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No quick answer to resolving frictions with other teams

Coach's Corner--October 6, 2008

The Client
Name: Ann
Age: 50
Title: Director, Analysis and reporting
Time at organization: 13 years
Industry: Consulting
Issue: Bridging the gap between sales and operations
Q.  My department produces a key element of client reports. An ownership change has brought a totally sales-focused orientation. Sales seldom consults on availability or timelines, we’re just supposed to “make it happen.” If things go well, we share little reward. If things go awry, we get the blame. My best staff members are “looking.” Should I be, too?

A. Conflict between sales and operations is all too common, and odds have increased with your ownership change. To address this challenge, understand your department and use your influence with your company’s leaders.

The inner game
Before tackling the business issue, look at your personal reaction. If you aren’t pleased about the leadership change, your responses may be limiting your effectiveness. Seek to be open to changes rather than adversarial.

Analyze your department’s business processes to ensure they still work. Ask your team how they’d organize the work if starting anew. Challenge each step, weighing the contributions and costs of each. Consider whether you’re taking full advantage of technology. Use this opportunity to improve already successful processes.

Prepare your case. Envision how you can help sales be more effective with customers. Document quality and profitability impacts from problematic projects, including long-term effects on customer satisfaction. Think through both a consultative sales process that involves your team and recommendations for realigning the reward system to motivate the operations folks.

Set limits. Know what circumstances you’ll try to work with, and those which cross the line. Be clear with yourself on when you’d need to leave.

The outer game
Move away from a “we-they” dynamic, building a sense of shared purpose with the sales group.

First, meet with sales leadership. Because you’re proposing change, you’ll need to control the tone and content of the meeting. Lead with your vision for the company’s success and your openness to changes that result in improvement. Share your concerns about the effects of selling projects that can’t be successfully delivered. Listen carefully, asking for their vision of an ideal dynamic between sales and operations. The problems won’t be solved in one session, so be clear on your goal for the meeting-laying groundwork for improved collaboration and business outcomes.

If the initial conversations go well, work with sales leadership on bringing in the sales staff. This may include training, regular cross-team meetings, or joint sales meetings.

If the sales leadership is resistant, consider bringing the issues to higher levels of leadership, if available, or using a more confrontational tone. Be direct about the risks to the company of selling business that can’t be successfully delivered and the cost of losing quality staff through poor morale. 

You don’t control others’ responses, so your efforts may not succeed. Know where you are on your internal thresholds, being careful about ultimatums unless you’re ready to back them up. If you decide to look elsewhere, avoid burning bridges and time your steps in ways that serve your interests.

The last word
Changes in leadership are often hard. Helping your company succeed while maintaining professional satisfaction requires knowing your limits and helping design change within those bounds.

Liz Reyer, President RCC - Posted October 5, 2008
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