The Frontline of Any Organization Is the Key to a Successful Strategy

Don’t be a member of the herd that doesn’t get it; honour them, help them and reap the rewards of long lasting competitive advantage.

Fast forward — because successful strategies involve doing stuff for people WITH people (technology can support, but will never be the complete solution).

Ok. Now the narrative.

Every organization is looking for the ingredient that will give them a competitive advantage; make them standout among their competitors.

In my experience most organizations turn to what the prevailing strategy development theory says, which often promulgates these types of ways to outpace “the bad guys”:
— introduce a disruptive technology
— achieve cost leadership
— lead in product or service quality
— differentiate products or services
— form an alliance with another company
— leadership in new product development 
— expand markets 
— offer low prices
— achieve economies of scale and scope 
— focus on a product or market sector

These are all valid ways of looking at competitive advantage, but beating the competition in the long term isn’t about the brilliance of a strategy; it’s not about whether or not a strategic plan conforms to strategic planning methodology as espoused by the experts.

Competitive advantage is derived largely from not from WHAT you aspire to achieve but HOW you actually achieve it in the real world where organizations are challenged by unpredictability, uncertainly and constantly changing conditions.

If, for example, your strategic intent is to outdo the bad dudes by providing excellent service quality, your success will be determined by HOW you execute on this goal. Actions such as providing customer-friendly rules and policies, recruiting people who have an innate desire to serve others, empowering employees to make decisions in favour of a customer and compensating teams on the level of customer service provided will enable the service quality goal to be achieved.

The common element to most of these tactics is people.

Successful strategies typically get executed on the frontline at “the coal face” between the customer and the company — the territory normally occupied by employees in sales, banking, coffee bistros, call centers, repair service centers, retail outlets and on receptionist desks. The people who control every customer moment of truth.

Frontline people live your brand. They invest their emotional energy to keep customers loyal.

It’s one thing to send prospective customers to your website to learn about new products and buy them; but it’s quite another to make the engagement process so enjoyable and painless that the new product flows off the shelf and continues to provide value to the customer over the life of their purchase.

The frontline fills a critical void in business today.

Organizations are morphing to an operations topology devoid of humans. Online research, purchase, chat and warranty claim tasks are more and more being performed by the customer themselves. And new self checkout technologies are being tested to further remove people from the cost equation and provide consumers more speed and convenience of DIY. 

But even in the face of a migration to DIY, successful organizations keep a strong people element in their sales and service operations to simply be there to help a customer when they don’t get satisfaction from a technology face. 
Let’s face it, precise and accurate algorithms for every customer need can’t be formulated so if a “backup” person isn’t there to deal with hiccups and follow up questions, the customer is not only pissed, they leave telling their friends and family how crummy your service is.

My experience is that the frontline is rarely viewed as a critical element of strategy.

The focus and attention always seems to be on the brilliance and cleverness of the grand plan and the importance of execution is given second shrift and is taken for granted. 
In fact most organizations assume that the people piece will naturally understand what needs to be done (rarely happens without the leader’s translation of what it means to various functions) and will willingly devote themselves to executing it effectively (never happens without leadership convincing them of its importance and supporting them to get it done).

The frontline of any organization is THE key to a successful strategy and yet they “get no respect”. 

Don’t be a member of the herd that doesn’t get it; honour them, help them and reap the rewards of long lasting competitive advantage.