Great companies push to get better

Last week I spent time with a group of “A” players in a mature industry.  While they will quickly point out that the company is not perfect, they are not perfect, and there is room for improvement, as someone who works with multiple companies, theirs is one of the best. 

When I initially worked with them I interviewed around 30 people in all disciplines of the business.  I was struck by how talented they were and how diverse the organization was.  I was also baffled by how limiting they were.  They would not risk anything, individually.  They had been beaten up for mistakes.  Mercilessly challenged for something that even looked like a mistake.  That was four years ago.  Today is a different day.

The individual that brought us into the organization came to the company in an executive role.  He had owned and led a competitor, that this company acquired.  He worked for them for a few years after the purchase, and he ended up leaving the company to pursue other opportunities.  He is a talented executive that took a president role with another company, that was run by a controlling CEO.  Decisions were made from corporate office and pushed down to the operating companies.  It was not a match for his talents.  He left the company and came back to the company I’m working with as the president.  Three years ago he was named the CEO and the change in culture is significant. 

The company has three divisions that have separate sales leaders.  All are very strong.  I began working with one division on a project around their CRM and our 12-week project turned into 8 months.  Not because they weren’t smart, but because the CRM was that challenging to work with.  After 8 months they made multiple changes to the CRM to support their sales teams, the sales leaders, and a sales process we developed together.  We were ready to present it to their sales team, and it grew to all three divisions. 

I was the initial presenter and then we turned it over to the head of sales for the initial division we worked with.  I’ve worked with several VP’s and they all have strengths and challenges, as we all do.  This sales leader was amazing.  He understood the CRM in a detail few have.  The adjustments his team had made were so well thought out that the entire team of sellers praised the benefits.  He has a young seller who helped design and build the process and he is outstanding.  He has an IT person who listens and develops.  They created this without the outsource IT consultants and saved $50k in the process.

The companies I work with all have challenges.  The way this company addressed them is remarkable.  In industrial companies there is a problem in attracting young talent, but this company recruits young talent and gives them strong roles within the company.  In this case the inside seller was testing and making recommendations on the CRM as he worked through his daily responsibilities.  The end offering was much better because of it.  The resulting changes to the CRM were not sold as final changes.  Therefore, the entire company had the opportunity to have input into the changes and make tweaks as needed.  The group had lively debates.  There was no fear of hurting someone’s feelings or fear of making a mistake.  They were focused on building the best process they could.  What could have been described as “heated” discussions were not taken personally, and better results followed. 

The company is a dominant player in their market, and they continue to work to get better.  The saying “Good is the enemy of great” kept playing in my mind.  They were/are not satisfied with good enough.  I share this with great respect for the CEO who has changed the culture, and the team who has acted on it and executed.  What we do for companies is expose them to best practices.  How they deal with it is up to them.  This company is a great company that I will now use as a measuring device for other companies we work with.

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