While catching up on my PDUs for my current PMP cycle, I watched a taped 2013 Webinar recording in the Agile practice by Christopher Avery called Agility, Your Leadership Gift. And while there were lots of hidden gems in the discussion about personal responsibility and leadership, I’m going to expand on one of the points that rang true for me from my experience leading customer facing cross-functional teams.
Christopher points out that problems occur in the gaps between people. Often issues occur between individual people, teams and silos, companies and customers because of miss understood lines of responsibility and unmet expectations. How often have we all heard the expression that a problem arose because “things fell through the cracks” He then went on to explain that the ideal solution to these problems is not reorganization or rewriting of agreements, but in finding the higher goal that the separate sides would benefit from, and forge a joint resolve to accomplish that goal.
In this post I want to look at this concept with respect to how it relates to a company’s internal gaps between its customer facing teams – often Silos – of Marketing, Sales and Service. (The problems that occur in the gaps between companies and customers deserves an entire conversation on its own.)
For now lets’ look internal.
I’m a little loath to say – let’s look internal – because all too often in these situations where a company is not doing well in the boundaries between groups and teams, they actually have too much of an internal focus.
Like most people who have worked in a variety of business settings in different work modes, I’ve seen my share of situations where this goes on. With symptoms that include things like: Endless organization and re-organization – shifting people management between company teams or customer teams. Internal conference calls and escalations, which include finger pointing and blaming disguised as “lessons learned”. Fiefdoms overly focused on hitting their own performance indicators at all costs – often with someone at the helm that would have a lot in common with a medieval warlord. People concerned with covering their back, keeping their head down and not really doing anything exceptional.
For me the reason you want to avoid this internal focus is all about costs – costs in terms of time, resources and human capital. With the people working in these toxic environments often consumed rather than energized by their work. Eventually either burning out or moving on.
I’m loath to say – let’s look internal – because the answer is actually to look external. The higher goal for these teams that can help resolve these internal issues is to focus on delighting the customer. By delighting, I like to take a Lean definition, which defines delight as providing value for the customer rather than simply making them feel good. All these teams should be focused on making sure that the customer achieves the customer’s desired benefit from the product or service.
I’m not saying throw out processes, tools and internal agreements. These are necessary to have an agreed understanding of how we all play together in the sandbox. It’s just that they should not be the primary focus, and they should be created out of the understanding of the higher goal of collaborating to deliver value to the customer.
If the company fosters a culture of excellence that is focused on the customer first, then it doesn’t really matter how it’s organized. You can organize as customer segment teams or functional teams or with some cross pollination. The point is people are clear what the higher goal is. They can focus on their individual role and responsibilities in terms of how it services this higher goal. And often, as an additional positive outcome of this customer focus, they also hit those individual performance indications.
Okay… enough philosophy. Let’s look at a couple of real world examples of better outcomes from holding a customer focused approach over an internal silo focused approach .
Let’s consider a situation where a customer impacting outage occurs that has the potential to risk SLA penalties being applied to the account revenue. The customer reports the outage to the escalation team service desk who begins to work on resolving the problem. The high-end customer has a dedicated sales team, including a technical SME who is onsite doing other work. What happens next? In a Silo environment, the Sales SME might report the situation to the Account Manager, who might then get on the phone with the Service Manager and start screaming that service team resources need to jump on the problem and provide a quick fix. In a customer-first environment, the Sales SME might temporarily take over point of contact with the customer, acting as a go-between with the Service teams, facilitating on the ground information gathering to help with the diagnosis. The Account Manager and Service Manager are kept in the loop as to what’s happening and trust their teams are both focused on getting the customer system restored as quickly as possible.
Let’s consider another situation. A Sales Rep makes an informal contact with a prospect, and because they are going into a meeting they don’t yet update the CRM system to add in this prospect. The prospect goes onto the company website and downloads a whitepaper – with the result that they get automatically entered as a lead and become a member of the Marketing team’s re-marketing campaign. In a Silo environment, this might result in an internal battle over who should follow-up with the customer as a next step – the Sales Rep or does the marketing campaign continue with qualification. As well there may be argument when this prospect eventually results in a sale as to who gets the incentive reward. In a customer-focused environment the priority would be to determine what the prospect needs to help them with their buying decision. The Sales Rep, having talked with the customer, is considered to be in the best position to qualify the customer. They may qualify them as being ready to be considered an opportunity to pursue, or recommend that Marketing continue with the drip feed information campaign. And the down-the-road incentive is based on this decision. Either way, the customer has access to the company’s white papers and other collateral without knowing this internal decision took place at all.
The point in both these examples is that the company team organization, processes, and tools still exist in both approaches. The difference is in attitudes and responses of the individuals working in this company structure. The difference is how the individuals work collaboratively, to make sure the customer gets what they need – a restored service in our first example and information to help with the buying decision in the second.
Photo credit: Microsoft clipart