I attended an internal company meeting as a subject matter expert and the Director of Operations asked me to provide feedback regarding a presentation given by a leader of the organization. He wanted to know how I could help his department align work to meet the company’s new initiatives.
The presentation took about 45 minutes, and it covered many details. As I listened to the Marketing Director cover the key points, I noticed an underlying theme. In essence, they were looking to expand service to other parts of the United States because sales were lagging in the local market.
Expanding the map is a strategy used by many companies, but it should be done as a planned action, and not necessarily as a knee-jerk reaction to other underlying problems. From my initial observation, it appeared that customers were leaving because the competition was providing a better product at a competitive price.
Given the seriousness of the matter, the president of this electronics company was in attendance. He listened intently, and finally rose to speak when the presentation was complete.
He asked the following questions:
- “What exactly is our problem?”
- “Did we seek feedback from our customers to avoid this situation?”
- “Why didn’t we anticipate this issue before it worsened?”
As the president spoke, many of the attendees had a tough time making eye contact with him. Instead, they pretended to jot down notes as they scribbled in their brand new notepads.
The president spoke for about 5 minutes before the self-appointed talker took the stage.
The Talker [Dale – Manager]
“Sir, if you don’t mind, I would like to share some ideas regarding your questions.”
The president acknowledged the manager [talker], and the monologue ensued.
I took down a few notes until the ink nearly ran out of my pen:
- “When I worked at Steele Electronics, we had a similar problem. The customers were leaving left-and-right. I did the best I could to keep them, but the sales guys pissed them off too much. I was fighting an uphill battle. There was little I could do, but I kept trying.”
- “The customer is important, and it appears to me that we have too much friction in this company. The Sales Department is blaming Manufacturing, and Manufacturing is blaming the leadership team.”
- “I am here to get things done, and I don’t care who gets mad about it. If you don’t like how I run my department, you need to post somewhere else.”
Dale (“Talker” and “Manager”) made some valid points over the next 15 minutes. However, he was hired only a few months before, and had yet to gain the respect of other key stakeholders. In fact, he dominated so many of the meetings that people began finding excuses to miss his meetings (other meetings, sick child, sore back, Hurricane Sandy, and so on).
One other issue here is up-staging the president. While the president had poor leadership skills, it was weird observing Dale speak in the forefront, while the leader of the company was in the background, both physically and metaphorically.
My comments to the Director of Operations were specific to how they can leverage their strengths. However, the “Talking Manager” shed light on an even bigger problem, and one that went beyond the scope of my assignment.