There’s the old children’s song, “The Skeleton Dance.” It starts with “the foot bone is connected to the leg bone, the leg bone is connected to the knee bone…” It’s really a discussion of systems. The human body wouldn’t function without all the components or subsystems working together.
Business and what we do as sellers is a set of interconnected/interdependent subsystems. For our organization to work, to achieve it’s goals and purpose, each subsystem must work, effectively, together. Regardless of our role, we can only succeed if all the other subsystems we depend upon perform as expected.
Systems are complex, imagine our organization’s “system,” working with a complex set of customer systems, supplier systems, investor, and so forth. This complexity makes it very challenging for us to think about. As a result, we break them down into subsystems. Within our organization, we may break them down into functions, business groups, or divisions. For example, we have engineering/product development, manufacturing/service delivery, marketing, sales, customer support, finance, HR, operations, and so forth.
We define what each of these subsystems role and overall function is. We learn how they must perform to contribute to the overall organizational goals. We identify the dependencies they have on other subsystems. For example, manufacturing depends on product development to feed new products to build and deliver.
And to make this manageable, we break these subsystems down, further, to make be able to meet those goals. Within sales, we are very familiar with the subsystems. We have SDR/Pre/Inside Sales, AEs, Account Managers, Sales Engineers, Specialists, Sales Ops, Sales Enablement, Channel Development, and so forth.
Each of these subsystems contributes to the ability of the sales organization to achieve it’s goals, which supports the enterprise in achieving it’s goals (which is not just revenue, expense, profitability.).
Yet, it’s human nature to focus on our roles and jobs. Pretty soon, we lose sight of the fact there are interdependencies between what we do and the other parts of the organization (subsystems) do. As we address challenges in our own organization or jobs, we focus on what we need to get done. We lose sight of the impact of what we do/don’t do on the other “subsystems,” we depend on and that depend on us.
Again, it’s human nature, it’s the only way we can make sense of the complexity that surrounds us. But at the same time, we can’t lose sight of the interconnections and interdependencies. Things we may do, well intended, may produce unintended results with those other parts of the organization. And pretty soon, with everyone doing “their job” the best way they can, the whole no longer works as it should.
We must maintain two focuses. The first, how we perform and achieve our goals in our part of the organization, what we do to maximize our personal performance and our groups performance. At the same time, we need to make sure what we do, complements and builds those other organizations or subsystems.
Without this constant attention, we become dysfunctional and fail, Ezra Klein expressed it well in Why We Are Polarized. While he was examining political systems, his observation fits business systems:
“We are a collection of functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole…”
Whose responsibility is this? It’s all of ours, whether we are individual contributors, mid level managers, or executives, we have to be conscious of these complex interrelationships, and not focus only on our own roles and organizations.
How do we do this? Well it turns out, we’ve been dealing with these challenges forever, we’ve developed tools to help us deal with this. You already know I’m a huge fan of OKRs. They are powerful tools to help us understand the interdependencies in our organizations. There are other tools, we commonly use to help us look at these issues. Systems thinking has been around for ages, there is a lot of literature and techniques we can leverage (start by reading C. West Churchman and Russ Ackoff).
But the most important thing is our mindset. We do not exist/function in isolation, we function as part of a larger organization and ecosystem. We have to be conscious of how what we do, impacts everyone else.
I’ll review some of these approaches in future posts.
Afterword: For those that want to follow the Business Acumen/Systems Thinking series, click on the link for the collection.