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Questions I’m Thinking About

by David Brock on January 31st, 2022

It’s customary, on the final day of the year, to set some goals, resolutions. We can’t help but reflect on the past year and think about the coming year.

I’ve been thinking about some questions, thoughts that have been running around in my mind–some for some time. There’s a lot of overlap in some of them. For most there are no definitive answers, but we can start to approach answering them, at least within our own organizations and ourselves. Others may come up with different answers.

I’m writing these primarily to generate some discussion about these issues, as well as to invite you to challenge me with some things I should be thinking about.

Here goes:

What keeps us from doing what we know is right? I’m not talking about social movements, though those are important. I’m just looking at the most simple level. For example, we know we should be customer focused. We know that our first outreach should be less about us and more about the customer. We know that we need to focus on the customer’s problems and how we can help them solve those. What is it that keeps us from consistently doing these things that we know work–that produce results–that help us engage customers/others in meaningful ways?

Organizationally, we invest millions in sales enablement, training, and tools to help us do things the way we should be doing them, but too often we fail to use them. We see plenty of data about the longevity of training–30-60 days depending on the survey you look at. We look at tool utilization, we look at sales processes and methodologies. We spend money on them, yet we don’t exploit them as we could/should. What keeps us from leveraging them to produce the results we know they can produce? Why do we continue to spend money/time on these things, yet fail to use them?

Why do we “accept” declining tenure as the new way of work? For years we have seen both management and sales tenure declining. Currently, it is less than 18 months. But when one looks at the time involved to drive systemic change and create success, it’s much longer. For example onboarding can take 9-12 months. We make big investments in developing people, yet they are gone before they can produce consistent results. Alternatively, sales cycles in complex B2B can be 12, 18months or longer. The reality of the time it takes to drive change and produce results is longer than the people accountable for producing those results are in place. As a result we go through constant restarts, interruption, failed efforts.

Some say the rapid changes are just the nature of Gen Z–yet we see this infecting all “gens.” I don’t accept this as a Gen Z or any gen characteristic. I don’t accept this is a new “law of nature.” I suspect we don’t create workplaces where people want to stay, where they feel a part of doing something great, where they are valued, and where their personal purpose/goals/aspirations are aligned with that of the organization. What keeps us from building workplaces that attracts and retains the people we need to achieve our goals?

Why are we not concerned about the declines in employee engagement? Year after year, we see research showing declines in employee engagement. We know there are strong linkages between employee engagement/satisfaction and customer engagement/satisfaction. Why don’t we address this to improve our workplaces and the results we produce?

When will we, particularly top management, understand the impact of “short termism?” If we have a mindset that says, “we’ll only be around a short time,” we don’t do the things we know we have to do to drive sustained results. We adopt those things that can be accomplished in a short time—even though we know those things aren’t the most effective in producing results?

Why are we so committed to mediocrity? Yes, we mouth the words about being excellent, we may even believe them. But we tend to accept things as they are and not improve. We know excellence in any sense is not a destination, but an ongoing journey of change and improvement, but why do so many seem not to want to embark on that journey–just doing what’s expedient for today?

Are we less committed to excellence in performance now than we were in the past? Perhaps, these performance challenges are just more visible because of things like social media. Perhaps, I’m becoming more impatient/less tolerant, but it seems I see more bad practice now than I saw 10, 20 years ago. Is this real? If so, what drives that and how do we change?

Is all of this just a sign of the times? I can’t accept this, perhaps it’s naive or idealistic. But through thousands of years we have seen continual evolution and improvement, yet I wonder if we are improving. History would tell us we will continue to improve in meaningful ways, but it’s awfully hard to discern right now.

Why don’t we look for consistent improvement? Can we honestly answer, “We are better in these areas now than we were a year ago…. We have made these improvements and they are working…. We have changed and it makes us better….” It’s not sufficient to “make our numbers,” but we have to consistently be improving how we do this, or to look at how we can perform to our maximum potential.

What has happened to the “humanity” of business? We seem more focused on mechanization, less concerned about the people we work with. Some think AI, ML, bots, robots will replace people and workplaces become less people focused. These tools will augment what we can do, they will drive change in what work is and how we work, but at it’s core, business is still about people.

There is good news—but in some way it makes finding the answers to these questions more frustrating. I am fortunate to see a small number of organizations that are tackling these issues in meaningful ways. Sure they make mistakes or encounter challenges, but they are making progress. These organizations aren’t just making their goals, but they are improving in so many aspects addressed above. They seem to be doing more of what they should be doing, more consistently, and in sustainable ways.

But then, this raises the question, “What makes this different and how can more organizations do the same?”

These meandering questions, all similar themes may seem pessimistic. They are very difficult questions, many of which have no answers.

But I’m tremendously optimistic about the future of business and the nature of work. Perhaps it’s these things we have gone through that create a forcing function driving us to wake up, to not accept these things as the way things are, but to know they can and should be better.

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