Category Archives: Responsibilities


I think the time has come to coin a new business term. It needs to sound vaguely familiar and reasonably important, otherwise it won’t be very useful. It has to resonate with an ongoing application in business. It must identify a function that almost everyone is aware of on some level of consciousness. It needs to be a term that we can all get behind and utilize to its fullest potential. Based on these requirements, I hereby submit the new business word: Strategery.

The last person to attempt to coin a new word with any amount of success, was Stephen Colbert during his first edition of The Colbert Report on television in 2005. While I do not claim to have even a small percentage of his ability to identify trends and needs in the lexicon, I will soldier on even in the face of these personal shortcomings. He was so successful that his new word has even made it to Wikipedia. If that isn’t a measure of success, then I don’t know what is.

Colbert coined the word “Truthiness”. And the Wikipedia definition of Truthiness (as supplied by Colbert) is:

“truthiness refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. I don’t trust books.”

Of course the public seized on truthiness as truth.

The definition was then further refined and was officially in the mainstream media when in 2006 Dick Meyers of CBS news stated:

“Truthiness is a quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”

From inception to mainstream media acceptance in one year. Think about just how far ahead of the curve Mr. Colbert was with truthiness. Today I believe the support for an individual’s concept of truthiness comes in the form of what are now called “alternative facts”. From truth to truthiness and from facts to alternative facts. He was correct. It just feels right.

Now back to my turn at the plate.

The word “Strategery” was initially was coined for a Saturday Night Live sketch, written by James Downey, airing October 7, 2000, which satirized the then presidential candidate George W. Bush. It actually became a term that was used during the Bush presidential years, but as those years have receded from memory, unfortunately, so has its usage.

But not anymore.

I think in every business discipline, and in every economic realm, there are those shaman like individuals and groups that every organization has, that purport to be able to divine the next industry fundamental shift that is currently residing just beyond the visibility of the event horizon and is destined to be the next game changing event. They claim to be the Visioneers who sound as though they are able to see beyond the future, and who seem to have no discernable role other than that of forming opinions, and possibly writing industry papers about what is out past the most distant of 3 and 5 year business plans and lies in the darkness beyond. These are the people who practice the art of “Strategery”.

The art of Strategery is to purport to look so far out into the future as to be almost useless, but to be able to make it sound as if it is most important.

In this case the word “Visioneers” comes from the 2008 movie of the same name. The movie is set in a dystopian near-future where a Corporation is driving out a culture of independent thought and intimacy. The corporation claims success is achieved by its strict philosophy of mindless productivity and teaches that productivity equals happiness, and the business logo (a middle finger) is the standard greeting in society. Credits again to Wikipedia.

The true art of Strategery is that the Visioneers that practice it can never be wrong. By continually keeping their focus on items that are out beyond the event horizon, and the next industry shift, they can never be directly tied to the current industry events and business performance as they actually occur.

A very good example of this “can’t be wrong” sort of Strategery can be seen in any of the various stock market prognosticators. During any sort of an extended stock market run, either up or down, there will be those that are espousing a “contrarian” point of view. They are the ones that say during a Bull market that a Bear market is coming, and vice-versa.

And they are usually correct. The markets do move in cycles. That’s why they have the names Bull and Bear Markets, and they usually do follow each other. They would only be of value if they could truly predict the point where the market will turn. Most of the time they can’t and will only be able to claim success once the event is long in the rear-view mirror, and they are on to the next pre-event horizon prediction.

Probably one of the first and most famous Visioneers to practice Strategery was Nostradamus. He cataloged all of his divinations and future predictions in a book, purporting to span across hundreds of years, and did it in such a way that no one could tell which event he was foretelling until long after the event in question had actually occurred. In short no one knew what he was talking about, and still don’t until well after the fact. To this date, almost 500 years later, he has not been wrong, but the usefulness of his predictions is generally thought to be non-existent as they have not been recognizable until well after the predicted event has occurred.

A good example of this is that Nostradamus is usually credited with accurately predicting World War II, but the accuracy of his prediction was not generally recognized until several decades after World War II occurred, at which time its usefulness does become questionable.

Technology based organizations are not immune to Strategery either, and in fact they can be a hot bed of such a questionably valued activity. It is easy to spot the Visioneers within these organizations as they will be the ones utilizing the phases such as cloudification, virtualization and Internet of Things amongst others when describing whatever they feel is the next big thing that they will be at the forefront of the charge on.

If you hear:
“The Internet of Things will utilize Big Data to push Virtualization to the Edge.”
There is a very good chance that you are in the presence of a Visioneer practicing the art of Strategery.

How could you prove that statement wrong? How could you prove that statement right? When could you prove anything of value even remotely associated with that statement? Who would actually say something like that?

It appears that value is truly in the eye of the beholder.

However, a true practitioner of the art of Strategery would have probably uttered that statement years ago when those phrases were first coined, not now when there is the potential for some substance and measurability behind them. Today’s master of Strategery would more like be talking about the future next big things, which will include phrases such as robots and machine learning, not so much a virtualized system but virtual reality, and the objectification of experience. (As provided by Pocket-lint:

I understand some of the value that Visioneers and Strategery bring to businesses. I am a little concerned that as the speed with which change is occurring in business increases, so seems to increase the number of people who purport to see Nostradamus like into the future to tell us what will come after whatever is next. And while it may be interesting to speculate on whatever comes after whatever is next, it seems that the commitment of ever larger amounts of precious resources to visioning it creates an increasing risk to the business environment.

The problem for me seems to be that when we have so many people who claim to be so focused on what is so far out in the future, we run the risk of falling into the “Chasing the next shiny thing” syndrome. We tend to devalue whatever we are doing today, or what we plan to do tomorrow because it doesn’t sound as cool as what we think we will be doing in a couple of weeks.

I understand the risk of not having Strategery and that is not what I am advocating. In the past all societies and organizations that had shamans, seers and Visioneers had a very limited number of them. That was part of the mystique associated with them and what made them interesting. Today we seem to be generating entire organizations and processes around them.

Now it seems that we are well on our way to the justification of another overhead group which by its very nature does not lend itself well to any utility or value measurements. If we are going to do it, we might as well have a new name for it: Strategery.


Okay friends and neighbors. It is time to look up. Cast your eyes skyward for I will be climbing way up on my soap box, my high horse, and anything else that I can orate from. It is time for me to emulate Don Quixote and joust one of my windmill like pet peeves: Preparation.

This is a topic that has been rattling around in my head for a while. I just didn’t quite know how to go about approaching it. I liken it to the general malaise that I feel has been permeating the business environment for several years. It is the feeling that not quite good enough is now good enough.

Let me provide an example.

There once was a time where it was unacceptable to have any issue whatsoever with your phone. This was a time before cellular service and mobile phones. The phone company was held to the absolute highest standards of reliability and quality of service. If you had a dropped call or a quality problem, it was addressed. You were paying for the best network and by golly you were supposed to get the best network.

Fast forward to the current mobile communications networked world. We have all experienced and have even come to expect dropped calls and garbled communications. It comes with the wireless territory. If you wanted the old network desk set reliability you would have called from a desk phone, or your home phone, or a pay phone. (As an aside, when was the last time anyone has seen a pay phone? They are gone.) Now as these wireless type technologies and capabilities are applied to our business and home communications networks in the name of cost reduction, we are now experiencing the same types of dropped calls, garbled communications and generally lower quality of phone service.

Business communications service and performance levels that would have gotten IT executives fired in the past are now the accepted norm. Money has obviously been saved, but not quite good enough is now good enough. In fact it is the norm.

So what has all this rant about networks and such have to do with preparation? Good question.

The idea of preparation was brought home to me the other day. Some of you may know that I am something of a would-be musician. I have told many people that the only thing keeping me from being a good musician is talent, or actually the lack of it.

Ron White, a very funny Texas comedian said “You can’t fix stupid.” I have definitely found this to be the case. Hard workers are great. Smart people are at a premium. The Steve Gobeli corollary to this statement is “You can’t learn talent.” I can learn all sorts of musical theory, styles and songs, but I will not be as good as those that were born with the musical gift.

But here I have truly digressed.

I was called the other day and asked if I would substitute for a regular band member who would be unable to play the gig. I was flattered and of course said yes. This was about six days before the gig.

I then started my preparations.

I got a copy of the set list so I would know what songs to play. I added about twenty minutes to my practice time to better familiarize myself with them. Things were going well.

On the day of the gig I left ninety minutes early because I knew that it would take me at least thirty minutes to get to the venue. I also knew that it would take another thirty to forty five minutes to load my equipment in and get it set up and ready to play. (In my world “roadies” are mythical beings. I have to haul my own amps and instruments.) I could then spend ten to fifteen minutes loosening up, relaxing and getting ready to play. At the appointed time I would be prepared, relaxed and ready to go.

It was interesting that the other guys in the band showed up about the same time I did. They did the same things. When it came time to start they were also ready.

We played for two hours. It was a blast. Even my wife said we sounded good. Strong praise indeed.

In business, for the most part, we know when our meetings are scheduled, what our roles in them will be and what the agenda is. When you think about it, it is a little bit like a musicians gig. The only difference is that in the new world where not quite good enough is now good enough if musicians performed their gigs like many business people are performing in their meetings, they would never be called back to play again.

Since meetings have evolved to where they are no longer really meetings, but more than likely conference calls, I can’t seem to remember when one actually started on time. People are late dialing in, switching phones because the one they are on is not working, hushing barking dogs, quieting crying children amongst other distractions, to the point where just getting the meeting started becomes a significant obstacle to overcome.

I am not saying that everyone needs to “practice” their parts in the meeting. What I am saying is that everyone should know what the meeting is about, have read the agenda and prepared for the role in it. If they are going to present charts, they should have located them on their computer, opened the presentation and been prepared to present them, instead of making everyone else wait while they perform these tasks.

In short, everyone needs to be prepared.

I have talked to other people in the office who have told me of the detailed preparations that they go through when they are getting ready for a game of golf or a ride on their motorcycle, or what they must go through in order to properly clean and wax their black corvette in the Texas heat.

I couldn’t make that last one up. He actually has a black plastic car in a place where the temperature regularly exceeds one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. According to him it requires all sorts of special cleaners and waxes because of the abundant (and hot) Texas sun.

These are just examples of how we prepare for events and activities (my substitute gig included) outside the office that we assign appropriate importance to. We know what it takes to play well in front of an audience, or get the paste wax shine on our car. We also know what it takes to be prepared for, and contribute to a meeting. We know when they start and what we are supposed to do.

Just like the audience lets the band know if they prepared for and performed appropriately, we need to start holding ourselves (and each other for that matter) to the same levels of preparation and performance in business. Not quite good enough in music is definitely not good enough. It sounds terrible.

But we seem to be willing to say that not quite good enough is good enough in business. We let it slide that the meeting started late, or that the slides weren’t ready or the attendees couldn’t respond to or answer the questions.

In most instances it’s not a question of talent. As I said, you can’t teach talent. For the most part I find most people in the professional environment to be very talented. I think it’s more of a question of preparation and the pride of performance in the public realm, or meeting as the case may be. In the new world of not quite good enough being good enough, it seems that it is okay to not be quite prepared enough for a meeting.

I find it to be frustrating, but then I guess I’m the kind of person that goes through the eight hours of preparation to play music and get paid only slightly more than minimum wage per hour for the “two hours of work”. I also invariably show up for meetings on time.

Thick Skin

A new year always brings many opportunities with it. The opportunity for both business and personal growth. The opportunity to break eighty on the golf course. The opportunity to break seventy on the golf course. The opportunity for our elected officials to step up, tell the public the truth and most importantly, solve some problems.

Some of these opportunities are more likely to occur than others, and are listed in no particular order of increasing improbability of happening.

The beginning of a new year also means that it is time to review the last year’s performance. That usually translates to year end performance reviews. I have discussed the need for, and various approaches to giving performance reviews in the past. Most of these approaches usually reduce down to: Be professional, be factual, be balanced (what was good and what could be improved) and most importantly, be brief.

Chances are that the person you are conducting the review with is probably enjoying the review at least as much as you are.

This time though, I’m going to take a little bit of a different approach to the joys of year end reviews and approach them from the point of view of the person being reviewed. We all essentially report to someone, and that someone is responsible for conducting our year end review.

I have tried several times to conduct year end reviews with my wife, but for some reason it seems that these meetings end up becoming her yearend reviews of me. Go figure.

I have had many different types of managers in my career. There have been those that clearly were uncomfortable with the review responsibility and only provided the most cursory of reviews. There were those managers that took their review responsibility way too seriously and scheduled two to three hour reviews in an effort to make sure that I obtained the maximum benefit of the considered and judicious input they had regarding not only my performance, but just about any other topic in life that came to mind while they were talking to me. And there have been those that did the bare minimum just so they could say they performed the review if they were asked.

There was a manager that once handed me his manager’s year end review form that he was supposed to fill out on me, and asked me to fill it out for him so that he could then turn around and conduct my year end review with it. This was interesting the first year it happened, and I tried to be pretty honest with him and myself regarding my performance. The face to face meeting was obviously pretty brief. The second year it happened, there wasn’t even a face to face meeting. The third year that it occurred seemed to me to be a call to action.

As in the previous years I filled out the form, but this time I added a “new” objective to the list. This new objective was that I be able to “walk on water”. In order to exceed this objective I would need to be able to walk on the air above the water. In order to achieve this objective I would need to actually walk on water (not during the winter on ice – frozen water, as this would meet the goal, but wouldn’t be note worthy). Anything else would be a “needs improvement” rating.

In this instance I rated myself as an “achieved – with an asterisk” in that I noted that I was not able to figure out how to walk on the water, but I was able to part the water and walk across the bottom without getting wet, which was almost as good. The only difference was that my shoes got a little muddy.

He never said a thing to me about it. I don’t think he even read it. I still smile every time I think back to that form and realize that it is a duly signed review archived somewhere in the human resource records of a major corporation.

Occasionally however, I have had the good fortune to work for a leader that took his responsibility seriously, and put the time in to conduct a considered and accurate review of me. They usually took the approach that we all want to do well, but that invariably there were areas where we all could do better.

I have discussed in the past the necessity that we all conduct “difficult conversations” with our team member when the time or situation calls for it. Now it is time to understand how to handle having an uncomfortable or difficult conversation conducted with you.

Being told what you didn’t get done, or what you need to do better is going to happen. You need to understand and accept this. It might not have been your fault or responsibility. It might have been unavoidable. It is conceivable that you might have actually not performed up to your usual high levels. There may in fact be no one on the planet that could have performed better than you under these circumstances. It doesn’t matter. Regardless, it is the start of a new year and you are going to be reviewed on last year’s performance.

The first thing to understand and acknowledge when being reviewed is your area of responsibility. The issues and the decisions that spawned them may have taken place elsewhere or in the past, but you are there now and for better or for worse you own the situation now. You are now the responsible party.

Don’t dodge it. Don’t blame it on past administrations. We have enough politicians doing this. Stand up and note what your area of responsibility is. Chances are that it is already recognized where the issues arose. There will be those issues that are not attributable to you and those that are.

Also remember that this is a review, not a “blame-storming” session. It is always difficult to not be defensive in a situation where those things that have not gone as well as anyone would like are being reviewed. As strange as it may seem, I have found that the less defensive that I am about difficult issues, the less accusatory sounding people are when they discuss the various points to be covered. I have also found that sometimes there is truly valid input available on what and how I can do better.

Always remember in a review that facts are your friends. Discuss the facts and how they may be interpreted. Do not try to modify or discuss opinion, yours or anyone else’s. Trying to modify or discuss opinion is called an argument. Having an argument as the result of a yearend review is definitely the definition of a lose – lose situation. Without the facts to support a different performance perception, a yearend review argument will generate a negative outcome on this year’s review, and a poor expectation will be set for next year’s performance and review as well.

No one likes to be the recipient of a difficult discussion or review. The natural reaction is to try and justify or argue the position. This approach invariably fails unless there are facts available to both parties that can modify opinions. And even then there is only so much that you can say or do. It is a very fine line.

When I have conducted difficult conversations or reviews I have been careful to address the behavior or performance and not the person. It is business and we are professionals. No matter what it feels like, it should not feel like a personal attack. I did not enjoy the conversation, but it was my responsibility to conduct it.

The same rules seem to apply when you find yourself on the other side of a difficult conversation or review. Do not allow it to become personal. It is business and you are a professional. It is difficult to do, but it is a must. Be professional, be factual, and be balanced as to what you can do to improve the situation. If it was felt that the issue needed to be addressed with you in the first place, there needs to be some sort of response provided that the message being sent was acknowledged and received. I said acknowledged. I didn’t say agreed.

Sometimes it takes thick skin to accept the responsibilities that go along with being a leader. There are very few who can say that they have not erred or that their performance could not be improved. Sometimes i
t is not fun to be told this by someone else, but it does go with the position.


We have all heard it said that necessity is the mother of invention. It is also said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That is probably enough on the trite homilies for now. I want to look here at the latest events in the news on the macro-level and relate them to our businesses on a more individual level. It seems that one company created (invented) some industry leading applications for their product, and another company apparently copied these applications for their competing products. In the ensuing legal battle the inventors of the capabilities won a judgment against the imitators. All of the articles and documentation that I have read regarding this legal decision seems to be capable of being summed up in a single line:

The decision was good for the inventor, bad for the imitator, worse for the consumer.

The idea here is that the inventor won so they are happy (and richer due to the awards associated with the judgment), the imitator is unhappy due to the penalties they must pay (and the fact that their products may not be able to utilize the desirable applications going forward), and the consumer’s will be worse off in the market because they will have fewer choices for products with these desirable applications, and they may be faced with higher product prices.

I don’t think this is bad. I think this is commerce. I also think that the company that was imitating its competitor is now faced with the necessity of changing and creating its own new innovations and products if they wish to continue forward in their chosen markets. This isn’t bad, this is good. The process will obviously be painful and could probably have been avoided with timely business decisions when they were necessary.

In the macro-level consumers will also benefit from the reduction in imitation and the increase in new products and innovation in that by necessity if the imitating company wants to stay in the market, they will have to invent and create new applications and new ways to bring them to market. Will they be better? Hopefully, but they will certainly be different because they have to be. They can no longer comfortably continue to do things the way they have been doing them.

We are seeing here on the very high level is how an entire company is being forced out of its comfort zone, where it imitates what another company has been doing. We can telescope this type of event down to just about any level of almost any organization. What I am getting at here is that creative companies focus on and want to protect their creativity up and down their management levels, not just at the corporate level. Profitable companies focus on and protect their profitability. These ideas seem to permeate the corporate fabrics of these types of companies. You can’t copy that. You have to decide to do it yourself.

Now there are several directions that we can go here. Is there a uniformity of goals in these focused and successful organizations? I think the answer is obviously yes. Is there an alignment of incentives associated with attaining these goals? I would say that as well. Is there a necessity of performance? Yes there is. I Think this is where we, like the previously mentioned imitating company can all learn. There is a focus on and culture for doing what is necessary, when it is necessary to maintain the corporate focus and achieve the corporate goals. These decisions and actions may not be pleasant or welcome at the time, but they are recognized as a necessity of the business.

On our own business levels, we are constantly faced with competition that as a response to our capabilities must change the way they conduct their business. This is the reality of the business environment. There usually is not a legal decree involved that makes them do this. This is being done out of necessity. No one wants to be second best. (This may not be entirely true. Those that are actually third best or lower strive to be second best, but this is normally only as a step toward being the best.) If nothing changes, there will be no way to improve.

We rarely get presented with the stark necessity of change the way that the imitating company did. We always find that it is easier to imitate what we have been doing in the past than it is to change and do something else. Our creativity or profitability rarely comes to an abrupt halt. It usually declines in such a way that can be easily explained or rationalized for some period of time. Even then it can be bandaged or milked for a while longer. Eventually however, necessity will arrive and with it the requirement to act.

What we have seen here in a generalized form is that those companies that have recognized what is necessary to their ongoing success (be it innovation, profitability, service, etc.), and pursue it with an ongoing focus are usually the most successful. Their approach is not to imitate others, or to imitate their own past success, but to recognize what is necessary today and to make the appropriate business decisions and to take the appropriate actions. Those companies that do not recognize what is necessary on an ongoing basis and continue to try and live off their own past (or other company’s) successes are eventually confronted with the very abrupt, somewhat expensive and usually painful realization of the new necessities that they are facing.

It seems to me that this is an excellent case for continuing to make the daily difficult decisions on what is best for your business while the decisions are still yours to make. Don’t allow a “wrong decision” or worse, a “no decision / no action” to be made because it is easier or perceived to be more palatable at the time.  Avoiding the current necessity or delaying it will not make it any easier or less unpleasant either now or in the future. As we saw in the news, waiting to go your own way can result in facing a much more public, painful and expensive set of new business criteria than you might have ever considered.

Friction and Clarity

There is always going to be a certain amount of friction in an organization. When people are involved, differing viewpoints, approaches and personalities will always cause some amount of both business and inter-personal issues. I have found that unless the inter-personal issues are of such a significant nature that they affect the organizations ability to function, they are best left to the individuals to sort out. You can’t make individuals like each other, but they can learn to respect each other in the organization. The business issues between people in the organization, on the other hand, are topics that can usually be cleared up quickly, and in many cases avoided altogether.

In my experience, most of the conflict or friction in an organization has arisen due to a lack of clarity. Most organizations seem to function best when there is a clear and consistent set of goals, well defined organizational and individual responsibilities, and an acknowledged decision making structure. If the business is experiencing any significant amount of organizational or individual squabbling, or a slower level of progress toward the desired goals and objectives, it may be a reasonable assumption to go and look at the clarity of these organizational definitions.

Unclear, or worse, differing goals and objectives will sap an organizations strength and impede its progress. If people are not working toward the same accepted goals friction and conflict cannot help but occur. If one group is working on the volume of sales and the other is focused on the profitability of sales there will be conflict. If one group is focused on technology and design, and the other is focused on costs and manufacturability there will be friction. The idea here is that if organizations are solely focused on only one aspect of the overall goal, valuable time and effort will be lost trying to resolve these goal oriented differences. Making sure that the organizations goals are aligned, and just as importantly aligning the metrics and compensation that are associated with them can reduce the time and effort lost to this type of issue.

Unclear organizational or individual responsibilities arise from a lack of clarity in each organizations definition and role. If one organization has responsibility for price (based on cost and margin), a second one has responsibility for cost (affecting both price and margin) and a third has responsibility for margin (based on price and cost) there is going to be conflict. Can price solely dictate what margins and/or what costs must be? Can costs be the prime criteria associated with the business without understanding and responding to market based influences? Can you strictly look at margins in isolation of costs and price? Again while making sure each individual and each organization functions are well defined, it is also important to make sure that individual and each organization role is are well defined with respect to the other organizations and individuals that they must work and interact with.

The answer is that obviously all these organizations must work together, but then who will decide the issues that arise from differing and sometimes overlapping responsibilities and objectives? If sales wants a very low price for a capability that operations indicates that capability has a very high cost, resulting in what may be unacceptable margins, how does the impasse get resolved. In addition to clear goal alignment and responsibility definitions there needs to be clarity around the acknowledged decision making structure. If it is a decentralized structure there needs to be consistent guidelines detailing the various scopes and spans of control for the decision makers. If it is a hierarchical structure of the decision spans multiple business groups there needs to be a clear and quick escalation process to get decisions made quickly and all organizations back focused on the goal at hand.

It seems that too many times these business issues that cause friction can find their way into the interpersonal issues category and seem to sit and languish. The result can be a sort of perpetual squabbling between people and organizations, and a much slower pace of progress than is possible and needed. By bringing a little more clarity to the business and reinforcing what the various goals, responsibilities and decision making processes are for each of the organizations and how they must work together, you may be able to reduce the causes of business friction in the organization. With that source of issues reduced, you may even be able to help reduce the number of interpersonal issues as well.

Sales, Operations and Support

Sales and Operations. It seems pretty simple to me. One group is responsible for selling the product or service, and the other group is responsible for delivering and implementing it. Again, it seems pretty black and white. Dogs and cats, men and women, etc. etc. If you are not one, then you should be the other.

I have often said that there are two types of people in the world. Those that divide people into two types, and those that don’t. However, I have digressed a little here.

What I am getting at here is that in business, in today’s world, you need to look at your role and understand on which side of the Sales and Operations divide you are on. You need to understand if your focus is on the top line – Sales, or on the bottom line – Operations.

I suppose that this division can be extended into the support functions as well. Financial teams can be keeping score of the sales and the gross margins associated with those sales, or they can be keeping score of the costs of the product, delivery and implementation, and the earnings that are generated. Marketing is primarily a Sales related function since its primary role is to position and enable sales to customers. I think you can look at just about every role within an organization and understand where it sits within the Sales and Operations split.

A major difference between Sales and Operations is that at least part of the Sales team’s compensation is based on how much they sell. This is called commission. (They also usually have a base salary, which will again be dependent on the type products, services and customers they are serving.) The Sales team has sales targets (quotas) and can quantifiably demonstrate how they have performed. Again, it is a step function. They either sold something, or they didn’t. The more they sell, the more commission they get, and the greater their total compensation.

Operations on the other hand are not compensated based on “how much” they deliver or implement. Operations job is to deliver and implement all that Sales sells. This is a given. Operations may have incentives and bonuses based on “how well” they deliver and implement. How well operations delivers is also quantifiable and can be measured in several ways, including time (is it implemented on time or early), financially (is it implemented on or under budget) or the most important metric, was the customer satisfied when the implementation was complete. Again we have some fairly quantifiable metrics here. Time, budgets and customers satisfaction can all be measured.

My purpose in attempting to pre-define in simple terms the Sales and Operations roles is to point out and think about all the other roles that seem to have evolved, or devolved in companies from these two required business functions. It appears that many businesses have created or acquired roles that can best be described as either “Sales Support” of “Operations Support”. That means these roles are associated with either the Sales or Operations functions, but do not have either the responsibility or control to accomplish the tasks of selling or implementing. It also seems that by not having the direct responsibility of the line function, that these groups also do not have the direct risk associated with the defined business performance that is required. When a Sales person does not make quota, or an Operations person does not implement the project on time, which specific support person has responsibility for those failures?

I understand the ideas of team and how people as an organized group are more powerful than that as individuals, but where can the line be drawn here? Personally I look in a couple of specific areas. In Sales I like to look at how many people get compensated or commission for each individual sales success. How many commissions are being paid for each single sale? How many different forecasts and how many different sales reports is it showing up in? If individuals or groups are truly in or associated with the sales function, then their expenses should be associated with the sales function, they should carry quotas (remember, the more people in the sales group, the greater the quota that the group will need to carry in order to sustain the headcount) and their compensation should reflect a commission oriented structure.

In Operations I like to look at how many times each Delivery / Implementation opportunity must be presented for review, and to which audiences. I have been in roles where it was not uncommon to present the same information four to five times including “Dry Run” preparation, so that when you actually did present the information to the policy and decision senior management, it had the proper format and appearance. Operations are about efficiency, accuracy and speed. Do the job once, get it right and move on to the next one. The number of programs for efficiency and process improvement currently in vogue today would lead us to believe that it was amazing that any company was ever profitable or efficient in their operation.

Please do not get me wrong. I am fully in favor of providing any desired support to both Sales and Operations. I believe that the decision for requesting that support, and paying for that support should rest with the Sales and Operations teams. If Sales feels that it needs more sales support, then that support needs to be funded by sales in the form of increased sales targets and quotas. Most sales teams have a Sales per Staff metric. If Sales feels it needs more staff, then they need to generate more sales to support them. If Sales feels it can accomplish its goals with fewer staff, then they should be more richly compensated and commissioned for that as well. Sales is a Risk-Return role. If they are willing to take the risk associated with not attaining their goals, then they should also receive the associated and promised compensation when they achieve them.

On the other side of the divide, if operations feels that it needs more operations support, then that support needs to be funded by operations in the form of increased efficiencies and improved earnings associated with deliveries and implementations. If Operations is looking at an operating profit per staff metric, then more staff would need to generate greater efficiencies that would in turn generate better operating profits. If Operations feels it can accomplish its goals with fewer staff, then they too should be incited and provided bonuses for that as well.

It appears that as time has passed many of these supporting and enabling positions have migrated outside the control of the business function they were created to serve and have taken on lives and purposes of their own. Roles that were once viewed as specific ways to specific means seem to have become a means all unto their own.

It has been said that “When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I guess the business equivalent is that when you are in support, everything looks like it needs support.

Too many times the “support” decision seems to have been removed from the business line functions of Sales and Operations and put in the hands of some other management function. With this type of structure in place the support team loses its responsibility relationship with the line organization and becomes more of a corporate tax on those line organizations for programs that they may or may not agree with or support. How can the value of the support be quantified when it is no longer within the purview of the line function being supported.

If there is work that needs to be done within the business, but is outside the line functions of Sales and Operations, that is understandable. Don’t try and put it within those structures. Leave it within the management “support” structure where it too can be visible, monitored and hopefully quantified. Leave the support of both Sales and Operations to those functions where they can decide and implement the levels and types of support structures, if any, that they desire or need. By assuring that those functions have clear objectives, financial and otherwise, you can be reasonably assured that any support that they request and fund will be valuable to the business.

Take Action…..Items

We have all been in meetings where it seemed there a lot of decisions being made and things were getting done. We all felt good about the progress that was being made. It was uncommon for everyone to feel this way, especially in a meeting. The meeting then adjourned and we all went our separate ways. We all waited to see the fruits of our labor – to see the things we decided get done. We waited and watched…..and waited….and waited.

But we seemed to see very little get done. It always seemed that the other guys did not get their jobs done. The funny thing was that the other guys were saying the exact same thing about you. Meetings are fine, but unless an individual has a specific responsibility it won’t get done.

The answer is to take Action Items at each meeting. Make sure each individual at the meeting knows what their going forward responsibility is before they leave the meeting. You also confirm it afterwards as well, when you publish the Action Items. By creating a reviewable public record of what was to be done you create a sense of ownership for individuals that may not exist for the group at a meeting.

It also helps get things done.