In my travels and subsequent visits to simply many hundreds of companies, I have been surprised at how many companies have departments that don’t operate with the belief that they add real value to company profitability. They perhaps understand that they are necessary and that they have a function to perform, but don’t link this same functional role to bottom line results or even turnover for that matter. They view their respective roles, at worst – as a necessary evil, at best – as a service department. So, statements like, “we are just the maintenance crew” or “we are just the human resources department, so deal with disciplinary and training issues”, become the norm. As such, a negatively-perceived, and thus dysfunctional, and less than optimal self-belief gets embedded in thinking and resultant behaviour.

This works itself out in various possible ways:

  • The department seldom operates strategically, nor gives ideas for improvement to operational functions
  • The department sees itself as a “cost” to the company and operates out of “fear” for its position or feels that it has to fight for budget
  • The department never works alongside operational departments, but works “for them”
  • Sales and marketing and production are seen as departments that have greater value than their own
  • The department feels overlooked by the CEO and other Executives (this is sometimes true and is also reflected in lesser salary packages for these departments)

The above outworking of a negatively-perceived departmental value has negative impact on the self-image of team members and subsequently on the amount of energy that gets applied appropriately to tasks and productivity as a whole. Focus could get diffused and absenteeism and staff turnover could both increase. A key problem here is leadership – are leaders focusing their team members around a worthy vision, related to company profitability, and motivating employees to reach for the vision and achieve their goals?

Perhaps leaders could be asking the following with their team members (except the first one, which they need to define personally) to achieve team value within the bigger framework of company profitability:

  • What is my “vision for leadership” in my current role?
  • What is my department’s and/or my role’s “big picture” strategic responsibility, related to the profitability of the company?
  • What are my department’s goals re reaching this “big picture”?
  • What other departments/people are we dependent on for success with these goals? Have these relationships been negotiated?
  • Do we need any additional resources to be able to achieve these goals – if so, define?
  • What do we need to “stop doing, continue doing and start doing” to achieve these goals?
  • Prioritise the goals – check for any “low-hanging fruit” amongst the most important goals and assign responsibility to people to get started on achieving them.

Departmental leaders should be positioning themselves and their respective departments around the strategic business processes of the company – how the company makes money. This requires a focus on key business “dials” – on operating and profit margins, on which products sell best, on which products produce the greatest revenue and hopefully also profit for the company, on reducing down-time and waste, etc.  It means thinking with a business, and not a departmental, brain. It means a strategic involvement with the development and sustainability of the company. It means aligning itself to make the company profitable.

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