“I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to run that program anymore,” I said to Nancy.
“Okay, but are you sure?” she asked. “It does well.”
“You’re right — it does well and customers want it, but it’s very hard to deliver on, and I’m worried that one of these times I’m not going to be able to get it done. I don’t like that feeling, so I don’t want to offer it anymore,” I said.
“I know you’re closer to the delivery part than I am, so I understand where you’re coming from,” said Nancy.
This exchange helped me clarify some important things around what it takes to be a successful business. I’ve written before about the need for a close connection between product development and sales, emphasizing the fact that companies who merely flog the salespeople for not selling, rather than asking them why something isn’t selling and then using that information to make the product more appealing, are foolish. The recent talk with Nancy helped me solidify in my mind the importance of also having a close connection between the sales and delivery functions of an organization. For the sake of our conversation, the “delivery” function refers to those people who actually perform the service or install the product.
If the promise is egregious enough, the customer is left in the lurch, being told something along the lines of, “I don’t know why they told you that, but it can’t be done,” as if the two voices were coming from separate companies. If the promise is merely off the mark, the delivery team is forced to bite the bullet and do they best they can to make good on what should have never been offered.
In our case, the case of the small, privately owned business, there is almost no separation between product development, sales and product delivery. This dynamic is why I like to work with small businesses when possible. For example, when my wife and I had our kitchen done, we selected a family-owned company with a track record of good service. They essentially had their names on the door. The contractor who was going to do the actual work came to the house, along with the head of the design company, to review the space and talk about what could be done, what was possible. The person who physically installed the cabinets was the owner’s brother — it doesn’t get much closer than that. In today’s age of social media and online reviews, a company that lives or dies on its hyper-local reputation cannot afford to drop the ball and leave a customer in the lurch, and they didn’t with us.
While healthsystemCIO is not hyper-local geographically, we are hyper-focused in another equally important way. There are a finite number of CIOs who are our potential readers, as well as companies that are our potential advertisers, and everybody knows everybody. But even more than this, I wouldn’t sleep well at night if I didn’t feel confident about delivering on the products and services we’ve sold. And, to be honest, going to bed with an untroubled mind is just about the most important thing to me, because it covers everything else.
For those of you in larger organizations (which is just about everyone), the question is how to replicate this small business dynamic. I know for some consulting organizations, those who sell the services are required to be involved in their implementation — a direct attempt to prevent decoupling. For those of you in other organizations, especially hospitals, it’s worth some thought. Perhaps an effort to keep or create these connections will prevent things like units being overbooked with too many patients while being understaffed with too few clinicians. If the people deciding on the patient load were the same ones caring for them, I’m betting the ratios would be whole lot more favorable to those in the beds.
In short, do your best to bring together those who promise with those who fulfill and, when possible, work with companies that embrace this structure. When that happens, I’m confident everyone sleeps better at night.