The first step in "leaning" an organization is to define value as the customer sees it. That means understanding what the customer is willing to pay for. Anything else is "non-value-add" and ripe for elimination or reduction.
In the past week or so, I've come across these three examples of organizations that apparently do not understand value from the customer's point of view.
The first example is my local cable company (see the story here), where it appears the cable company executives have never taken the time to walk in their customers' shoes. The result is a customer (me) who will walk away from them as quickly as he can, and who will tell everyone he can find about his bad experience.
The second example is Seth Godin's post about the White Plains airport, where he bemoaned the things that were done to him rather than for him.
The third example, continuing in the travel vein, is this post by Jon Miller, which recounts his ordeal with an airline that failed to understand value to him and to the hundreds of passengers who were frustrated along with him.
Frank Dottori, retired CEO of Tembec, said it clearly and concisely: "If you don't have a customer, you don't have a business." And if you don't understand what the customer will pay for, and work to give it to her, she will find someone else to pay. And there goes the store.
I can't do much about my cable company, the airport in White Plains, or the airline Jon writes about. But I can do my best to understand value as defined by my/our customers, and insist that the folks on my team start from that foundation.