Effective Strategies as Internal Simulators

Liz felt held back for the past three years. In her role as Director of HR and Operations in a large agricultural company, she had been tracking productivity for a while and saw how the growth in sales had slowed down over the last few years. “Our CEO has been in the company for five years and was able to establish new values and work ethics in this time. He is a natural leader and people have great respect for him. Despite his great leadership, he feels stuck when it comes to our sales department. It seems like half of the time he has to talk about the importance of relationships in sales and the other half of the time is spent dealing with client complaints. He would really rather focus his time on growing the company. Instead, he often talks about feeling held back by his own people.” (Director of HR and Operations, agricultural industry)

Even their best sales people didn’t spend enough time on the phone. Their CEO often had to rush back to call clients because they were outraged by the service they received. As the Director of HR and Operations, Liz felt there was more they could do to support the teams and the CEO.

The goal was to increase capital by focusing on greater outreach and business development, but in order to achieve this, several things within the company needed to change.  They could not bring in new resources, so the CEO needed to free existing resources. The CEO expected people to take more responsibility and more initiative. “When you talk to managers and teams about what needs to change, people immediately look at what other departments should do differently. I’d like to see managers and teams take more responsibility for what they need to do.” (CEO, agricultural industry)

The teams’ perspectives were that the organization was managed in a highly controlled and centric manner. Team members and middle management had great respect for the leadership team and the CEO in particular, but the management culture, as identified by the team, was one that led to dependency and lack of initiative.

Getting people to make needed adjustments and changes that will lead to desired results starts with pinpointing a better strategy: one that the brain will prefer over other strategies and, when adopted, will supplement the team’s DNA with the missing link to desired results.

Generally speaking, these strategies will be an answer to an invisible need.  In the case of Liz’s organization, the desired result was that salespeople would invest more time nurturing clients and that service level would go up to minimize complaints.  Leaders in the organization believed that these two changes would free the CEO’s time to further grow the company.  A deeper assessment of which strategy was missing to give the team access to its full potential highlighted a strategy we call “Global Optimization vs. Local Optimization.”

In essence, global optimization is the preference to optimize long term, system-wide considerations, while local optimization is a preference to optimize immediate concerns. In some cases, teams use local optimization or global optimization without considering which approach is a better fit for the specific situation. Most of the time the old invisible strategy that is blocking the team is a preference for one or the other: either people mostly optimize globally or they mostly optimize locally. Choosing which approach will be a better fit for different situations is a strategy the brain will perceive to be superior to using either one of the above optimization approaches.

Superior strategies are much like developing an internal simulator. Learning to constantly examine which situations require prioritizing global optimization over local optimization and vice versa is an ongoing excellence mechanism. If Liz gave salespeople clear instructions on when to use global optimization and when to use local optimization, she may have gotten higher productivity for simple tasks, but because the internal simulator would have been missing, the effectiveness of the team would have been limited.

A strategy that is designed as a choice will be perceived by the brain as more beneficial because, among other things, it empowers people.  This gives them a sense that they can influence their environment and, moreover, will by far be more effective than a stagnant strategy that does not include a choice.

The need for this strategy with the sales team  represented itself in their lack of initiative, delayed responses to clients and sub-optimal prioritizing. In other places in the organization, the need for this strategy exhibited itself in other ways. Where senior management was concerned, for example, the highest priority was to solve problems, address complaints and overcome obstacles as quickly as possible, which often meant managers would storm in and take over. Without prioritizing global optimization vs. local optimization, teams stopped taking initiative, allowing  managers to take over. Managers did the same, allowing the organization’s leadership to take over. Any single one of these dynamics on their own could mean a million other things, but together they create a strong pattern, making it very clear which strategy is needed.

When a needed strategy is missing, it will have traces in different places, around different functions, blocking the organization from achieving its goals in a variety of ways.

For Liz’s team, pinpointing the needed strategy allowed people who struggled with change, to make the needed adjustments in order to access the organization’s full potential. Not only did the sales team make needed changes, so did the CEO and other leaders in key positions.  “…the results are inspiring. The gap between middle management and senior management is bridged. People are taking initiative, taking responsibility for their own results and efforts. As we predicted, we are starting to see signs of increased sales and reduced expenses. What’s interesting is that now that our managers have learned how to get productivity up, the teams seem to have access to many of the tools we gave them in the past.” (Director of HR and Operations, agricultural industry)

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