Shoot in the same direction: Conflicts that could choke your business.

May 24, 2023
Shoot in the same direction: Conflicts that could choke your business.

Often, companies with a great set of people, effective processes or a winning idea, target markets large enough to fuel their ambitions, still struggle to reach optimum performance - that zen-like cruising speed which indicates long-term sustainability and predictable profitability.With many of our clients, we observed two conflicts that contributed substantially to this problem.ConflictsThe first conflict is internal - one between departments trying to create and deliver great offerings, but in inefficiently different (even diametrically opposite) directions. The solution to this inter-departmental misalignment includes an acute awareness of each others’ problems, processes (and motivation) to communicate effectively, and most importantly, a commitment to a common goal.The first two (awareness and communication) are urgent concerns that need to be ‘skilled-in’ at your manager level. But the last requirement (a common goal) is different. This requires a change at the senior management level - which brings us to the next conflict.The second conflict is external - and occurs when your company tries to target different customers with differing (and sometimes conflicting) benefits. As you grow, It is vital to create (and communicate) a set of synchronized benefits for customers with similar needs. This ensures you don’t end up spreading too thin - with your financial, intellectual or human resources.For instance, Kingfisher Airlines’ target customers - it wanted to be a stylish, full-service airline for the discerning, upwardly-mobile flyer - were unrelated to those served by Air Deccan - which grew on the promise of a no-frills, inexpensive flying experience for the budget traveller.While both airlines targeted specific customers on their own, their merger created an entity confused in its positioning - wooing customer segments that had inherently conflicting needs. Managers ended up concentrating on too many projects - which meant they could not allocate enough time or resources to any of them.While the result here was total disaster, most of our companies suffer this misalignment to a lesser degree - easily ignored or wrongly diagnosed as other, unrelated issues.ChallengesOnce our clients were able to identify these conflicts, the process of dealing with them came with its own set of challenges - 3 of which we identified as critical:

  1. What NOT to be - Most business leaders we deal with, are passionate about their customers, and want to provide every customer with every benefit. It is often difficult to get them to open up to the idea of trading-off some benefits, or abandoning even one set of customers so they can concentrate profitably on all the rest. It often becomes an expensive identity-crisis for the company, created by what might otherwise be an admirable top management team.
  2. Inter-departmental alignment - Department and BU heads take pride in their well-oiled, internally well-aligned units. However, when the overall direction of the company needs these departments to re-align themselves, it involves changes in processes, people and sometimes even culture.
  3. Going against the grain - Some ideas are so well-established, so ingrained in management thought, that to go against them creates an immediate backlash from managers, employees, investors, academics etc. But alignment requires strict adherence to a company’s own strategy, not blind obedience to truisms and the tried-and-tested.

For instance, when sales managers are tasked with increasing revenue - they are often tempted to go after ‘new’ customers - those outside your traditional target segment. This needs to be carefully monitored because, if the benefits they demand are not in tune with those you provide to your core customer base, you may lose focus and spend on ad-hoc enhancements that may leave you both poorer and more diluted in the long run.

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