Imagine that, as a new executive at a retail company with stagnating sales, you’re tasked with finding new ways to grow revenues. After studying the market, you propose a new line of products to be sold in all of your locations. Upon launching the new product line, however, sales aren’t as robust as expected, so you introduce price promotions and give the new lineup more prominent store placement. Yet sales still don’t budge.
When you visit stores to investigate, you find that some locations haven’t rearranged the store layout and others haven’t stocked the inventory they received weeks ago. A sales associate at one location is confused about which of your several products are new, while the manager at your most popular location tells you that overall sales have declined since the store was rearranged around the new lineup because regular customers can’t find the products they’re used to purchasing.
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Back at headquarters, you study your company’s employee and customer metrics and find a high rate of employee turnover and harsh customer reviews about the level of service they receive, all dating back years. In this environment, what if, before adding new products and promotions, you first considered subtraction?
Although this is a hypothetical example, it’s been a surprisingly common state of affairs at several companies my colleagues and I have worked with through the Good Jobs Institute, a nonprofit I cofounded in 2017 to help leaders set their employees up to succeed.
The work that customer-facing employees do is significantly determined by people working in upstream functions such as sales and marketing, IT, logistics, and product design who do not manage that work. Unfortunately, at most companies we’ve worked with, the people in upstream functions rarely considered the impact their decisions would have on the front line.
Functions working in silos make rational decisions to improve their own metrics but all too often simply build on earlier decisions, without coordination. They initiate new pilots, reports, technologies, performance tools, processes, directives, delivery schedules, and display layouts, not to mention last-minute changes to deliveries, deadlines, meetings, and promotions — all of which require a lot of scrambling at the front lines.
As a result, decisions from upstream functions often reduce value to the customer because they make it difficult for customer-facing employees to provide good service.