Hierarchy dies hard in many organizations, so breaking down barriers among levels can prove particularly challenging.
Team members must feel it’s culturally acceptable to engage senior leaders on the fly, and likewise senior leaders must feel culturally comfortable reaching out across the organization to connect with front-line managers, factory workers and salespeople. This gives leaders access to real-time, unfiltered information. In The Culture of Collaboration book, I write about the Dow Chemical Company’s collaborative culture and the collaborative leadership approach of Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. In a compelling interview by Susan Daker in the Monday, January 25 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Andrew describes how Dow taps its salespeople for real-time intelligence about customer needs.
Wisely, Dow recognizes that the role of salespeople goes beyond addressing customer needs and closing deals. Dow salespeople collaborate with Research & Development and senior leaders to ensure that products meet customer needs. This may sound like a no brainer, but countless salespeople from many companies have told me that marketing, R&D and senior leaders have little interest in their customer insights. In such organizations, an “us and them” attitude develops between salespeople and management. And therefore the organization loses opportunities to gain real-time intelligence that would otherwise create value.
For years, salespeople have been underutilized. After all, they’re the eyes and ears of an organization. They can also be an early warning system for market shifts and product issues. Good salespeople understand their customers’ businesses, challenges, and industry trends. Isn’t that information important to R&D and senior leadership? Absolutely! In fact, companies pay dearly for similar intelligence and information from consultants and researchers.
In a collaborative organization, senior leaders reach out to salespeople for unfiltered, real-time information and input into decisions. Salespeople, in turn, engage and collaborate across leadership levels and across functions, business units and regions. Presence-enabled tools enhance this by letting people find each other and collaborate in real-time, enabling salespeople to share intelligence with senior leaders, R&D and others. But tools can only enhance and extend collaboration. For salespeople to contribute to product development and strategy, the organizational culture must support informal, spontaneous interactions regardless of level or title.