Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Thinking through alignment and disagreement 3: adding in customers and other external stakeholders 2

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on November 16, 2013

This is my third posting to a series in which I discuss the roles that disagreement and coming together in alignment can play in a business and how both can offer significant and even essential value – when expressed and considered in the right contexts and ways (see Part 1: negotiating within a business and Part 2: adding in customers and other external stakeholders 1.)

I began this portion of this series with the customer and developing better practices for working with them, and particularly when their experience with your business is not going smoothly and when problems arise – problems as matters are viewed by your customers.

• If your customer sees a problem developing, then a problem is developing – always and if in nothing else then in how you communicate with them.
• If you as an employee simply see a situation as routine and business as usual, even as your customer sees it as problematical for them, that is a strong indication that you and your business face systematic ongoing problems that require systematic and process improvement responses. When customers see problems that employees would overlook or discount, or acknowledge but simply blame on the customer – that should be seen by management as a serious red flag that they need to make significant change in how things are done, starting with employee training at the very least and proceeding from there.

But customers and clients are only one group of external stakeholders who need to be worked with here. My goal for this series installment is to expand this discussion to include better practices for working with other types of stakeholders too. And I begin with a second case in point that at least when cited should seem obvious: contact people and employees worked with from other businesses that your business works with as supply chain partners. And I begin this with the fundamentals:

• Supply chain partnerships and business to business agreements are usually spelled out in wiring and even through explicit legal contracts that specify what business is to be coordinately provided by who and to whom and at what costs and under what terms.
• But these formal guidelines and process structures only set out the basic frameworks that interpersonal, day to day interactions would be organized and carried out through. Bottom line, actual business is still going to take place between individuals, and even when automated online and other processes are used as enabling tools. People maintain those tools and monitor work flow and people definitely become involved if and when either involved party, and the people hands-on involved for this see a problem or delay or miscommunication developing.
• Business as usual processes and their outcomes and the basic alignment goals that they define are laid out in the perhaps more informal and verbal, and perhaps more formal written terms that are set up and that shape these supply chain agreements and partnerships. Exception recognition, prioritization and communication and any corrective follow-through take place as individual employee to individual employee, interpersonal processes and even when emerging problems are escalated up for managerial response and resolution. And much of the same discussion that I have been offering in dealing with customers in this series, applies here too.

If a problem develops, start out with a focus on resolving it smoothly and quickly if at all possible and not on assigning blame, and certainly where this arises as an exception in the course of otherwise smoothly proceeding transaction flows. If this same problem recurs or if a variety of related problems keep emerging in the same type of business transaction and when working with the same supply chain partner’s employees or offices, then look beyond the individual instances to underlying patterns and look for any recurring and ongoing causes that might be in play. Then and in either case: one-off or recurring, look for cause and for possible due diligence remediations to prevent further recurrences.

• Every employee and from lowest ranking starting position-holders through the most senior executives at a business should be responsible for what they do and for what they might fail to do that they should be doing, in performing their jobs. Ultimately, business effectiveness can only develop out of a culture of responsibility and of taking ownership level responsibility and on the part of everyone at the business.
• But simply assigning blame, and certainly as an immediate alternative to problem identification and resolution does not work and certainly where everyone involved in creating a problem was acting in good faith and trying to do their jobs correctly and effectively.
• The goal should be to create and when necessary restore smooth business functioning and to the mutual benefit of all partner businesses involved and affected by a problem, in accordance with the terms of any supply chain agreements in place, and with mutually agreed to adjustment of those terms if needed.

I am going to specifically challenge the assumptions of that last set of bullet points in a next series installment where I will consider explicitly unacceptable behavior on the part of employees, and fundamental breakdowns in process and in capacity to fulfill agreements reached. Meanwhile, you can find this posting at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and related material at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory.

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