Anyone who has spent time in a medium to large organization over the last ten years has probably heard the term “internal client.” The idea is that you should be treating your clients like royalty and your colleagues deserve the same treatment. This is an excellent idea, in theory. There are, however, big problems that develop when the idea is translated to the real world.
When you communicate with a client, you likely have on your “game face” and project a high degree of professionalism. This should definitely be carried over when you communicate with internal colleagues, suppliers, partners, etc. Whether you are talking with an assistant, your boss, or the CEO of a client, it pays to be thoughtful and articulate every time. When you ask a question, make sure it’s a smart one. When you present an analysis, spend a few minutes thinking ahead about your key message, supporting details, and follow-up or action items. This shows your team that you have respect for them. It also shows people that you are smart and competent.
The key word in the above description is not client. It is team. When you work with partners, whether they are in your company or outside suppliers or contractors, you are a team. As a team you share goals, attitudes and burdens. When you start to use the “internal customer” model, an “us vs. them” mentality evolves. After all, if the customer is always right, the give and take of a well-polished team goes out the window. Teammates have to work together to ensure that all their responsibilities are met, all their goals are achieved, and everyone comes out a winner.
Forget treating colleagues like customers. Treat customers and colleagues like team members. This way when one of you wins, all of you win.