PI TALKIES | Who’s That Guy At The Bottom?
If you are looking to create an empowered, frontline-focused, passionate organisation, look no further. Take the first step. Turn your organisation upside down
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You’ve seen it before. That standard slide in a corporate presentation that shows the organisation chart. The boss at the top. The vice-presidents below him. Followed by the general managers, and so on. And right at the bottom of that pyramid, the army of foot soldiers who stand and deliver: the company’s salesmen.
But that’s not quite what I saw one winter morning in Delhi when the company boss Suman Sinha — then the CEO of PepsiCo India — presented the org chart. I saw an upside down organisation. In the pre-PowerPoint era of 35mm slides and carousel projectors, you would have instantly thought some rookie trainee would lose his job for inserting the slide upside down.
Suman quickly explained that the upside down org chart wasn’t a mistake. It was deliberate.
“At the top of this organisation are our salespeople,” he said. “They are closest to our customers, and they know best what this organisation needs to do to delight our customers. They decide what we do. Below the sales guys are a bunch of managers whose job is to ensure the salesmen get all the support they need. Below those managers are a set of general managers whose job is to mobilise organisational resources to make sure the sales teams get what they need. Below them are the VPs whose job it is to make sure their functional teams are supporting the sales effort. And do you see that guy at the bottom of the pyramid? That’s me.
The CEO. My job is simple. I just need to ensure that the entire organisation is geared to support the salespeople as they go out serving customers, day after day after day.”
Wow! On that single slide, you could see a leader striving to build an organisation with a difference. A small change in the org chart made a big difference to the company’s culture.
So if you are looking to create a customer focused organisation, you might want to invert your organisation too. Make your salesperson the hero. Make the customer your God. In one stroke, Suman created an empowered frontline. Suddenly, the sales folks were all walking a wee bit taller. They loved the attention, and the trust and responsibility that seemed to come with it. And soon enough, commercial teams were getting quicker at processing the sales team’s proposals and their expense statements. Factory teams were taking the sales team’s needs — and the customer’s complaints — a bit more seriously. The magic had begun.
The change in the org structure — nay, the change in the culture itself — wasn’t only about a fancy slide in a presentation. It was a message that Suman ensured was driven home. At a launch conference for the sales team in Lucknow, as Suman got on to the stage to address the team, guess who was seated in the front row? You are right. All the senior leaders who had flown in from the corporate headquarters. Isn’t that always the case, in every company, every conference, every city? The salesmen — the real folks for whom the launch conference was intended — were all at the back. Suman quickly got them to swap places. When a sales army is made to feel as special as this one did, you can bet they will do just a little more to make sure they come out winning. And they did.
So if you are looking to create an empowered, frontline-focused, passionate organisation, look no further. Take the first step. Turn your organisation upside down.
BW is introducing a regular column on leadership. Iyer is an author, speaker and leadership coach , and former MD of Kimberly Clark Lever
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