“To succeed consistently, good managers need to be skilled not just in choosing, training, and motivating the right people for the right job, but in choosing, building, and preparing the right organization for the job as well.” — Clayton Christensen
Last week a client shared his perspective on managing a high-performing company. “We’re doing all the basic things right,” he began. “But as the General Manager I need to build on what we’re doing right and prepare for what’s next.” It was a thought-provoking admission. The company he manages is already very successful by anyone’s standards. Yet, the innovations that make companies successful also limit their willingness to innovate or risk change. Parity amongst competitors encroaches. Once-lauded advantages become liabilities. So in answer to the question that many high-performing managers are asking, here are seven organizational shifts that smart business owners and managers are utilizing in order to find the next “gear” in their team’s performance:
- Shifting from centralization to de-centralization. Here’s a classic scenario: A room full of 20 or 30 service technicians. These men and women see hundreds of customers every day. They’re great at what they do. At the front of the room is a Service Manager. He’s telling the team how to do their job exceptionally well. Which they already do. He’s scripting a greeting, advising them as to how to ingratiate themselves to their customers, supplying practical advice. All good stuff. But the dialogue is a one way street. There’s limited opportunity to share best-practices. There’s not much time given to reciprocal “From your perspective how can we improve?” From an outsider’s perspective it’s impossible to determine if the audience is engaged. This is the classic top-down leadership style that keeps the operational side of the business at arm’s length from strategy conversations. The same can be said of the relationship between leadership and administration, marketing, sales, installation teams, and service workers. De-centralizing leadership does not mean that leadership disappears. It means that leadership is everywhere in a business. Learning to integrate intrinsic leadership with extrinsic positional requirements helps a manager capitalize on great ideas from a variety of sources. The result is greater “buy in” from front-line team members, more lucid line-of-sight in to the market, as well as practical solutions to everyday concerns.
- Shifting from linear outcomes to alternative perspectives. This is about adaptability. Linear thinking, “if my company does “X” then “Y” will occur” was a huge success when Kirby vacuum cleaner salespeople were still hawking. For example, “If I sprinkle dirt on the carpet then the prospect will freak out and then I’ll save the day and sell something.” However, in an economy that is now hyper networked the salesperson in question can be entirely avoided. Adaptable organizations have a high degree of trust, they have empowered employees, there’s a sense of shared consciousness among the group, and they’re nimble in that they make decisions in real-time. Again, the organizational strength and character allows for greater adaptability.
- Shifting from macro-thinking to meta-thinking. Macro-thinking: We’re going to need to start integrating videos in to our sales presentation. Meta-thinking: We’re going to need to have a three-year plan that will fully integrate virtual reality in to our daily customer interface. Big difference. But the latter is the meta-example of where retail business will be in three (maybe less) years. In other words, stop trying to be the best at what’s currently available. Be the best at what nobody else is doing before they start doing it.
- Shifting from disciplinary silos to trans-disciplinary functions. Why do all miliary recruits learn first aid? Certainly not all of them are going to be medics. I’m not suggesting that salespeople must be installers or that administrative teams understand service work. I am simply saying that offices tend to turn in to echo chambers. The sales team, isolated in their room, say the same things day in and day out. Installers, administrative teams. It’s all the same. Traditional organizational charts–a concept that is over 200 years old–maintain that efficiency is maximized by isolating functions. And if the task at had were, say, building a machine on an assembly line, the logic might work. But in a customer service business the administrative function can make or break the sales function. The sales function can accelerate or impede the installation function. In the customer service business the men and women doing the work do not exist in isolation or without outside influence from the customer. Smart managers are embedding functions in to each other–creating a shared sense of purpose, strategy, and outcome.
- Shifting from static environments to adaptive, resilient environments. The market is less and less susceptible to sales people or traditional sales tactics. Customers are highly independent, curate information on very specific terms, are networked, and well-researched. Sales organizations need to focus on an expertly designed customer journey with high-touch intersections woven throughout. One-size-fits-all customer service models–especially for in-home sales–will be less relevant in the future.
- Shifting from mechanistic to organic customer service models. Sales managers frequently ask: “What did you close today?” Or, “Did it close?” They rarely ask: “How will you grow this new relationship?” In other words, shifting from transactional (mechanistic) management to relational (organic) management involves setting a new expectation: We’re in a race for relationships. Maintaining communication, relevance, trust is a modern mandate for any professional sales organization.
- Shifting from hindsight to collective foresight. I’ve been in business planning sessions that I know are totally useless. Lots of back slapping. Even more sandbagging. One more thing to check off the “to do” list. Great managers know that business plans don’t exist in a vacuum. Not discounting their importance from once they’re made are they shared to the entire team? Are they evaluated by the teams responsible for performance? Do they include a conversation about the future trends that are shaping the market? Will a 2016 business plan and management strategy be sufficient if it doesn’t include mico-moments, e-commerce, free-lance talent, and a host of other advantages? In other words, business planning has historically been about…well…history. Brilliant plans shape a future that may not exist in known terms. They create rather than react.
I’m incredibly thankful that my friend shared his perspective with me. As companies like his reach the top of their game there are fewer and fewer “silver bullets” to fire. It feels great to be the best, but that’s often temporary. The answer to his question is not another one-off training session with short-term gains. It’s a significant organizational shift that will provide a sustainable and unmistakable advantage than cannot be imitated.