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Politics and business – a toxic mix

Ask most business leaders about office politics, and they're either in denial – “it may happen elsewhere, but not in my company” – or they seem to accept that it's “a normal feature of business life, just human nature”.
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A minority of CEOs will not tolerate it, and unsurprisingly, there’s a strong correlation between this intolerance and sustainable business success. This has also been strongly supported by the benchmarking studies conducted by The Sunday Times Best 100 Companies To Work For.

How often have you heard of Sales complaining that they get insufficient leads from Marketing; or Customer Service screaming at Production because they had insufficient visibility of product quality before delivery to customer (“it was just chucked over the wall for us to pick up the pieces”)? And what about Finance only seeing the costs, not the value creation; and everybody complaining that Sales have sold something that you haven’t got?

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This week, I was speaking at the BLN Growth Forum in Cambridge. My session, “Putting People First”, involved platform interviews with the European MD of LinkedIn (Ariel Eckstein), the group CEO of games powerhouse Jagex (Mark Gerhard) and the founder/CEO of Mimecast (Peter Bauer). 

All three of these organizations hire for attitude, have an established set of values and recognize that culture and employee engagement is the foundation of the business, and must be strong and stable to support sustainable growth. 

Nobody is saying they’ve got everything right, but the leaders of the business are setting the tone by making their unique cultures a key competitive differentiator.

We also heard an excellent example from Neil Gaydon, CEO of Pace Plc. Gaydon took over the business in 2006, when it had revenues of £175m and was losing money; and has since turned it around, growing revenues to £1.3bn and making it profitable.

From day one, he established a clear purpose for the business, focusing everybody on the needs of customers and underpinning it with a strategy, a structure and a culture, including clear measurable objectives linked to “on time, on quality and on budget”.

The business was restructured from functional silos to integrated customer account teams (CATs) with an obsessive focus on the customer.

From my experience at both IRIS and other businesses I’ve run, these initiatives must be led from the top. I’ve found the most important measure of all to be making Net Promoter Scores (NPS) a key business target for every employee, so that the true measure of success is the willingness of your customers to recommend you to others –this is the only genuine assessment of customer loyalty.

At a more detailed level, here are a few simple examples I have seen work to cut out the blame culture:

  • All marketing campaigns to be signed off by Sales; and remember, “if you can’t track it, you can’t spend it”
  • Production/engineering teams to meet customers and experience taking customer service calls
  • Head office/admin people to spend time in the business rather than in their ivory towers

So if the oxygen is being sucked from the room by colleagues slagging off other parts of the business (however senior they may be), maybe it’s time to crack some heads together and remind them why they’re in business in the first place, and get them focused on the customer.

Remember, every employee, regardless of their role, contributes to the total customer experience and that’s what we all sell.

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