Strategic allegiances (not alliances) help your organization assess and eliminate risk. Experiential training methods show you the way.
In the 1920’s, if you worked in or owned a company, (public), you could expect to have a secure position for around 65 years.
By the 1990’s that number had fallen to 10 years. Meaning, you could expect to have a secure position for around a decade.
And by 2011 the number had fallen yet again to 5 years.
What made this number drop? The largest risk in any business: Not having enough customers.
In 2018, what is the largest risk to business?
Customers choosing not to buy from a company that isn’t customer friendly, and organizational customer service falling because of departmental non-connectivity.
Translation: Silo’d organizations make less money.
What is the next biggest risk?
An organization losing its best talent (employees who are the most innovative, and willing to grow with the organization ‘long-term’). This means they remain both a value to your organization in order to bear out the initial ROI and they continue to actively contribute to increased customer satisfaction which translates directly to revenue.
Translation: Keep the talented, future-thinking employees who help you to retain, or gain new customers.
This seems like common sense right, (but as Grammy-Master Trainer used to say: “If common sense were common everyone would have it.”).
As I write this, I can think of at least three articles I’ve read that talk about the strides some companies are making in utilizing great employee-service, (Employee Service is another phrase we’ve coined here), to increase customer service.
And while this term may seem new, the concept it represents, as well as the actionable steps, have been practiced by great companies ever since great companies came into being.
One of the most influential studies I’ve ever read was Personal Psychology’s: ‘Management Modeling Training to Improve Morale and Customer Satisfaction’ 1.
IBM Managerial Study
During the 1972 study, managers in 18 branch offices of IBM were trained in two sessions each on how to communicate effectively with individual employees and groups of employees. They were taught how to give feedback from opinion surveys, and how to prepare meaningful action plans to improve morale. The success of this training was remarkable.
Remarkable enough for us to use the findings as a baseline for so many training sessions, incorporating new information and technologies, but so many of those same techniques and experiential methods are even more valuable in great organizations around the world.
These top organizations have begun to look at both of their customer sight-lines, and have found (unsurprisingly) that happy internal customers mean better satisfaction ratings and revenue from external customers.
“There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.”
General Sun Tzu wrote that quote in the historic ‘The Art of War’ over 2, 000 years ago. While we usually don’t think of our positions in our organizations as all-out warfare…hmm, let’s be sure of that, shall we?
After all, what could Sun Tzu have to do with strategic allegiance?
And, well, what is strategic allegiance, not to be confused with strategic alliance, besides a cool-sounding term?
It’s actually a phrase we’re coining here at Training Standards International.
Experiential Training Methods to Build Strategic Allegiance
To be sure that we don’t get these two concepts confused, let’s identify both the one that we’re discussing and the term that is often confused.
A strategic alliance is the term used when two or more businesses actively partner with other businesses in order to achieve like-minded goals.
Strategic allegiance is the term for several departments within an organization actively choosing to break down work-flow hindering silo’s in order to achieve the goals of the organization while increasing the employee experience. It is aligning your company’s employees, customers, and culture.
General Tzu would be proud.
In war, you have opposing sides occupying the same physical space, separated by imaginary lines. Within the ranks of each of the major armies, there are smaller divisions or departments, each person within that unit jockeying for their own promotion, or position. The overall goal of the armies is oddly the same: to win.
Replace ‘imaginary lines’ with buildings that separate one business unit from another business unit or organizational departments. Replace ‘smaller divisions’ with ‘projects’ or ‘teams’, but add the word ‘silo’ and yes, there are definite similarities.
An interesting point here would be how many of us have worked in this type of environment.
Even more interesting?
For some organizational cultures, this type of environment is on the rise.
These organizations are in trouble.
As always, I’ll strive to be as clear as possible. There is an old adage that crosses industries that states: “People quit people”.
No, it’s not a play on words from that Barbara Streisand lady, (thanks again Grandma for making me watch ‘Funny Girl’. Incidentally, it’s why I get you ugly hats for your birthdays…enjoy.), rather it is a statement that has been handed down from some HR person or trainer to his or her eager young protégés.
As implied, it means that when employees leave your organization, taking with them whatever KST’s, (Knowledge, Skills, and Training/experience), they gained while in the organization, they do so because of someone to whom they report.
And while we know that this is sometimes the case, we also know that there are other reasons for employee disengagement, we talk about these much more in our ‘Master Class: Employee Engagement’.
For now, let’s look at the effect of the gap left by avoiding strategic allegiances, namely its effect on your customers and your revenue. Using the cool Sun Tzu metaphor, the gap is ONE discordant note, learning to build allegiances, by its very nature, brings several different combinations together to make your internal and external customers much more harmonious for your business.
Close the GAP with Strategic Allegiances
Think about the companies that you think of as great places to work.
Now think about what their cultures have in common.
The climate of business is always changing, as integrated systems such as IBM’s Watson, Future Strategies’ Human Performance GPS, Training Standard international’s GAP analysis, or your own organizations systems or surveys improve, and find new ways to improve satisfaction amongst internal/external customers.
This increase brings with it more advanced knowledge and processes. Those processes are only as good as the information and cultures using them. If you have a silo’d culture, rather, a silo’d culture that uses assumption rather than information, this is for you.
Use Strategic Allegiances to Increase Employee Service
If this is your first foray into experiential learning, let me give you the premise.
- The materials, methods, training, and execution must be a safe and honest space. The trainers, participants, and organization must be able to speak freely and honestly.
- The learner, in this instance, your organization, and each department or division must be thought of first at each step of the culture shift. There has to be some meaning for the participant in order for learning to occur and be received
- All of the materials, training, and subsequent actions have to encourage a ‘20,000-foot view’, encouraging each participant in your organization to look at his or her actions from their own view, the view of the rest of the business, and the customers view.
- Emotions are good. If you have ever been in a training where there was no emotional content, what do you remember about it? Now, if you’ve ever been in a training environment, and subsequently a business environment that inspired you to think about your position, customers, and company with a bit of passion, what do you remember from that one? Emotion and Passion are not only good for customer service, they are non-negotiable.
- Get up, and get out of the expected comfort zones. Don’t let your participants get away with just sitting and observing, get them up…with a small caveat.
- The purpose of each communication, each role-play, and each post-training interaction needs to have a meaning that relates back to the perspective of the employee, the business, and the customer. There must be purpose to communication.
There are many more steps, but those will get us started.
Now let’s talk about the actual steps.
Steps to Building a Strategic Allegiances
Again, due to time constraints, (and let’s be honest, attention), the following steps are using organizational silo’s as the measurable GAP. Each of these steps is easily transferable to other GAPs.
- Expose the GAPS
Determine what your organization wants, this must be done as honestly as possible, and goes beyond mission statements, and company vision to ask this question: “We know how we want to be perceived, but this is how we are actually viewed.” (I think of my own experience, while at a company doing a GAP analysis. I overheard a member of management belittle an employee, that employee was later terminated I was told, for ‘asking too many questions’. That company repeatedly told employees that there was an ‘open-door policy’. The GAP would be the difference between saying ‘come in and ask’, and the actual, ‘don’t come in and ask, but pretend that you can’.
- Find out what questions your employees ask most often
Find out what questions your customers ask most often. Find out what questions your employees would like to ask. Same for your customers. Answer those questions up front. Every day.
- Allow any searches for GAPs to be anonymous
Let your customers and employees be honest by letting them feel safe.
- Determine which GAPs you want to bridge
If your organization is not willing to disconnect yearly incremental increases from employee reviews then tell your employees that at the start. Don’t waste time on items that aren’t going to change.
- Use all of your time wisely
Ice-breakers that have nothing to do with bridging the GAP are useless. Each class activity, discussion, subsequent project and follow-up needs to be relevant and measurable.
- Allow the feedback to change the conversation
If what the employees and customers think of as important is taking a backseat because it’s ‘not what you’re supposed to be talking about’, change what you are talking about. Remember, silo’s happen naturally, in every facet of humanity you will find that humans are tribal. Meaning, they will look for some group that accepts them, and they will work harder for that group. Your goal is to keep in mind that humans are also very social. Imagine how your organization will work once the ‘tribe’ is the entire organization.
- Initiate some form of action as a result of the new direction.
Taking silo’s into account, look for ways to get employees to talk to each other across those silos. This can be done by giving an internal training class on how to use your internal communications platforms, any social media that your organization endorses, sponsoring a cross-functional lunch that gets employees from different departments and/or units to meet in person.
- Practice what you preach.
Changing your organization from a silo’d one to one that uses strategic allegiances is not a one-step process, (we’re already on step 8). One of the very first steps is to begin this culture and revenue shift in phases that begin with the upper echelon of your organization. If your support team, (Managers, sponsors), are silo’d in their interactions, employees will follow suit. It’s one of the major reasons that we begin to train strategic allegiances from the top down.
- Don’t forget to allow for humanity
This means people will make mistakes. Allow them to.
Your goal is to keep in mind that humans are also very social, imagine how your organization will work once the ‘tribe’ is the entire organization.
If you follow these very direct, effective steps, and measure the engagement and satisfaction of both your internal and external customers, I guarantee that the improvements you measure will make you want to do even more. Strategic allegiances are how we actively bring our employees and revenue into the same focus.
Final Thoughts on Strategic Allegiances
Getting back to ‘The Art of War’, it’s how we learn to pick the battles that we can win and those which will have the deepest impact upon the future of the company’s, that we have chosen to give our time and loyalty to. Knowing that if we don’t, we will lose both employees and customers to organizations that value their opinion.
Build strategic allegiances, and get the gift of improved morale, and increased revenue and metrics. If we don’t, we’ll need to begin to look around our organization for ugly hats. They look like employees not engaged get a lot of ugly hats.
Welcome to the Master Class.
(1) SMITH, P. E. (1976), MANAGEMENT MODELING TRAINING TO IMPROVE MORALE AND CUSTOMER SATISFACTION. Personnel Psychology, 29: 351–359. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.1976.tb00419.x