It’s 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Feeling good about the week, you’re looking forward to leaving work behind and enjoying your daughter’s opening-night performance in her school play. You are finally into full production of your new program “Accelerate,” which assists the sales team in launching a new product line, positioning your company to take advantage of a new consumption model. You expected the transition to be difficult, but the beta run of the program went well and included a shift from event-based enablement to a journey. The results of the subsequent pilot program were successful on multiple fronts. The participants liked it, and testing showed retention of major skills. Participants even made behavioral changes, including having conversations that seemed almost impossible before. Most importantly, the sales numbers for the new products have increased by 200 percent! Confident about your efforts, tonight will be a welcome opportunity to breathe and enjoy a minute to slow down with family.

To your surprise, the head of sales angrily storms into your office. “Your new sales program is killing my sales for the quarter. We will be down 10 percent if this keeps up!” Confused, you ask him how the new product is selling. Enraged, he shoots back, “It’s up, but that doesn’t matter if the rest of ship is sinking! We need to see the CEO right now to talk about the failures of your program!”

What went wrong? You used leading-edge learning methodologies and proven measurement techniques and yet, somehow, your training is to blame. Have you fallen victim to the well-known trope that “no good deed goes unpunished”? Could it just be a toxic leader looking for somewhere to shift the blame? Or could there be a problem that you might not be conscious of? There is a better way to understand the clear disconnect between your training goals and the needs of the sales department. You can resolve the tension between your efforts and their effect on sales with organizational relevance, which can result in fewer angry heads of sales in your office and a well-deserved perception of value from leadership.

The only constant in business is change, and as the speed of change increases, faster decision-making becomes essential. Imagine business as a whitewater rafting expedition. Senior executives occupy the lead boat of the convoy, overseeing its vision and direction. Everyone else finds him- or herself dragged behind with a view that never changes, responding reactively, blind to the changes in course made by the lead boat. The people who are dragged behind are often out of sync with the strategic needs of leadership and the course corrections they make.

The current speed of business demands agility, responsiveness and foresight while traversing the landscape of these dangerous class-six rapids. Ineffective support functions leave your organization perched precariously on the edge of a crisis, potentially provoking financial catastrophe, deteriorating customer loyalty and destroying your brand reputation. Damage comes in more insidious forms as well, including the repercussions of ineffective production and communication or a toxic organizational culture. Is there a way you can work together with the lead boat and proactively support the value proposition and strategic goals of the organization?

Core Functions versus Support Functions

In order to align your goals to support the whole organization, let’s start with the understanding that every organization can be divided into two types of functions: core functions and support functions. Core functions are business activities that are customer-driven. The core is the main driver in accomplishing the mission of the organization, the value proposition, the bread and butter, the reason it exists. Product engineering, sales, marketing and customer service are all core functions. Alternatively, support functions should be driven by the needs of the core. Technology, security, human resources and training are support functions that play valuable roles in every enterprise. Nevertheless, it is typically challenging for them to earn a place in the lead boat, and, thus, they often lack key information they need to make good decisions. The simple act of becoming conscious of the differences between core functions and support functions will help you direct your attention to how to enable the core functions of your organization.

Cultivating Relevance

Efficiency programs have driven the centralization of many support functions. Over time, as businesses grow, departments like training, HR and even IT are cordoned off from the core functions. The goal is efficiency, but the result is isolation. Support functions wallow in their own irrelevance, distant from the true needs of the core, and lose sight of the value they have to offer. Sequestered away from the core functions, they often find themselves at the mercy of the proximity principle: Collaboration can exist in a myriad of ways in this digital age, but the value of face-to-face relationships can’t be oversold. Real connection offers valuable information to align your support functions to better serve the core, keeping the true purpose of the organization in sight. Through this lens, it becomes clear that the true value of sales training is building better salespeople, not just building a better school.

To begin cultivating relevance, you must connect the value of your work to the value of the organization through value-chaining. Harvard Business School educator Michael Porter introduced value-chaining as “a set of activities that an organization carries out to create value for its customers.” Through value-chaining, you can tie business activities to business outcomes, connecting the dots to show how value is created. All links in the chain must work in concert, with no weak links.

Every employee in each department should understand how his or her role affects the organization as a whole. The ability to connect your work to the greater purpose of the organization brings the whole picture into view. For example, when I worked for Lockheed Martin, I ran a component of IT infrastructure for the F-22 program.

One day, a general asked me, “Son, what do you do?”

I replied, “I build military aircraft, sir.”

He smiled and responded, “You’re going to go a long way.”

Perspective – how you view what you do – matters. I didn’t actually build military aircraft, but my job contributed to that purpose.

Where in the chain do you fall in contributing to your organization? What processes are you involved in, and what value do you create? As a support function, your goal should be to increase the core functions’ ability to succeed. You establish relevance when there is a direct correlation between your work and the success of the core functions.

Building additional skills and expertise in the operational aspects of your organization is also crucial to being seen as irreplaceable. Consider the value of being asked how training could increase sales across the board or what innovative training you believe would advance the organization’s core purpose. Your deep domain experience is the price of admission, and the ability to apply that knowledge across the organization will reward you with well-deserved relevance.

Trailing behind the lead boat and being pulled in every direction, you often experience the negative aspects of the rapids while enjoying zero credit for any of the positive outcomes. Until you grasp the importance of organizational relevance, giving you the opportunity to earn a seat in the lead boat, you will never be positioned to enable the business to deal with this uncertain and disruptive environment.

While you can’t be in control of the rapids, you can be in control of where you sit, improving your view of what is ahead. Discover your relevance, elevate your vision and begin intelligent navigation toward future success.

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