It isn’t the prospect that kills the spirit of someone in sales. Nor is it the lack of trying that stops the forward progress of a project, or the size of the raise that kills an engaged employee’s initiative.
What grinds organizations to a halt is the battle that many companies find themselves in.
Companies today aren’t fighting the competition, they are fighting themselves. As the cartoon character Pogo said, “We have met the enemy … and he is us.”
If every business spent half the time and energy focusing on beating the competition that they spend fighting among themselves, there is no limit to what they could accomplish.
Imagine a more profitable company, with stronger cash flow, fewer employee issues, a sustainable competitive advantage, more clients, but fewer client issues; a better reputation.
What’s preventing this? A lack of alignment.
Rather than going through the painful yet necessary process to gain alignment, from top to bottom, from side to side, organizations make a default decision to underperform.
How? A majority of employee time and energy is spent inside the company, protecting the status quo. Only a minority of employees try to push through silos and stubbornness to get good things done or bad things stopped.
The client, the source of revenue, the place where the money comes to cover employee paychecks, expenses, overhead and profit, is rarely spoken about.
In this dysfunctional organization, which is very common, the client doesn’t matter.
So few people in companies actually speak or interact with clients.
In these companies, only the employees seem to matter. Their universe excludes the external world where relationships that bring in revenue live.
Let me illustrate what I am saying by paraphrasing a story that has made the rounds through the years:
One day the managers in a company met and started arguing about who among them should be in charge.
The head of sales said, “I do all the selling and bring in all the revenue so I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”
The accounting manager said, “I see everything, I count everything and I report every penny so the rest of you know where we are, profit-wise. I make sure we have enough money to cash your paychecks and so I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”
The head of customer service said, “Without me we wouldn’t be able to take care of any of the clients. You can’t pick anything up, deliver or set up any records without me. You can sell it, sales; and you can invoice and collect it, accounting, but I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”
The human resources manager said, “I hire everyone, discipline everyone and keep us out of legal trouble. Without me, you’d all be in court and perhaps jail. So I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”
The marketing manager said, “Without me we wouldn’t be advertising to make the phone ring, we wouldn’t need the service department and there would no one to hire, terminate or discipline, or money to count. I’m the most important and I should be in charge.”
Just then the janitor stepped into the meeting room, where he quickly got the drift of the conversation. He boldly said: “I think I should be in charge.”
Everyone laughed out loud, and the head of sales sale replied, “YOU?! You don’t do anything important! You can’t be in charge!”
The janitor was humiliated and went on a work slowdown. After just one day, trash cans were over flowing, the doors and windows were dirty and covered with fingerprints, the restrooms had were filthy, the carpets had not been vacuumed; the kitchen was unsightly, with dirty dishes in the sink and on the countertops and old food was smelling up the refrigerator.
The level of cooperation, never high, had stretched people to the point where no one was even civil to one another.
After just the second day, the department heads met again and all agreed that they couldn’t take it anymore. Rather than face the real issue of their inflated opinions of themselves and their inability to work together, they did the only thing they could all agree on: they fired the janitor.
It’s no secret why some companies do better than others. The battle is to be waged against the competition, for the client, not each other.
My message: quit fighting and start delivering!
Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies, and greater profitability. Please contact him at Ken.Keller@StrategicAdvisoryBoards.com. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.