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Reconciling Organizational and Cultural Perspectives

If only it were as simple as reconciling Venus, Mars, and Earth! In addition to the “intrinsic” mindsets or approaches different people carry, there are also “extrinsic” fault lines to consider. These are extrinsic in the sense that they are a function of organizational constructs, related interests, and “tribal” dynamics, more than native personality traits and experiences of individual executives. These divisions exist to varying degrees in all organizations, and you ignore them at your peril. In what could well be a corollary to Einstein’s proposition about the importance of asking the right question, there’s Peter Drucker’s famous observation that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”4

Across our conversations, the executives interviewed for this book called out eight fault lines they’ve experienced to be relevant. Listed below and in Figure 1.3, six are functionally defined, and two are more a matter of culture.

  1. One major border lies between marketing and sales, demarcated by the Qualified Lead. This is a hotly disputed division everywhere, even in film: recall the famous scene in “Glengarry Glen Ross” where Alec Baldwin dresses down the sales team after they complain about the quality of the leads they have to work with.5
  2. Inside the marketing function, we often find a split between brand, product, and direct marketers, who, variously, come from “creative,” “strategic,” and “analytic” backgrounds.
  3. It’s common also to find a split between analytical or research teams on one side, and the “line” sales and marketing executives they serve; this is especially true when analytical resources are collected together someplace and segregated, physically and organizationally from their “customers.” The supposed advantages of “critical mass” then have to be actively cultivated, through training, sharing, and cross-disciplinary collaboration, to offset the costs of isolation that are charged by default.
  4. There’s often a strong “demand” vs. “delivery” animus. Having to make, serve, or support what someone else promises, or, conversely, having to sell a product or service that inevitably as designed can’t exactly fit what a customer might want to buy, are significant challenges. Hence the split between marketing and sales, on one side, and “ops” on the other.
  5. The biggest chasm observed is often between “the business” and IT. Stereotypically, IT often thinks and talks in terms of projects, programs, service level agreements, and governance, while marketing and sales tend to be more goal-oriented and quota-driven.
  6. The “driver” functions—marketing, sales, IT, operations—also eternally struggle with “constraint” functions, such as finance, legal, and even HR.
  7. There’s the classic “home office vs. the field” tension, best expressed by the cynical saying, “Hi, we’re from corporate, and we’re here to help!”
  8. Finally, there’s a natural tension that emerges between “old-culture insiders” and “new-culture outsiders” when an acquisition is completed or a senior executive is hired and slowly works to bring in “his or her own people.” The lines of demarcation here are often stylistic, even when functional, experiential, or educational backgrounds are similar. Examples of these stylistic lines include patience versus urgency, consensual versus autocratic, degrees of polish and formality, and politeness versus directness, among many others.

    Figure 1.3

    Figure 1.3 Organizational Fault Lines

How you select and mix frameworks, and how you communicate the insights they lead to, must also start with a careful appraisal of the relative importance of, and degree of stress on, each of these fault lines. At one level, what questions to ask may seem obvious (“How do we increase sales and profits?”). But depending on your training and experience, your role, your incentives, and your particular pressures, your interests and needs can run in a very different direction from your senior peers’. Each of the groups described above will have its own idea of what questions should be asked and its own frameworks for determining those questions. For example:

  • Salespeople will want clear qualification criteria with solid data.
  • Finance people will want logical, well-founded (benchmarks and past precedents) business cases.
  • IT people will want explicit requirements, prioritization, and timing.
  • Field people will want useful, high quality “templates” (both specific and conceptual) that leave room for them to innovate, along with data for which template works best.

If you can’t get some agreement on what to pursue, your investment in analytic capability building isn’t likely to pay off. If you’re not careful to balance the language you use across different groups’ dialects, or to find some plainspoken common denominator, you will miss people. Also, you must be sensitive and intentional to perceived allocations of credit (or blame) when you present certain facts. For example, is a low or inefficient conversion from one step to the next the fault of the quality of the lead or the skill of the closer? Decisions about where to focus your de-averaging and modeling efforts will be guided in part by political sensitivities as much as factual uncertainty. In this political context, striving for a perfect answer may be practically impossible. You may need to confront the temporary reality that the “A” answer you believe in must sometimes be subordinated to the “B” answer you can make happen.

Probing for the relative importance and stress on different fault lines can be done in a very “consultative,” indirect manner. For example, you might ask questions like,

  • “So, how’s business?” (I’ve found that how a person answers this is very telling. “Well, we’re ten percent behind our sales goal” is a very different answer from “Well, my new CRM system is three months late,” or “Our market share is down five percent,” or “Really my biggest challenge is getting the team to come together.”)
  • “What are the most important, least-understood issues you’re facing? Why are they the most important, and what do you think you need to know more about? How high is the burden of proof?” This is a good question to ask across the analyst/businessperson divide. It’s not uncommon for the analytic agenda to be divorced from the issues that are top of mind for the operator. (More on how to keep those connected in Part III.) Also, it’s often the case that analysts have higher bars for the precision of the analysis than the decision being supported requires.
  • “What part of your experience or training called your attention to this issue? Is there a specific way of thinking about issues like this that you’ve applied, that points to this issue?” This question will help you gauge the degree of functional myopia that you’ll need to overcome.
  • “What are your current plans for doing something about this? What else needs to be done? What would you suggest gets de-emphasized to make room for that?”
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