying your product line is lacking? And asks you to better cater to her wishes? It happened to Gap recently, when a girl complained that the girls section is full of “pink and princesses,” while she prefered “Superman, Batman, rock-and-roll and sports.” She advised Gap to start making cool girls’ shirts, or just do away with separate boys and girls sections.

What if a middle aged driver sends you a tweet, complaining that your charging service is being misused? It happened at Tesla, when Loic Le Meur saw his Supercharger spot was taken by, in his words, “idiots” (e.g. people that shop at the nearby Whole Foods) that used it for parking, not charging.

There are basically two ways to respond to requests like these. And as an Agile company, I would choose both.

Now before we dive into these two options, let’s never forget the importance of listening. Listening to your customers, to the market, to your employees: that is how you get to know them and learn about the real issues at hand. Also, let your customers know you are listening, acknowledge them. Now specific feedback will tell you that you need to change and progress as a company, and this is how:

Option 1: Drive change through the CEO

For some customers, the CEO is a very prominent representation of the organization. New school CEOs have added to this luster, by being vocal, public figures with a personal following. In the case of Gap and Tesla, their CEOs effectively marketed the organizational change that was needed. They became CEO-Change Marketeers (CEO-CM), doing two things at the same time: driving change as championed by the customer, and marketing their organization’s responsiveness and adaptability. Speed is essential: Elon Musk reacted on Twitter within 20 minutes and changed the product in 6 days, Gap’s CEO responded in 2 weeks and a new Chewbacca shirt is coming out this month.

Option 2: Drive the change through the organization

Obviously, tweets to the CEO are only one of the many touchpoints an organization has with customers. There are in fact thousands of opportunities for an organization to listen, learn and adapt every day. Again, it starts with listening. That is why at ING Bank for example, new employees spend the first week at their new job at customer support.

If you give your teams enough autonomy, they will feel they have the authority to act. They can be their own chief executive when they listen to customers, and can align their response with company strategy. This also is an opportunity for marketing and branding your organization’s responsiveness, but on a much more direct level. With the right measure of freedom, Agile teams create change even faster than CEOs, and do it simultaneously on a very large scale.

The Agile organization is the best of both worlds

An Agile organization embraces customers and listens to them attentively. It may even be helped by the CEO to communicate to a broad audience. But the Agile organization’s sustainable change capacity comes from its teams. They are at the forefront of the organization, and should be at the forefront of change. So that when a busload of 5-year old girls and middle aged men knock on your door, you are ready for them.

Gidion Peters

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