Successful businesses embed their customers’ needs and desires so deeply within their corporate culture that they are felt and acknowledged by every single one of their employees, a new whitepaper claims.

Drawing on the example of global brand Disney – which pioneered this approach more than 60 years ago and still lives by it today – Culture by Design explores how organisations can do the right thing for their customers by intentionally designing a culture of customer excellence.

The joint whitepaper, published by academics from Cranfield School of Management and two former senior executives from Disney, shows how enabling employees to stay focused on what matters to customers, equipping them to go the extra mile, and empowering them to use their common sense and judgement within clear boundaries can result in sustained commercial success for businesses that make that commitment.

Professor Emma Macdonald, Professor of Marketing at Cranfield School of Management, is one of the authors of the report. She said: “We believe that every organisation has all the tools at its disposal to deliver consistent, differentiated and sustained customer value. Culture can seem overwhelmingly hard to change, so busy leaders need proven operational solutions, and that is what we are endeavouring to provide with this whitepaper.

“There are, of course, many examples of companies out there that are already doing this, and doing it well, but we use Disney as our example as we are yet to find another organisation that has found such a formal way to embed a new culture and make it stick.”

Disney has a specific methodology to instil a customer-led culture, which was launched by Walt Disney himself in 1955 as a way of systematising his vision before expanding his film studio into the highly complex service business it is today. The company’s framework hardwires customer expectations into the heart of the business, and human resources are then deployed strategically to permeate a customer-centric culture throughout the organisation.

Report co-author Chris Humphrey held a number of high-level positions within Disney before co-founding business strategy and customer experience consultancy Pelorus Jack to pass his expertise on to other companies. He said: “Organisations are hitting the headlines every week for wayward ethics, underperformance and poor productivity. As they have become increasingly complex with narrow functional specialisations and organisational siloes too, many have lost sight of their customers and their employees, leading to a weakening of trust in institutions, business and leadership.

“Many organisations have experienced an exceptional leader who inspires everybody to focus on what their customers value. Very few have someone to establish a methodology and inspire a legacy of customer excellence, continuous improvement and commercial success.”

According to research figures, in 2017 in the UK, trust in business lay at just 33% (Edelman), with only 11% of employees claiming to feel engaged at work (Gallup). This is supported by the findings of a 2013 study by McKinsey and Company, which showed only 22% of directors know how their firms create value, and just 16% strongly understand the sector within which they are working.

The Culture by Design whitepaper shows businesses how to:

  • Grow bigger and more complex without losing the agility, focus and connection to customers that originally gave the organisation its momentum and energy
  • Improve employee engagement and productivity by empowering everybody to take spontaneous, creative and flexible decisions, at the same time as giving them the clarity to stay on the same course
  • Enable customer experience initiatives to force sustained commercial impact, rather than simply patching up the status quo, tackling the low-hanging fruit or remaining exposed to competitors who have a much better understanding of customer needs
  • Inspire people with a purpose that unites everybody around a common understanding of what value customers want the firm to deliver
  • Ensure changes have long-term benefits by using HR strategically to permeate them throughout the entire organisation.


About Cranfield University

Cranfield has been a world leader in management education and research for over 50 years, helping individuals and organisations learn and succeed by transforming knowledge into action. We are dedicated to creating responsible management thinking, improving business performance and inspiring the next generation of business leaders. We work to change the lives of our students and executives by encouraging innovation and creative thinking, as well as the drive to succeed and make a real impact on their organisations.

Organisations as diverse as Jaguar Land Rover, BAE Systems, Royal Dutch Shell, L’Oréal, UNICEF and the African Development Bank have benefited from our work, which ranges from management research projects, through staff talent management development on our MBA courses, to customised executive programmes.

Cranfield is one of an elite group of Schools worldwide to hold the triple accreditation of: AACSB International (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), EQUIS (European Quality Improvement System) and AMBA (the Association of MBAs).

We are in the Top 10 International Business Schools in the Forbes’ ranking.

Our open and customised executive education programmes are ranked in the top five in the UK, according to the latest Financial Times survey, and in the top ten in the world for international reach. Over 10,000 people come to Cranfield each year to benefit from our executive and professional development programmes.