Have you ever pondered the question of who actually controls your business on a day-to-day basis? Many chief executives have told me that they do. They say they have a large hand in the strategy; the culture; and, the policies and procedures, and that these things determine what the business is and what it does. But do they? Does this view match the reality?
I've long held the view that businesses should be controlled by just two things. The first is strategy, the expression of how the overall objective of the business is to be achieved and against which all effort is aligned. In most businesses, strategy is expressed in commercial terms, based on whatever purpose the shareholders have laid out. The second controlling influence is the customer, or it should be. Customers are crucial because they "feed" the top line, without which the business has no future.
The challenge for boards and chief executives is to ensure that all of the resources at their disposal (people, systems, product and service portfolio, finances) are aligned in pursuit of the agreed strategy. The benefits of doing so are almost self-evident, so much so that you would think all businesses would operate in this manner. But sadly, many don't.
If you will allow me to relate an actual experience—one that probably happens more often than most chief executives and company directors realise. Recently, having opened a managed funds account with a large provider, my wife and I found ourselves with the frustrating problem of being forced to change the password to gain access to the on-line system. Here's the exchange with the financial services advisor:
Me: We have discovered an annoying “feature” of the ABC programme: the “forced change” on user passwords. To be forced to change your password every few months is jolly annoying, to the point of arrogance on the part of ABC company. We are not forced to change our password with the bank. We can see no justification to impose such a regime on a look-only user account. Can you please talk to your people and get this setting changed.
Advisor: This is a feature determined by the provider of the on-line platform; and it is across all client accounts. ABC company has been approached on this several times but their IT security people are unable to make exceptions at the individual customer level.
M: Thank you for chasing our question through to an answer. It’s disappointing when “IT security people” get to drive the business and the customer experience eh! Your suggested work around is fine with us, on the proviso that it does not cause you any untoward extra work or hassle. One report per quarter will be fine. Is that OK?
A: Hi, that sounds fine.
The message is stark: that faceless people in back rooms often have more influence over business performance and perception than what executives and boards realise. They make decisions that seem reasonable. However, most of these decisions are made in isolation, without reference to customer or strategy. The consequences of decisions that detract from the customer experience and are inconsistent with the corporate strategy can be quite damaging. If customers start walking away, where does that leave the business?
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Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and boardcraft; our place in the world; and other topics that catch my attention.