Is the front-office and back-office divide alive and well in your organisation?How well do you contend with and manage its vagaries?
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I’m sure every one of you reading or listening to this, whether employee or leader, can quote some destructive “horror stories” around this divide, yes? Whether its between sales & marketing and supply chain or manufacturing, kitchen or floor staff in a restaurant, sales and credit management, these tensions can run very high, can’t they?
Jan Carlzon, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines wrote the book “Moments of Truth“. In it he largely ascribes their turnaround success to the elimination of layers of “policy creating and implementing rules managers”. And moving decision making power as close to the customer as responsibly possible. How often in organisations do we see the backoffice “policy makers” creating unworkable “rules”? While intended to facilitate responsible decision making amongst front office operators, they can often only serve their own egos and to “cover certain parts of their anatomy”, right? And in so doing, often creating unnecessary obstacles in satisfying customer’s needs? Isn’t it amazing what behavioural power personal incentive KPI’s have?
How Does Front-Office and Back-Office Feature?
So far this year, I’ve coached over 50 senior corporate leaders in 15 different cities around the world and it is remarkable how often this front-office / back-office topic has featured in:
- a networking sense, related to front office roles’ ability to find, connect with and work with back-office people to overcome obstacles and facilitate smooth execution of customer needs
- the ability to negotiate and make certain policies more “workable” to be able to support both the organisation’s governance but also get what the customer needs
- front office roles getting back-office roles to appreciate the realities and pressures of “closing deals in customer-land”
- to eliminate ego driven and “turf protecting” internal political agendas
- but also pulling rapacious front office behaviours back into line around questionable, sometimes irresponsible and aggressive pursuit of sales objectives.
I’m sure many heads are nodding knowingly as you read or listen to these, yes?
Front-Office and Back-Office – Making Them Collaborate
I’m known to advocate “what you measure is what you get“. A decades long career in the vagaries of corporate matrix management showed me the inherent waste large organisations can consume on themselves. Rather than investing that energy into understanding and meeting customer needs and wants. Thereby also countering the competition so often blamed to justify certain egocentric behaviours, right?
Too often in their performance management and setting KPI’s leaders focus only on “their” unit’s objectives as they are cascaded “down the line”. If you only measure revenue, profit and such deliverables, of course that’s all staff will competitively chase. Even if at the expense of another department or function. Or at the overall expense of the organisation, right? But never mind… “I’m alright Jack”. This applies equally to the front-office and back-office dilemma.
I’ve learned that setting and measuring collaborative goals works. But it has to be believed and enforced from the top down. How?
Lock Them In A Room
Agreed, collaboration objectives are harder to establish and set. However if as the leader, you want internal collaboration rather than internal competition, you need to set measurable, collaborative objectives. Ones that recognize and reward behaviours leading to collaborative results. Otherwise nothing changes.
I remember being blown away every time we brought these (often front-office and back-office) “warring parties” together around a table to jointly and collaboratively map out an end to end business process. Only then did everyone see the “whole picture” and appreciate each other’s roles in the process. And how previous processes had often “got in the way” of good customer outcomes. And we got a superbly collaborative outcome every time. One in which everyone, including the customer was a winner.
Do you know what one of the biggest obstacles was to being able to do that? Getting the “bosses” to agree to and support such an event. Why? Because they could see that their (often personal) agendas could be undermined and “improved away” by such a constructive process. Go figure…
Front-Office and Back-Office – So What?
So whether you’re in a front-office or back-office role, and frustrated with your counterpart, why not reach out to them and try understand what they’re wrestling with, and hence help them better understand your and your internal or external customers needs and challenges too?
And if you’re the leader, why not make it your business to facilitate bringing these two parties together so that everyone can experience that great taste of winning? Each in their own way, and all of you together? Because you know who will win most in the end? No, not just the customer, but all of you.