Some Inconvenient Truths about Management

According to me, one of the best presentations of Webit 2011 was the lecture of Jason Little, the Creative Director of Landor Associates of Paris – “The Difference Between Normal and Exceptional”.

The essence of the presentation was impressive – how to reach extraordinary results by small changes.

Even more impressive was the fact that a creative director, who is usually concerned with totally different problems, used his presentation to “unveil” again some truths about management which are rarely discussed in Bulgaria but without which it is impossible to build a successful company in the long run. I myself have often told them during training seminars on management but I think it will be useful to mention them here.

Here are some points to think about:

1. People work only to serve their own interests and not because of the company, the shareholders or the top management!
There are several exceptions but they only prove the rule.

An employee performs his duties diligently and works with enthusiasm and consideration ONLY until he finds his personal interests satisfied.

Dear employers and top managers, there is no doubt you are the most important people in the company, but whether you like it or not, you have to take into account the employees’ personalities (at least those of your key people) and to work for their motivation the way they would appreciate and not the way you think is right. And don’t be surprised if you think you have offered to someone “a prestigious position in a well-known company, competitive performance based remuneration, dynamic job, opportunities for career development, excellent working conditions, young and ambitious team etc.” and he decides to leave…

One of the most important steps in motivating and retaining your people is to build and develop for each of them a clear understanding of the mission, the goal and one’s personal role in reaching the common target of your company.

You can easily find many versions of the story about US President John Kennedy’s visit to a NASA center during the preparation of the flight to the Moon. While passing by a cleaning man holding a mop, the President asked “And what do you do?”, and the man answered “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon”. Some argue the story is not real but the important thing here is that it illustrates how a low-qualified employee at the lowest level in the hierarchy demonstrates an absolute understanding and commitment to NASA’s corporate mission, goal and strategy.

And what do your cleaning men/women do?

2. Establishing and persisting in a definite company identity, corporate culture and sound work principles is the task of the top management lead by the owner or the CEO!

Persisting in a definite corporate model requires CONTINUOUS work from all but mainly from the management team lead by the owner or the CEO… It’s an illusion to think that someone else (the HR Manager, the Marketing Manager, an external consultant etc.) could do this work for you! Everyone else could HELP in better formulating different principles, in developing work tools and taking care of their implementation and application within the company, but not in being generators of ideas and creators of corporate identity and the corresponding corporate culture…

Let me give an illustration with trees. Imagine that the owner, the Director or the CEO who stands at the company’s basis is represented by the tree’s trunk which supports the crown and branches out to the thinnest twigs. Let us assume that the leaves symbolize the employees with no subordinates.

A solid organization where people share common ideas and make coherent efforts in the same direction would look like this:

Another organization where the branches think and act with no coordination to the trunk, and the twigs and the leaves have their own opinion would look like this:

I have chosen an autumn tree for this illustration by purpose. Soon the leaves will start to fall and winter will come. Winter might mean transition to another spring for a tree, but it does not mean an upward move for a company.

For a tree everything depends on the solid trunk, and it’s the same with companies – the role of the ideologist, the motivator and the engine for creating and implementing a definite culture and principles of work is the person or people who stand at the top of the organizational structure!

3. Understanding customers’ real needs and wishes is the only rational basis for making business decisions!

You could meet a client who knows exactly what he wants very rarely. Even if you get a clear and accurate description, most probably the real needs are different because the client is not an expert in the area, or has limited perspective, or makes impulsive emotional choices of products or services (however well they might be hidden as rational). Professional buyers make exception but they are people too…

This means you should demand that your employees intentionally collect, share and analyze any information about their clients’ real needs and wishes. This should be done not only by the sales people but also by all employees who have contacts with customers – servicemen, accountants and cashiers, carriers and drivers, specialists in installing software or other equipment etc.
You should initiate this process and constantly “keep the fire burning” because such information would enable you to get your business priorities right and plan where and in what to invest your money, time and efforts.

4. Customer service plays a key role in establishing a successful business.

It is well known that a unique product is an exceptional competitive advantage. This is true but only to a certain extent. If you have a great product but bad customer service, your unsatisfactory sales results are guaranteed! Vice versa, there are several examples of present-day business empires built on conventional products but with excellent customer service. Here is an example – Zappos has built its business with online selling of shoes and clothes entirely on the exceptional service: “Free Shipping. Free Returns. 365 Return Policy. 24/7 Customer Service. Happiness”. The online selling giant Amazon acquired Zappos for 1.2 billion dollars. This is the price paid for Zappos’ business model, not for its products.

Creating a system of such customer service does not mean telling your employees: “I want excellent service to customers and happy clients!” and leave them interpret it by their own understanding.

To develop a system of customer service means:
– To understand what customers REALLY value;
– To find out all points of contact between customers and your company (starting from company brochures and reaching the toilets that customers use);
– To define those processes which include contacts with clients and analyze how to optimize them for better customer satisfaction;
– To identify the working places and the employees’ roles which require customer communication and to create a system of working rules with usage guides, as well as a system of criteria for measuring and assessing of both the employees’ performance and the customers’ level of satisfaction.
– To provide an induction training and a number of consequent training seminars for the improvement of the employees’ performance;
– To introduce a customer service monitoring system and a comprehensive assessment of this activity;
– To regularly analyze results and plan improvement actions.

The outlined activities should be the result of continuous and intentional work, and not of accidental campaigns for customer service assessment and improvement!

Customers’ needs and wishes change, and in the same way customer service systems should be CONSTANTLY monitored and developed to be up-to-date to the market situation. Even more, it is best if customer service goes ahead of customers’ needs and shapes them in such a way that it would be difficult for competitors to copy the model.

And last – don’t forget about your internal clients, i.e. your employees! There is no better method to make them address clients the way you want than introduce the same model of service and high satisfaction levels within your company!

5. The personal example given by the top management is obligatory!

Before you blame someone or something for bad business results and before you criticize or fire an employee for his bad work, honestly answer the two questions:
– Do I personally follow the rules and principles I require from my people?
– Have I provided a work environment which is based on these rules and principles?

If you answer with “Yes” to both questions, it’ clear that you deal with an incompetent, incapable or lazy employee and you should decide whether to develop or loose him.

If at least one of your answers is “No”, first you have to do more of your own work!

How to meet the challenges I have described above? There is no common rule but I have some ideas. If you are interested, use the contact form and drop me a message and we could share our thoughts.

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