What relationships do you, or your team members, believe to be the most important in your business? If your answers are related to the hierarchical ones within your function, rather than the cross-functional ones across your organisation, you may well have an opportunity to positively impact customer experience and reduce expenses. In doing so, you could influence these two key profit drivers;
Significantly improve customer experience aiding retention or supporting acquisition
Making significant efficiency improvements and almost certainly reducing your costs.
Why dare to make what you might think is a bold statement? Having worked within private and publically owned businesses, I’m always intrigued by the differences placed on the value of collaboration. Indeed when I’ve explored, with genuine curiosity key drivers of poor customer experiences or high levels of cost, I’ve found that it often boils down to root causes at the points where one function interfaces with another. Maybe even more surprising is that such insights are not ‘new news’, rather everyone knows about them but doesn’t have the energy or motivation to resolve them. How often do you hear that your team has had to solve a problem because someone in another team did something to cause it, or didn’t do something because they were too busy with their own internal challenges? When this happens how often does customer service and brand reputation suffer? And how often does having to intervene mean inefficiency and additional cost? Is any of this sounding familiar?
I absolutely accept that in a dynamic business environment things are always going to go wrong; it’s rare for operational processes to cater for every single eventuality. However, in my experience it’s the relationships and value of collaboration within the organisation that underpin the operating process; yet the process is blamed far more frequently than the behaviors of those involved in it. Business literature (Forbes, HBR etc.) provides many silo smashing top tips including creating a unified vision, engaging teams in working towards common goals, collaborating and communicating, then establishing measures to monitor progress. However, despite this wisdom businesses, all around the world, still grapple with overcoming ‘silo mentality’ and poor collaboration.
I have a theory on why this is…. I’m not going to suggest that breaking silos down and building a culture of collaboration doesn’t need all of the things mentioned in the blogs and articles you’ll find in seconds through your chosen search engine. However, I do believe to be successful in changing such deep seated mindsets, one big and hugely challenging thing needs to come first. This is to turn the spotlight on the behaviors of the leaders in the business. In particular, the way they act as role models for collaboration through consistently demonstrating aligned behaviours and a credible united front to the entire organisation. Any ‘dysfunctionality’ visible to the colleagues they lead acts as unspoken permission reinforcing functional tribal norms.
I was recently reminded of the leadership metaphor that ‘fish rot from the head’ and this is one area where I believe it is particularly relevant. I’ve experienced periods in businesses where despite significant investment in (re)launching values and (re)stating visions, heralding ‘a new dawn in market leading/ world class service for our customers’, pretty much nothing changed. Fundamentally this came down to what the entire workforce observed and experienced happening right at the top of the organisations. The top-level leadership team behaviours themselves became barriers to cross-functional integration, preventing the collaboration required to deliver the customer centric vision that the team had congratulated themselves on creating. After all, it’s far more comfortable to sit and discuss a future vision of delivering the best customer experience than it is to sit and confront what Jim Collins might call the ‘brutal facts’ relating to how to achieve it; although having said that Jim would have advocated getting the right people on the bus in the first place.
This is where the role of a coach can be invaluable, working with both teams and individuals. Experienced coaches will observe behaviors and reflect their observations back to the leaders, skillfully and without judgment, avoiding the conflicts and relationship risks that can prevent this happening in their absence. They can create the environment for open and honest conversations through curiosity and help leadership teams to develop, maintain and role model appropriate behaviours to the organisation. They can then work with individuals to help them broaden perspectives and consider their role in leading cultural change and realizing a shared vision.
Then, with this foundation a united collaborative leadership cadre working together leading their teams by putting their words into action, can establish the other elements and be further encouraged with suitable incentives.
The Leadership Coaches have experience of working with business leaders across a range of challenges in addition to the issues highlighted here. If you’d like to know more please get in touch.
Article written by Andy Powell, ACC, Associate Coach, The Leadership Coaches.