Tweet: Redesign roles and structure to improve feedback, and use new tools for engagement to build a smarter B2B business.

In an information age where LinkedIn has probably more insights than your human resource department and Google has 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 deal with the challenges of our time.

Many are still so 20th century

Some of us might think that this is common sense but sadly few Asian B2B companies have adopted approaches that will allow them to profit from collaboration and information that characterizes a information-rich environment. For now, many Asian B2B companies prefer to believe that guanxi or relationship trumps everything believing that it is still business as usual. So these companies operate like nations saddled with a 20th century military structure and hardware. They 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 has no leadership content, is seldom updated and they don’t even 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 reinforcing the fact that they are an insignificant player. This affects employee perceptions as well. 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 the human resource department for administrative matters. There is little encouragement to have inter-department collaboration as everyone is in the do-it-yourself mode. 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. So they tend to just do their jobs and then jump at the next opportunity.

3) Inability to address feedback

At meetings – because the rules of offering feedback has not been clarified – staff spend time observing the social dynamics before even daring to contribute. This waste 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 begin. This adds to frustration and reduces productivity.

Catch up or lose out

What many Asian B2B companies don’t realise is, the information age has already transformed the expectations of staff and customers. The ease of having information at their fingertips, 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 with B2B companies, 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 right person. Companies that don’t have any strategy and process to communicate in the modern way, lose more business opportunities when compared to those who do.

In a nutshell, the current model is not maximizing the revenue potential, thus affecting 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, many B2B businesses’s human resource strategy is not really future-ready. There must be a shift from human resource management towards 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 the state of engagement with staff and customers. Identify where staff and customers are getting information on their own and whether those ‘black-market’ sources will damage the company’s credentials. After you have conducted the review, develop an action plan, bearing in mind the type of information you like to convey, the nature of conversations you like to provoke and the frequency of engagement. For internal staff, it is best to communicate weekly. For customers, try to conduct an online update of your website and social media sites like once a week.

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 shaping 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 will naturally change their mindsets.

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 face-to-face updates. There are a variety of social media tools for companies to use. To help our clients, our firm has just launched an internal knowledge sharing app that works well on mobile phones. This makes it easier for our clients to engage their staff on a daily basis. The level of interaction and type of information 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 frameworks are good, these tools will be useful for business development. With so much technology at our disposal, there are no excuses for not creating a smarter B2B Business that can ride the information wave sweeping our region.

Graphics: Consulus