We have found the enemy...and it is us!

Jan. 1, 2007
Do you work for a company whose employees get up in the morning, don their armor, and head off to battle - not with their competitors or vendors, but with members of their own team?

By Bill Fitzpatrick

Do you work for a company whose employees get up in the morning, don their armor, and head off to battle - not with their competitors or vendors, but with members of their own team?

As business and marketing consultants, we’ve had the opportunity to observe the cultures and internal personalities of many companies - some flourishing, some struggling. Those struggling have a common characteristic, one you might have even experienced. It’s the tendency of employees to fight among themselves.

Every day battle lines are drawn, strategies devised, and action plans initiated. Employee energy, creativity, and resources are marshaled for one purpose - to engage the enemy within.

An example is the employee who withholds important information from fellow workers in the service department. Every time a customer calls to complain about poor service, the antagonist enjoys that all fingers point to the perceived inefficiency of his/her colleagues. By the time such situations are uncovered, the company’s image is damaged.

How about the supervisor who takes exceptionally good care of the boss, but treats those in lower positions as second-class citizens, even claiming credit for their ideas? No need to develop this scenario any further. We’ve all seen it.

Even upper management experiences disruptive behavior. At one point or another, most people have encountered a boss who conducts an endless search for the “guilty party,” a boss who is always trying to find someone to blame for the company’s decline. With virtually every employee running for cover, there’s precious little time to tend to customer needs.

How does all this affect the sales force, the company’s last line of defense? Nothing frustrates a sales organization more than lack of support from the home office. Eventually, a company’s internal problems will end up on the doorstep of the one department that can’t pass them on - the sales force. Face to face with customers, sales reps are expected to have answers.

Without support from the home office, sales people will eventually resort to the only resource they have left - the good will they’ve built with customers over the years. No sales rep wants to use his “coupons” to cover the mistakes of others, but at the end of the day, that’s what happens. It takes years to earn them, but only a moment to cash them in, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.

Every moment that employees and managers are engaged in internal combat, they’re losing the only battle that counts -- the one in the marketplace. Well-managed companies know where the real battlefield is, and their employees know what they’re fighting for -- the hearts and minds of the customers, your customers. Until employees put aside their petty quarrels, act like a team, and show up on the right battlefield, their chances for succeeding in the marketplace are bleak.

This is not to say that divergent opinions are not welcome in successful companies. Constructive debate is an essential part of everyday business. In fact, the best solutions are often born out of the free expression of opposing views. Internal disagreements become destructive when they are built on self-interest - protecting one’s turf, misrepresenting facts, and furthering one’s career at the expense of others.

Other classic signs are:

  • Withholding information that helps others do their jobs
  • Giving people assignments or deadlines they can’t achieve
  • Letting teammates self-destruct without stepping in to help
  • Talking about people instead of to them
  • Focusing on people’s weaknesses rather than strengths
  • Assigning blame instead of seeking solutions
  • Failing to accept personal responsibility

Any of these behaviors will unravel a team in short order. In combination, they can literally destroy a company from within.

For an enterprise to flourish, all employees must be committed to the success of the team, and everyone on the team must be working on the same agenda and fighting the same fight on the same battlefield. Personal initiatives that undermine even one individual undermine the entire organization.

Is there a simple solution, a “magic bullet” that can pull employees together into a cohesive team? Actually, there is. It’s called leadership! Pervasive infighting is a classic sign of an unhealthy culture, which can only be cured through effective leadership.

In high-performance companies, leaders keep their employees focused on the only battles that count - the battles for mind share, market share and profit. They invest in their people, and pull them together for one common cause, one set of goals, one plan that everyone is committed to execute. They define roles and responsibilities, and implement continuous accountability, relentless measurement of results, perpetual feedback and follow-up.

There’s no time for fruitless infighting on a winning team. Every individual must produce tangible results. People who aren’t team players are identified and eliminated. That’s what leaders do. According to Jim Collins in his book, “Good to Great,” “The only way to deliver to the people who are achieving is not to burden them with people who aren’t achieving.”

Take a look around your place of employment. What do you see? If the battle is within, the enemy is within, and you’ve already lost. You’re fighting with yourself.

The real battle isn’t in here; it’s out there. When employees understand and embrace that simple fact, they can focus their full attention on the real challenge of their business - the battle for the minds and hearts of their customers.

Bill Fitzpatrick is president of Fitzpatrick Management Resources (FMR), a consulting firm that specializes in developing winning strategies for dental manufacturers and service providers. FMR consultants work hand-in-hand with their clients to analyze their businesses and create unique marketing strategies that increase sales, expand market share, and strengthen dealer support. Fitzpatrick Management is located in Charlotte, N.C., and may be reached at (704) 542-2685 or [email protected].