While on recent business trips to London, UK and Dublin, Ireland, and earlier in the summer to Toronto, I hooked up with new and old colleagues who work for well-known companies. The theme across the board was fairly bleak, people telling me horror stories regarding their jobs in today’s world. A colleague in London told me how everyone in the company he works for is stressed to the max because of its poor top-end performance. People are working fourteen-hour days to stay afloat. They’re unhappy. Morale is down. “It’s no fun working in the corporate world any more,” he explained. “All the good people are leaving - everybody’s constantly on the hunt for something better, and the minute it comes along they’re gone.”
While in Toronto, I went out to watch a game with a colleague at a local pub. We started chatting with three young women - each in her early thirties - who worked for yet another large company. Without exception these women told us they were very unhappy with their jobs. They talked about - you guessed it – fourteen-hour days. They explained that mountains of paper waited for them every day, data and reports that bogged them down.
I asked about the impact this trend was having on their personal life. “Who’s got time for a relationship?” one of these women asked, each of the others laughing in response, each displaying shortly afterward a subtle sadness in her eyes. One of them went on to explain that after dinner, “we’ll go home to work until midnight despite the fact we’re all exhausted.”
Customers in the Cold
There were several common elements in each of these stories, but the most surprising wasn’t about the employees at all. Apparently day-to-day procedures have gotten so onerous that little time is left at the end of day for the people who ultimately pay the bills: the company’s customers. Absentee vice-presidents and new software appeared to be the culprits. “Our boss is rarely seen. When we see him it’s only to tell us we suck and that new software was being brought in to make the company more efficient.” Apparently the software did the opposite, increasing the workload, and the data, and the reports, leaving little time for anything else.
The Bleeding Has Stopped
Each of the companies mentioned here are struggling to maintain market share in an unpredictable economy. Without exception, these companies were still meeting their quarterly numbers, but they weren’t meeting their sales targets, causing profit to be squeezed from somewhere else. Some might believe that tough times require employees to work longer and harder. Fair enough, but despite the fact profits are being realized it’s logical to assume it isn’t being done in a sustainable way.
A company cannot succeed in the long term unless it retains high performing people at all levels. If people’s personal lives are adversely affected it’s only a matter of time before they leave for another job or simply burnout at the one they’ve got. The company doesn’t exist unless its partners are happy, whether its shareholders or suppliers, and it most definitely won’t exist unless it puts the customer first.
Don’t Even Think About It
Apparently leadership in these companies is largely unaware of the problems plaguing people on the front lines and for the most part, managers and front line workers are afraid to speak up. As one of my colleagues explained, “A co-worker spoke at a company meeting about how procedures have bogged the team down, and that little time was available for the customer. Shortly afterward he was demoted.”
Solve Problems - Entertaining Stakeholders
As we navigate this recession it’s stories like these that remind us that the economy still hasn’t really recovered from the 2008 crash. It’s clear that shrinking and changing markets are forcing companies to squeeze more out of what they’ve got. The logical response is to hire a procedural expert or an enterprise software firm to create efficiencies. According to my clients this has worked well for them but it appears that a lot of companies are beyond any further squeezing.
It’s also clear that top-down approaches to strategic planning aren’t working. Each of my colleagues indicated that accessibility to upper management is not common, suggesting that strategic plans were being created, in the words of one of my colleagues, in an “ivory tower, behind the curtain” kind of way, and according to this colleague, the people outside these groups were simply being told what to do (if you have to question why this shouldn’t be happening please re-read this article and then come back here when you’re done).
With this said, I have to believe that senior managers want their employees to be successful and that much of the problem is based on the fact that the guys and gals at the top creating policies and strategic plans cannot be in all places at all times. But there is a problem and for companies to be successful in this market, it appears that conventional approaches to business are no longer effective – that it’s time to reengineer the way we motivate and manage.
Senior managers are expert at making policies and procedures, but managers are expert at managing and monitoring them. Front line workers are expert at implementing policies and procedures, which means they’re spending the greatest amount of time with customers and therefore, have a lot of valuable insight to share. Shareholders and suppliers have a vested interest in the company’s success, and last but certainly not least, it is the customer who brings a healthy top-line to the equation and a lot of valuable insight.
Traditionally we’ve viewed these as disparate groups but in today’s economy it is input from a wide range of stakeholders that bridges communication gaps, creates efficiencies and ultimately improves customer relationships (translation: maximize profits). Internally, we need to bring people together, people who clearly aren’t happy with each other, to pool skill sets and perspectives. We need to take full advantage of today’s digital media-rich world and entertain them with stories about our vision for a better tomorrow, our plans, our brands, and our products. Externally, we need to take these stories and raise the standards of advertising by engaging our customers in dialogue regarding these stories.
We need to keep our businesses profitable by banding together instead of spreading apart and pointing fingers. We need to enage customers in a way we haven’t before. We need to make doing business in the corporate world fun again.
It has been said by many a company that the customer is always first. That’s very true, but before we prepare our strategic plans and our corporate visions we need to consider a different way of thinking. We need an approach that keeps the customer first in our minds, but third in the planning process, right behind our shareholders and employees, whose balanced time and input is required to ensure the customer feels like they’re the only thing that matters._____________________________
John Pineau, MCP is the CEO & Founder of OZZ media corp.
OZZ creates the Herobrand™, a profitable state achieved by a corporation when it does good for the world.
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