By: Juliana Stancampiano

This article originally appeared on on August 10, 2017.

Every day, we hear about businesses that are launching initiatives, spending money and restructuring their organizations, but are they actually getting results? Not really.

Taken in aggregate, sales, general and administrative (SGA) spending outpaces revenues, and margins continue to erode. This macro indicator is indicative of another trend: the gap between strategy and execution.

Published theories on the persistence and pervasiveness of the strategy-to-execution gap indicate a common theme: Existing organizational structures, built from the industrial revolution, no longer meet our needs. Instead, they exert a debilitating gravitational pull on the very people who need to change and adopt.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “American companies spend enormous amounts of money on employee training and education – $160 billion in the United States, and close to $356 billion globally in 2015 alone – but they are not getting a good return on their investment.” The article provides a top-down systems view of the failure points of so-called training programs. Those failure points are traceable to an overall assumption by leaders that “problems of organizational behavior and performance stem from the deficiencies of individuals” rather than “a poorly designed and ineffectively managed system.” This flawed assumption makes it “much easier … to point to employees’ competencies as the problem and to training as the clear solution.”

Caught in the middle of this disconnect are four groups:

  1. The employee, who must ingest an insurmountable amount of topical information and learn a superhuman set of skills, seemingly overnight
  2. The enablement teams inundated with requests for content, training, tools and programs on all types of platforms
  3. The executives struggling to understand the return on their investments in their people and why money disappears into a “black hole”
  4. The customers experiencing a sub-optimal interaction with the company

The hard work and investment in a strategy run into barriers when organizations translate that strategy into a plan for learning and enablement. Most often, teams rush into “doing” before there is clear alignment and understanding of the strategy, the outcomes and what they mean for people.

People are typically hired into a function – customer service, inside sales or technical support, for example – yet the planning around enabling success for those people tends to follow a random, one-size-fits-all mindset.

The Current State of Role Definitions: Time for an Overhaul?
  • Role profiles, if they exist, are based on past practices, not on accomplishing future business outcomes.
  • Documented role specifications are lost in the shuffle, not refreshed to keep up with business needs and unused by HR to provide hiring support to managers.
  • Managers are expected to onboard, coach and upskill their people with very little tools or time.

What consideration do we give to the role of the person in that function, and what does he or she need to know and do to delight customers? Where do these role definitions come from? Are they based on past successful models or on a future view of how that role might interact with a customer?

If an organization’s role descriptions are overly prolific (too many types of roles), too generic or simply undefined, there is a significant missing link in that organization’s ability to enable those roles. The result is the perception that there is little help for the job people were hired to do and little clarity on what people need to do in the future.

When it comes to connecting learning to results, the timeless statement that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” has far-reaching implications. Organizations that lack a standard way to measure people’s success in their roles will inevitably find themselves mired in random acts and shiny objects.

While a measurement like a salesperson’s time-to-quota attainment may seem straightforward, not all of the stakeholders involved in supporting that salesperson are even fully versed in the right measurements or understand how a specific metric is achievable – especially when that salesperson’s buyers have shifted the mechanics of their decision-making. Another example is with call centers, where dashboards and “productivity metrics” such as time-to-resolution and average handle time are front and center for the vice president of customer operations, yet agents and reps across many industries continue to struggle to provide a seamless customer experience.

What if it were possible to meet people where they are, enabling them to become productive, satisfied and successful in the goal of delighting customers? What if organizations could tap into what people already know how to do, and instead of inundating them with random information and noise, help them focus on what they need to succeed in this new world of work?

While it is true that a certain level of “table stakes” is required (for example, one wouldn’t expect to transform a social worker into a seller of investment banking products), organizations are overlooking the opportunity to leverage their most important asset.

Standing in the way of that opportunity are random acts, information overload and noise. If there were a way to corral those random acts; organize them into a repeatable, scalable method; and create traceability to business results, the workplace would be very different indeed, and customers would show their support with their wallets. Guess what? There is! Find out how to get there in Part 2 of this series, “Agile Role-Based Enablement Is the Key to Organizational Success.”