Leading a company is not what it used to be
By JOSEPH TAN
About a decade ago, the only mantra that an organisation needed was “Put Customers First”, then everything else would be aligned and profits would come pouring in. Not so in today’s universe of corporate variables. The field now contains many more players; and even customers themselves may not always be right.
If you are a leader, the realisation is this – your pool of followers and associates have just gotten more diverse, more difficult to manage, more difficult to please. And on top of that, the customer still wants to be right.
Marcus Buckingham states:
“Above all else, a leader must be clear.”
No mapping of your universe is possible if you don’t even know how that universe looks like.
Hence, before you identify your stakeholders, define the scope and extent of your organisation’s universe.
From an organisational consulting perspective, we would label your universe as “company vision” – that overused word which gets a bad rap because it is usually the rallying point for high executive fervour but is poorly executed. Yet, without vision, an organisation will perish.
Have a clear vision
The challenge is not the validity of a leader’s vision. Rather, it is in his ability to operationalise that vision into key results which will excite and align the entire organisation. Gallup reports that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged – the reason for this lacklustre finding is not the absence of vision, rather it is in the lack of clarity.
How can the leader translate the vision with such precision so that every frontline employee carries the passion to achieve the result rather than just doing a job?
An example from Partners in Leadership was a random visit to one of their clients (a restaurant chain) revealed an employee who was busy clearing the tables.
When asked what his job was, he responded:
“My job is to achieve a 5.5% profit margin, and here’s how I do it: The faster I clean and set a table, the more people we seat per hour. The more people we seat, the greater our contribution. The greater our contribution, the better our margin. That’s what I do.”
This is clarity of vision
The mapping of your company’s universe is incomplete if every frontline employee cannot articulate your desired key result.
In one of my consulting sessions, a senior manager remarked, “The test of an organisation’s vision is this: The results to be achieved must be so clear that even the tea lady can articulate it with ease and confidence.” He is right.
Assuming that there is clarity of vision, here are three broad groups of stakeholders that you as the organisational leader need to embrace into your “eco-vision” (a group of interrelated players which reinforce a common direction):
Eco-Player No. 1: Those with conviction
In the pursuit of profitability and growth, it is easy for the organisation to be so caught up in its many roles that it forgets about its soul.
Without conviction, the operation of the company becomes dry, clinical and routine – yes, the numbers are coming in but the hearts and minds of employees are nowhere to be found.
That is the reason why certain companies keep framed photos of their founder(s) at the reception area – their image represents the passion and purpose by which the organisation was founded in the first place.
Profits – real, sustainable ones – are an outcome of the leader’s conviction. Being busy without a sense of conviction and mission would lead a company down the slippery road of performance without engagement.
The task then is to stay in touch with those who represent the spirit and reason why the organisation was established. Get them to come and connect with employees during town hall meetings, share life experiences and give testimonies.
Who are those with conviction? They could possibly be:
- The founder(s).
- Family members and relatives of the founder(s).
- Previous CEOs.
- Long serving employees.
- Loyal clients.
- And of course, the current CEO.
Eco-Player No. 2: Those who collaborate
Besides vision, the other overused word is teamwork. We all know the importance of teamwork and the need for everyone to get along, to be rowing in the same direction.
However, teamwork presupposes that there are answers to the following questions:
- Is there alignment between personal and professional goals?
Translated “Is what you want also what I want?”
- Is there recognition in a way that is meaningful?
Translated “Are you paying attention to what I am doing?”
- Is there support for me to achieve the key results?
Translated “Why are you so stingy?”
In mapping out your stakeholders’ universe, do not view supporting partners as merely “dots on the organisation map”. They are not dots. Rather, they are connecting neurons from which the culture of your organisation originates.
The reason why teamwork has become a cliché is because it has been reduced to a series of techniques to be applied rather than a culture to be created. The key focus in effective stakeholder mapping is this – include collaborators to be a part of your organisation culture.
Most organisations would have employee awards but how about supplier and vendor recognition? Our view of engagement should extend to our collaborators as well so that they not only follow the specifications but they are also an embodiment of our company’s spirit as well.
Collaborators can be both internal and external:
- Vendors, suppliers.
- Family members of employees (yes, they need appreciation as well).
- Other company divisions or subsidiaries.
- Retired employees (they are a great source of insight and wisdom, furthermore most of them still share the company’s soul).
Eco-Player No. 3: Those who compensate
Finally, we get to the part where we consider – who pays the bills? Gallup’s definition of entrepreneurship is an interesting one – turning an idea into a customer.
When we look at business from this perspective, the size of our stakeholders’ universe suddenly expands to embrace not only those who are willing to compensate us for our products and services now but rather those we can embrace so that they can be a potential stakeholder in our future product development and creation.
If the future is where we will be, wouldn’t it be logical to start looking for those who could potentially compensate us in the future as well?
Beyond leveraging your current base of clients, constantly ask yourself this question:
“How can I create a base of stakeholders who will be willing to compensate me for showing them the future?”
Who are those whom you should consider as your compensators?
- Current customers.
- Consider your customers’ customers/suppliers/partners.
- Investors, venture capitalists.
- Complementary partners.
Conclusion: The call to lead clearly
At the end of the day, it is not what you sell but what you stand for. As you lead your organisation through a maze and network of eco-relationships, your stakeholders are looking for a beacon of clarity – a true north by which they can align their time, talent and resources.
When the number of relationships increase, resist the temptation of trying to be everything to everyone – this pleases the crowd but dilutes the vision.
Your role as the organisational leader is to provide the rallying point that aligns the network together and to ensure that the vision stays clear, consistent and sharp.
Leading a company is not what it used to be because the vision is not as clear as what it ought to be.