Realigning the Organization


Organization or reorganization schemes have been proposed ad nauseam as solutions to many business problems. As a general rule, organizational changes, especially those that simply reshuffle the same names into different boxes on the organization chart, don’t improve anything. This does not mean suggesting some new organization approach that is better suited for these turbulent times. However, many organizations are too top-heavy, over-structured, and over-satisfied to be responsive to market needs and too costly to be competitive. The structure and staffing of any organization must be rigorously challenged to ensure it is really geared to accomplish the fundamental objectives of the business in as cost-effective a manner as possible. An honest evaluation of the answers to the following critical questions will provide a good function for action.

a)        Is the organization structured to serve markets or simply to manage functions and sell products? Have priority markets been identified? Does someone have primary responsibility for ensuring that the product/service package is tailored to each target market? Do mechanisms exist to ensure cross-markets? Is there any kind of a market focus in the selling organization?

b)        Are there enough discrete profit centers? Do enough managers feel the burden of full profit responsibility? Is the business unit larger than its most successful smaller competitors? Are there any big cost centers that are not assigned or allocated to someone who has a profit and loss responsibility?

c)        Are there corporate group or division staff redundancies? Do the same titles exist at different levels (e.g., corporate controller, group controller, division controller, plant controller)? If so, does it make sense? Can staff position or groups show how they actively contribute to profit results? If so, do line managers agree that these functions are worth the cost?

d)        Are there too many layers? Are there more than five layers between the business unit manager and first level workers? Are there managers with assignments limited to managing one, two, three or four people? Why? Can any of these activities be combined under one manager? Why not?

e)        Is the ratio of supporters to actual results producers satisfactory? How many people actually make a direct contribution to results (e.g., first-line sales personnel, direct hourly workers, sales order engineering and order entry workers, handlers of incoming materials, and storing and shipping personnel)? How many managers, staff, and support personnel are cheering them on? If there is more than one support person for every two producers, what do they do? How do they contribute to profits?

The questions are not new, but the answers are more important now than ever. Traditional or experience-based answers are probably wrong because conditions have changed so dramatically. Moreover, it is doubtful whether existing management can or will ever come up with the right answers, because they have vested interests and the changes needed are simply too tough for them to swallow. These organization structure questions are not as serious for many small to medium-size companies since they are not as likely to be troubled with highly structured, functionally focused organizations lacking a dedicated market orientation. However, even managers in these companies must constantly fight the natural tendency to become more structured, bureaucratic, and lethargic.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Facing the Harsh Facts


Many companies that have lost profits or market share have managers who are still waiting patiently for their business to “get back to normal.” Others are looking for government help for their declining market and profit positions. Neither of these approaches is a viable situation. What is needed is less wishful thinking and rhetoric and greater willingness to squarely face the true facts about their markets and competitive positions. The demand changes that have occurred in many markets are structural, not cyclical, and it is unrealistic to expect any kind of a dramatic recovery or turnaround that will restore demand to former levels.

It is extremely difficult for managers who have built their entire careers around specific products and technology to accept the fact that their former business base has now leveled out from prior peaks, or worse yet, become obsolete or irretrievably lost to new competitors or technology. Obviously, many old-line steel managers could not imagine today’s world of aluminum cans, plastic auto parts and bodies, or Japanese, Korean, and small regional producers who constantly “beat their pants off.” Nor could managers in the high flying semiconductor business foresee the situation where their markets have not only ceased to gallop ahead, but decline dramatically, and where foreign sources, including Brazil, Korea, and Taiwan, have captured the bulk of the remaining business. Unfortunately, these are the facts, and an equally discouraging set of forces applies in many other markets.

It is understandable that managers who have grown up and lived through the growth years in any of these industries find today’s conditions difficult to accept. But they must change their myopic or unrealistic views of their business so they can tackle the hard work required to regain a profitable competitive footing. Otherwise, their situations will not improve and will most likely deteriorate further.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Facing up to Deficiencies


Many companies fail to objectively evaluate their products against competitive offerings in a rigorous manner. If they do go through some kind of an evaluation process, it is often superficial or biased, leading to a continuation of “business as usual” rather than dramatic cost or performance improvements. In some cases, management is not presented with the real facts because it is easier not to “rock the boat.” In other cases, management may see the facts but not accept or face them squarely, since it is not easy to admit that a product is no longer competitive. As a result, a surprising number of companies continue to try to get by with products that are not competitive and they fail to make the fundamental, essential changes in design or cost.

There are two important points that successful companies always follow. First, it is essential to ensure that products are designed for efficient manufacturing and assembly. Second, “me too” parity is never a solid basis for gaining or regaining position. Technical programs should always be designed to leapfrog the competition rather than play “catch up” against moving competitive targets.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Business Marketing Management


Many large firms that produce goods such as steel, production equipment, or computer-memory chips cater exclusively to business market consumers and never directly interact with their ultimate consumers. Other firms participate in both the consumer goods and the business markets. The introduction of laser printers and personal computers brought Hewlett-Packard, historically a business-to-business marketer, into the consumer market. Conversely, lagging consumer markets prompted Sony Corporation to expand to the business market by introducing office automation products. Both companies had to reorient their marketing strategies dramatically because of the significant differences between the buying behavior exhibited in the consumer versus the business markets.

 Products like cellular phones, office furniture, personal computers, and software are purchased in both the consumer and the business markets. What distinguishes business marketing from consumer goods marketing is the intended use of the product as we all intended consumer. Sometimes the products are identical, but a fundamentally different marketing approach is needed to reach the organizational buyer.

 My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

The Changing Face of Customer Service


Excellent customer service—the daily, ongoing support of a company’s offerings—is critical in creating brand identity and ultimate success. It includes answering questions, taking orders, dealing with billing issues, handling complaints, scheduling appointments, and similar activities. These essential functions can make or break an organization’s relationships with its customers. The quality of customer care can significantly impact brand identity for service, manufacturing, and consumer products companies. Because of its importance in creating impressions and sustaining customer relationships, customer service has sometimes been called the “front door” of the organization or its “face.”

 

So how has the “face” of customer service changed with the influx of technology? Long ago all customer service was provided face-to-face through direct personal interaction between employees and customers. To get service you had to visit stores or service providers in person. The telephone changed this, allowing customers to call companies and speak directly with employees. Customer service became less personal, but without a doubt more efficient, through use of the telephone. With the evolution of computer technology, customer service representatives (CSRs) became even more efficient. Through computer information systems and customer data files, CSRs are able to call up customer records at their workstations to answer questions on the spot.

 

Over time, because communication and computer technologies allowed it, large organizations began to centralize their customer service functions, consolidating into a few large call centers that could be located anywhere in the country or world. But still, in these types of call centers, customer service is for the most part an international event with customers talking directly, one-on-one with an employee.

 

The advent and rapid proliferation of the efficient, but much maligned, automated voice response systems have changed personal customer service in many organizations into menu-driven, automated exchanges. In almost every industry and any business context consumers encounter these types of systems, and many are quite frustrating—for example, when a system has a long confusing set of menu options or when no menu options seems to fit the purpose of the call. Similarly, consumers become angered when they cannot get out of the automated system easily, or when there is no option to speak to a live person.

 

Some companies have overcome these obstacles, however, and have well-designed automated telephone systems that work well for customers. This is accomplished through a form of natural-language speech recognition technology that allows customers to easily interact through the telephone in ways that are much like talking to a real person. Further, a human contact is always easy to get to if needed. Customer satisfaction is rated among the highest in any industry. One of the keys may be that the vice president of retail voice technology occupies a senior management position, showing importance placed on this function. In general, satisfaction levels for automated speech recognition systems are higher than satisfaction with touch-tone systems and in some cases are higher than for live agents.

 

Beyond automated telecom systems, explosion of the internet is also dramatically changing customer service for many companies. Service can now be provided on the internet via e-mail, website robots, FAQs, and online chat. In these cases there is no direct human interaction, and customers actually perform their own service. At Ford Motor Company’s technology that allows dealership customers to set their own service appointments, send messages regarding their specific repair needs, and monitor the status of their vehicles, all online.

 

With the relentless proliferation of technology solutions, firms are finding that expectations for customer service have changed. Customers are demanding choices in how they get customer service, whether it be over the phone, automated voice systems, via fax or email, or through internet self-service. However, while customers often enjoy technology-based service and even demand it in many cases, they dislike it when it doesn’t work reliably (a common problem), when it doesn’t seem to have any advantages over the interpersonal service alternatives, and when there are no systems in place to recover from failures. Interestingly, when things don’t work as they are supposed to on an internet site or through an automated response system, customers are quick to look for more traditional interpersonal (in person or via telephone) options, coming full circle to where we started.

 

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Attention Spans


Busy people have short attention spans, so get to the point. Assume that you are there to listen and you’ll talk less. Don’t start with your life story; don’t drag out a presentation; and unless you are a playwright, forget the dramatic buildup. All you’ll succeed in doing is irritating people, or worse, making their minds wander. Also, learn the attention spans of the people you deal with.

 

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please visit www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Change or Change Management?


Our ability to deal with mega theme dramatic change is the subject of the next trend. Perhaps the single most important indicator for corporate success in the near future is the attitude of the company culture about change. The willingness of a structure to set itself up for change, to regard itself as a testing ground with daily battles, not just those that occur every planning period, is one of the best litmus paper indicators of eventual success or failure.

Today’s information explosion is just beginning. The growing list of mergers, alliances and joint ventures and the rapid deployment of technology are producing change at a velocity that even the seasoned players in businesses can’t surmise. The challenge for businesses will not be in how we manufacture or market change but how we manage it.

The days of the large-scale, vertically integrated corporation are numbered. The trend is toward smaller enterprises with increasing specialization of products are services: the upcoming approach is 50 people are the maximum for the company; if the staff gets above 50 people the company will be cut in two. There is no place to hide in a firm of 50 people. These small companies know what’s happening in their marketplace and with their competitors—they’re not from the marketplace.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

Up next is Era of Knowledge Workers


Individuals whose jobs are designed around the acquisition and application of information are called knowledge workers. Knowledge workers are at the cutting edge in the era around corner. Their jobs are designed around the acquisition and application of information. Organizations need people who can fill those jobs—the demand of them is great. And because the supply of information technologies is low, those in the field are paid a premium for their services. In West the number of blue-collar jobs has shrunk dramatically. Unfortunately, some of the blue-collar workers don’t have the education and flexibility necessary to exploit the new job opportunities in the information revolution. They don’t have the specific skills to move easily into high paying technologies’ jobs. The transition from the farm to factory floor required little additional skill—often just a strong back and a willingness to learn, follow reactions, and work hard.

My Consultancy–Asif J. Mir – Management Consultant–transforms organizations where people have the freedom to be creative, a place that brings out the best in everybody–an open, fair place where people have a sense that what they do matters. For details please contact www.asifjmir.com, Line of Sight

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