Don't avoid culture and control issues

Remember George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg on their ill-fated fishing trawler in the film, "The Perfect Storm?" White knuckled, engines at the max, they were striving to climb and crest each seemingly insurmountable wave. Despite valiant effort and determined will, they were ultimately doomed.

If this describes your business development and operating management teams as they try to overcome the demands of achieving revenue growth, you might be facing your own perfect storm.

Fundamental culture and control issues are at the root of the challenges facing many midtier government services firms.

Almost universally, midtier companies embed their business development functions in the operating units, with business development teams reporting to a section manager or group-type manager. This process works to a point, but it has limitations. Culture and control issues impede an organization’s ability to operate effectively as a unified team amid escalating challenges.

Winning business is too hard, competition too fierce and external customer engagement requirements so significant that, without the existence of a corporate business development unit, companies miss growth objectives while losing energy and momentum to internal dysfunction and conflict.

It’s difficult to simultaneously serve as an operations manager, business development manager and business manager. All are different roles, requiring specialized skills, thinking and priorities.

Burdening your employees with all these roles simultaneously will work to a certain revenue level. But as a company matures, operations managers seldom realize their limitations in business development, let alone acknowledge those limitations and ask for help.

The result is employee frustration, a sense of failure in not reaching goals and, eventually, spiraling downward performance.

In an equally ill-fated scenario, many chief executive officers fail to recognize the full effect of imposing business development demands on their operations managers. This doomed strategy is at the heart of culture and control conflicts. You are, in effect, creating the insurmountable wave.

Culture and control challenges also occur when leadership purposefully creates tension between the business development and delivery organizations. The business development team is more aggressive in seeking larger, transformational opportunities, while the operations team is more conservative, focusing on execution associated with the opportunities.

Leadership’s challenge is to generate this dynamic tension and still maintain trust within the organization. Otherwise, the tension could potentially undermine the common understanding and belief in the company’s mission.

Rarely does the change necessary to survive this transition come from within. Change typically comes about with an acquisition, sale of the business, significant downturn or other extraordinary event. With these circumstances as the catalyst, organizations begin to scrutinize culture and control issues and decide whether these conflicts are a hindrance to growth.

In these circumstances, a business development audit is necessary, though difficult. You might need a third-party firm to analyze and identify underlying power and control conflicts, putting these issues on the table for debate, decision and resolution.

We are confronted with a chaotic business environment that combines political change, economic instability and a waning war accompanied by uncertain recapitalization plans. This atmosphere can serve as the external catalyst for change. At some point, the leadership must confront culture and control issues head on and decide whether they have committed people on board, along with the organization and infrastructure necessary to achieve corporate growth goals.

If you’re uncertain where your company stands in this respect, consider an independent audit like your annual financial review. Actively confront these issues that affect revenue growth or risk facing a perfect storm of your own making.

About the Author

Bill Scheessele is the CEO of MBDi, a global business development services firm providing expertise in Business Development best practices in the national security, defense, scientific, energy and engineering industries. The firm offers BD consulting services in addition to education workshops to help BD professionals and teams identify hidden strengths, barriers to progress and opportunities for improvement. Learn more about MBDi, their revenue growth resources and their new virtual training options at or 704.553.0000.

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