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Are Your Managers Managing Your Culture? – Distributors in the Digital Era

By Mark Dancer

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I’ve learned from many distributor leaders that a company’s culture is determined not only by its values, but by the particular employee behaviors that are most aligned with achieving its ideals. A positive, well-managed culture will drive productivity, reinforce customer experiences and enable innovations. A negative culture, however, can kill strategic initiatives and demolish returns on investment. How your employees behave determines whether your business culture is a creative or destructive force for innovation.

It is the attention and diligence of your managers that create the opportunity for excellence and prevent possible disasters. If your managers are not managing your culture, your business is headed for trouble.

In NAW’s Innovate to Dominate: The 12th Edition in the Facing the Forces of Change® Series, I explored how cultures can make or break a business in almost every conversation we had with distributor leaders. We distilled our findings as follows,

“Managing culture is a manager’s job. A simple, actionable definition of culture encompasses the core values and behaviors that are most aligned with a business’s strategy and mission. Digital transformations and disruptive influences introduce new values and behaviors in every workplace. From top leadership to first-line managers to project leaders, every manager plays a critical role in proactively guiding the evolution of the company’s business culture to its self-determined values and behaviors. Every organization has a culture; few organizations professionally manage their culture to achieve a strategic end.”

Looking for best practices for arming managers to manage culture successfully to meet your company’s strategy and mission, I found an excellent article, “Innovation in the Digital Age: 3 Steps to Enterprise-Wide Success” by Aaron McEwan in Inside HR.  Here are three core recommendations from this article, followed by my observations, which are based on my  research for Innovate to Dominate as well as my ongoing  discussions with distributor leaders during the COVID-19 crisis:

Involve employees in the filtering, not just generation, of innovative ideas

MD: Open-door policies encourage employees to share ideas and suggestions, and work to generate actionable improvements. However, including employees in the evaluation and prioritization of proposals adds accountability and rewards. It is not the responsibility of managers to decide which suggestions are the best. By including employees, managers create collaborative teams that fully own the execution of ideas. Shared responsibility leads to shared rewards.

Equip leaders with shared, not individual, risk-taking

MD: Managers may avoid embracing innovations if they see them as a risk to their success. Shared risk-taking and team collaborations can be encouraged through the use of performance management systems when team performance is judged against collaborative contributions. By sharing responsibility, managers and employees have a stake in generating ideas, vetting  for the best solutions and following through with implementation.

Give employees more guidance, not more access, for using networks to innovate

MD: Innovative ideas and practical solutions can come from frontline workers. Managers can create an opportunity for cross-functional collaboration by inviting workers, technicians, or leaders from other groups to meet and discuss issues. Managers can go further by finding and encouraging participation by their employees in professional associations or online forums outside the company. These encouraged interactions should be guided and managed for the best use of time and the best consideration of findings.

Given that today’s business climate is one of continuing crises and change, there is never an official start to engaging employees and managing culture for success. The need for new ideas and better solutions is always ongoing and accelerating. Continually engaging employees is essential for success. Every manager should start every day with an effort to engage employees. And every manager should end every day by assessing how employee contributions led to better innovations. Managers must manage, and high-performance management requires managers to manage their company’s culture. To do otherwise is foolish and risky. Every company’s most potent differentiation lies in its business processes and culture, and managers are a vital force for change in helping all distributors survive and thrive in this new normal.

This post is my seventh of 10 to address critical requirements for distributors to become the acknowledged experts on B2B innovation. My earlier posts are

After I complete all 10 posts on B2B innovation, I will share feedback from distributors across the entire series. To do so, I need to hear your experiences, ideas and feedback. If you would like to be heard, please reach out to me at mark.dancer@n4bi.com

This content was originally posted on Distributing Ideas, The NAW Blog. There, you will find a complete collection of posts as a Fellow for the NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence, as well as perspectives from a wide range of distribution experts and thought leaders. Click here.

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Mark Dancer

NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Fellow

Mark Dancer founded the Network for Business Innovation to drive awareness, advocacy and excellence for B2B innovation, and to enable an exchange of ideas between leaders on business transformation, technology adoption, social impact and community engagement. For more than 30 years, Mark has worked with leading companies to achieve go-to-market excellence across a wide range of industries in developed and emerging markets.