In an information age where LinkedIn has probably more insights than your human resource department and Google has probably more clues than your marketing team in terms of business prospects: it is time for Asia’s Businesss-to-Business(B2B) Companies to redesign their organisational models to be better prepared for the challenges of our time.
Many are so 20th century
Some of us might think that this is common sense but sadly not many Asian B2B companies have adopted approaches that will allow them to profit from collaboration and information that characterizes a future-ready corporate environment. For now, many Asian B2B companies prefer to believe that experience trumps everything and that it is still business as usual. So this is what happens, many B2B companies in Asia operate like nations with a 20th century military structure and hardware. These rely on top-down leadership modes, not willing to empower their troops on the ground with information, slowing down decision-making hence losing revenue opportunities. Here are some signs of a B2B Company with a 20th century model:
1) Lack fighting spirit in communication
The website is seldom updated and they don’t have a linkedin or facebook account, giving you the clear impression that they are not interested in more business or in new opportunities. So when prospective customers google about them, they find very little information further reinforcing the fact that they are an insignificant player. This affects employee perceptions as well. The peers of staff tend to check up on each other employer’s website and a poor online presence reinforces the perception that it is a traditional firm with little vision. This affects staff morale and makes it hard to attract better talents.
2) Lack pro-activeness to engage staff
The company has scheduled few moments to update staff about the direction of the company. Staff only see human resource department for administrative matters. There is little encouragement to have inter-department collaboration as everyone is in the mode of do-it-yourself. Once a while, staff will sense the urgency of issues – without understanding the big picture – when orders are barked down from above. This sends a clear signal to staff to hold back and don’t be be too committed to the company. Just do your job and jump at the next opportunity. Run like the wind!
3) Inability to address feedback
Some companies treat their staff like consumers and they actually have a feedback box. These feedback boxes are usually launched with some enthusiasm and then are eventually forgotten. So whenever staff pass by, they see these boxes as signs of non-commitment. At the meeting level – because the rules of offering feedback has not been clarified – new staff spend some time observing the social dynamics before even daring to contribute. This wastes precious time and money because some of those insights could have made a difference.
4) Lack of clarity in structure
The company has not explained or updated the way they organised departments and clarify who to work with whom. So people are inserted into roles within the organisations and are expected to find out on their own. Therefore it is really like being parachuted into the field and then having to figure out, who to contact and how to get support fire when you don’t really have a sense of where to even start. This adds to frustration and reduces productivity.
Catch up or lose out
What many Asian B2B companies don’t realise is that the information age has already transformed the expectations of staff and customers. The ease of having information at their fingertips, the profiles on facebook means people expect more engagement and appreciate information that is constantly updated. So companies of the 21st century have to be pro-active in communication both internally and externally. And creating an eco-system that aids in sharing of ideas, learning and building understanding is the only way forward.
The other reality is, inaction is already costing these companies millions of dollars every year. In our work in helping B2B companies in the region transform and be more competitive, the findings are startling. B2B companies who do not communicate well internally are more likely to lose able staff whom they have groomed to multi-national firms. The lack of proper eco-system to encourage sharing of ideas exposes them to higher risks and loss of opportunities as insights have no way of making it to the top. Companies that don’t have any strategy and process to communicate in the modern way, lose more business opportunities when compared with those who do. In a nutshell, current model are not maximizing the revenue potential, thus impacting their ability to do things more efficiently and increase profit margins. Using the military analogy again, it is akin to operating tanks and aircrafts without arming them with software and communication tools to coordinate their firepower.
Make it future-ready today
The truth is, our human resource strategy is not really future-ready. There must be a shift from human resource management towards intelligent human resource engagement. Top management needs to make it an urgent priority to review their corporate structure to make it more responsive to deal with the challenges of our time. Here are four ways you can do this:
1) Review the impact of the lack of engagement
Conduct a thorough review on whether it is really alright to not engage staff and customers with better information. Identify where staff and customers are getting these information on their own and whether those ‘black-market’ sources will damage the company’s credentials. After you have conducted the review then develop an action plan, bearing in mind the type of information you like to convey, the nature of conversations that you like to provoke and the frequency of engagement. For internal staff, it is best to communicate at least once a quarter. For customers, try to conduct an online update of your website and social media sites like once a month.
2) Change the way talents are evaluated
The next important step is to design engagement into corporate policies. Review how you are rewarding talents and their career development tracks. Allocate more rewards for people who collaborate with others, or how they mentor and share information. This is a proven way of fostering a culture of collaboration and excellence. We have seen that once people understand that the only way they can rise up the ranks is how well they have collaborated with others, they naturally change their frame of mind and work towards it.
3) Implement tools to engage immediate feedback
Next find ways and means to use present-day technology to engage your staff in a more immediate way rather than simply waiting for the quarterly updates. There are a variety of social media tools for companies to use. To better help our clients, our firm has just launched an internal knowledge sharing software that works well on mobile phones. This makes it easier our clients to engage their staff on a daily basis. The level of interaction and type of information then gives management a clear indication on how engagement is working and where improvement is needed.
4) Build an internal university
There are numerous opportunities to build B2B companies that are smarter. You can consider setting up moments when senior colleagues share their insights. Film these moments and use them again for passing on knowledge. If you set up an internal team well and the production is good, these tools will also be useful for business development. With so much technology at our disposal, there are no excuses for not creating a smarter model towards one that is constantly learning and engaging with one another.
Lawrence Chong is the CEO of Consulus, an innovation consultancy specializing in helping Asian companies transform their business models to rise up the value chain through business design, organisational development and designing new brand experiences. Consulus’ country representative in Sri Lanka is Shiraz Latiff who is also the CEO/Lead Consultant of Hummingbird International, a regional knowledge house specializing in coaching, consulting & outsourcing through global partnerships & collaborations.
This article is part of a weekly column called Shaping the World where Lawrence and Shiraz share insights and ideas about building innovative Asian Brands. It is published by one of the leading dailies in Sri Lanka, Ceylon Today.