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“A Seat At The Table….”

by David Brock on May 31st, 2022

Over the past 6-7 years, increasingly, I’ve seen too many discussions about “getting a seat at the table.” Usually, they refer to reporting directly to the CEO. The arguments have come from sales enablement, sales ops, marketing, customer experience, the receptionist at the front desk. OK, I made the last one up, receptionists serve a very important function. They are often the first experience customers, suppliers, the community have of an organization. Because of that importance, perhaps they, too, should get a seat at the table.

The table is getting pretty crowded!

I have to confess, these discussions seem so meaningless, they distract from the issues of getting work done, producing results. Mostly, they seem to be exercises in ego or power accumulation. I’ve yet to see one that makes sense to me.

Many of the arguments focus on the importance of the function and the importance the function has visibility to top leadership.

Some justifications suggest top management visibility is needed to reconcile different priorities, strategies and goals.

It’s fascinating that we want executive management to know and understand our function, yet we invest little time in helping each other know and understand each other’s work and functions.

The reality is most of these arguments illustrate dysfunction in the organization, both at the top of the company and within the functional organizations.

The issue of, “How to get visibility to top management?” Regardless of the level, great performance gets noticed at all levels of the business. Focusing on great performance, producing results important to the company’s goals should be the top priority of each person/function in the organization.

Sometimes, however, top executives get isolated — or isolate themselves from what is happening in the organization. “In Pursuit Of Excellence,” by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman highlighted a practices (attributed to HP in the ’70’s) of MBWA–Management By Walking/Wandering Around. Top managers in learn more about what’s happening in the organization by wandering around–not by reporting structures. Getting out of the corporate or functional offices, meeting people at all levels, talking to them about what they do, challenges they face, is critical to leaders really understanding what’s going on and how people feel.

At all levels of leadership, managers should make a practice of MBWA. Whether it’s within your own organization, or organizations your team depends on, managers need to build relationships and understanding with the people doing the work.

Sales leaders, at all levels, should spend time with people doing the work (not just their counterparts) in marketing, customer experience, product management–even product development, manufacturing, service delivery, HR, and finance. Understanding them and what they do is important. Understanding how we work more effectively with them is critical to our shared success. Helping them understand sellers–who they are, what they do, where they need help is important.

And the same applies to marketing, customer experience, and others. Think, for example, what could be learned by spending a day with a sales person, participating in calls/meetings, understanding their work.

What about reconciling priorities and differences? Why do we need top leadership visibility to do this? Why can’t we work things out between people or organizations? Why do we feel the need to escalate these differences to top management?

There are times, where we need to escalate differences. Surprisingly, when I ask leaders, “Do you have an escalation process? Do you have a process to reconcile differences/problems,” most don’t have a process in place.

There will be some times, where we have legitimate differences and need to escalate. But the idea of needing top management visibility to do this, is misdirected. In fact, the best executives tend to push these problems back down into the organization, expecting the parties to resolve the issues themselves.

Corporate politics is inevitable. However wasteful, there will always be subtle or overt jockeying for visibility and…. power. At all levels, we crave recognition. We want to “hang out” with the “cool kids.”

Perhaps I’m naive, but I’ve always thought that performance, getting the work done is most important. Interestingly, when I look at high performing organizations with strong cultures, this isn’t an issue–at any level. These organizations have found ways to be more inclusive, to make great performance visible at all levels. They have found ways to resolve conflict and work together.

And you seldom hear about “seats at the table.” It’s not an issue these organizations care about.

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