The Engines are Misfiring, Scotty!

 
My highly illogical journey to landing at Compass Point continues…

Captain’s Blog September 2012 - Facing many new challenges at Extol, we have vertical silos inside our organization and they are not operating as one unit. The senior leadership team’s direction and goals are not being understood clearly by the other departments of the company. How we sell, develop, support, and operate software for clients is not in alignment. “The EXTOL engines are misfiring Scotty, we need to get this ship running smooth so we can engage growth speed.”
 
There was a lot to get our hands around as we prepared for 30-40% growth in the next 5 years. While my cousin, Josh, headed up the product development team, creating the blueprints for where we were going to take the product lines of our software company, I focused on the overall operations of the company and getting everyone on the same page.
 
I had two major focuses at the beginning of this journey:
 
• First was getting Sales to become aligned with the company’s operating goals
• Second was to get the customer facing departments to work together as one team
 
Our sales office was in NJ and the home office was in Pottsville Pa.  This geographical difference was just a small part of the issue, as the former head of the Sales team had a different approach to running the company than did our Founders Tony and Joe Baran. This office had been run that way from the beginning.  Getting this team aligned to the mothership would be a challenge. As COO, I embarked on being physically present in the NJ office at least one day per week until the goal was achieved.
 
The Support and Services departments needed a lot of help working as a team as well.  Both organizations did amazing work and helped the company enjoy a 98% renewal rate from day one. The problem was that they worked for the same leader who moved resources around to fight fires, often creating resource gaps that would hinder either department from completing its job. Because the leader at the top did not do a good job of managing this, both teams felt overworked and underappreciated.
 
Captain’s Blog September 2013 - A lot has happened in the past year. It became clear that we needed to refocus our Sales organization and find a new sales leader.  Some very tough decisions were made to part ways with a few members of our team and begin working with a consultant to help us get Sales back on the right track. This work began and we started to reinvest in new talent and attempt to get the team focused on the operating under the principals developed by Tony and Joe.
 
During an all hands-on deck company meeting at the end of the year, I stood in front of the company and explained that I had made a big mistake. Over the previous year I had worked with the same consultant and she truly helped get our company focused on what it did well and helped drive alignment with our executive leadership team.  I hoped for the same result for our Sales organization. This time the outcome was not what we were looking for. This was one of the more painful learning experiences for me in my new position as COO. I corrected the issue and parted ways with the consultant, but this decision took me 4 months too long to make.
 
We course corrected and started looking for a new VP of Sales. We took the time to find the right person for the job and brought Peter on board.  After a few months, the Sales department shifted its focus, and we were running at full power in the RIGHT direction.  
 
But something even more valuable came from this – TRUST. By publicly admitting my mistake, I made it ok for everyone in the organization to not be perfect, to be human. I witnessed how freeing this was for the rest of the team to understand that we can, and will, make mistakes, but it is how fast we get back up, course correct, and learn that matters. This experience was one that truly opened my eyes to the power that a leader’s actions have on the entire organization.
 
Thankfully the Support and Services alignment was a much smoother transition. “Growing up” in the company working on the front line in Support and then later in Services gave me more personal insight to the issues and problems that these departments faced. We had amazing talent in the entire company, and these departments were home to many aspiring leaders. To get everyone heading on the right page, aiming for the right goals, the team embraced Patrick Lencioni’s 5 Dysfunctions of a Team.
 
The leadership teams worked through the book and exercises together and created guidelines and principals for working with each other. They then moved onto worked setup team goals for the upcoming year. As Jim Collins would say, we put the right people, in the right seats, doing the right things. As the newly melded and aligned Customer Services team, its margins rose from 19% to over 50% as a department. This team became the example for the rest of the company as we then chose to roll out the 5-Dysfunctions organization wide.
 
In looking back, I learned that while we had experienced success over the years, it was far from a straight line. When you chart a course into an unknown, be it a new market, sales territory, product launch, far-away galaxy, etc.) it takes a team that TRUSTS it leadership.  Leadership with the willingness to realize – and admit – when the ship is off course and tap on the talent and drive of those around them to chart a new path.
 
We did it as a team.
 
Next up… Captain’s Blog September 2015 and beyondWarp Drive to Acquisition.
 
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Matthew is a Senior Business Advisor at Compass Point Consulting and provides hands-on consulting & coaching to help family businesses close performance gaps; give owners practical, actionable tools that drive growth; deliver training to develop leaders and position the business for successful ownership transition - all on their terms.
 
Learn more at: http://www.compasspt.com

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