From Groove to Rut

Start reading any material on leadership or change management and sooner or later you’ll come across the ‘groove or rut’ question. It’s by no means a new idea, however it may new to some, so probably worth re-visiting.

Awareness being the initiator of change after all.

Whats wrong with being in a groove?

Being ‘in a groove’ feels good, it’s effortless. As we are typically creatures of habit and seekers of comfort we have a tendency to favour behaviours or beliefs that suit us and it takes motivation and personal discipline to move outside of these. It can also be the path to complacency and under performance. We stopped thinking about our roles, maybe take things for granted. Some become aware of feeling no longer challenged in their role – the sort of things that lead people to change jobs or seek more responsibility, or we get a wake up call through the loss of a major client.

While at a fundamental level it’s a challenge to our individual thinking and behavioural habits, from an organisational perspective it could also be applied to the business as a whole and to external partners such as supply and fulfillment pipelines – anywhere that is critical to the success of your business and where complacency is damaging.

Avoiding the rut

To counter this, some find it beneficial to have a coach or a mentor – an additional set of views and attitudes to challenge your own thinking, or at an organisational level you purposely create a culture where your colleagues can do the same.

Looking more specifically at marketing, sales and customer service (for the purposes of this generically referred to as business development), the opportunity for comfort zone behaviour  can be a particular issue.

Marketing can be busy, using established channels but not productive in producing either the quantity of quality of leads sales can handle. Not that sales will complain, they seem to be hitting target, but are they vulnerable through overdependence on key accounts or key customer decision makers?  Are customer service merely doing what they have always done while the world and customer expectations have moved on?  If some or all of the above exist and are compounded by silo thinking and an absence of shared objectives and collaborative  working then you should consider if the groove they may appear to be in is actually more of a rut.

The Expert effect.

Technically orientated business and the business development teams can equally become over-comfortable in their role as a technical solution provider to customers. It becomes their lead tactic when pursuing new business. The temptation to jump to prescribing a solution comes at the expense of obtaining a comprehensive understanding of the customers requirements technically and commercially. This is their groove, a comfortable place where they feel in control. Over-reliance on one approach can result in becoming oblivious to the role that a planned sales approach or marketing engagement can contribute towards achieving their business objectives. For example , consider how well your sales team are using digital channels. It shouldn’t be the sole preserve of your marketing function to do this as these channels have simply extended the reach of the sales function beyond the more usual face to face or voice to voice contacts.

OK, how do we stay out of the ruts?

Obviously the solution to the groove or rut issue falls squarely on management. They need to create a culture and establish structures and approaches that aim to prevent the latter becoming a problem at all levels, both organisationally and individually. Communication is going to be key – active engagement with the organisation, structured and meaningful personal development activity (Goal setting ++) and feedback are key elements. Same principles can be applied externally also.

The organisational rut

In many ways this is the greater challenge, after all is there any business or sector that is not vulnerable to that 21st century concept of disruptive innovation? (see Clayton Christensen, The Innovators Dilemma for some light reading -

Consider some of the recent high profile ‘disruptors’, Uber, Tesla, Deliveroo, etc. Fair to say that creating one of those would have required a level of management vision that is virtually impossible when you are an established provider of a product or service?

True, maybe the groove to rut analogy is a little simplistic for organisations. Clayton makes the point that the management of disrupted business often made ‘good’ decisions for their business. The groove to rut thinking here stems from being trapped by existing obligations -protecting the business you have, serving existing customers, meeting shareholder demands, rather than considering how you could radically change your approach to serving the market need you meet.

Certainly in the B2B world that’s a recommendation for at least holding regular, forward-looking strategic marketing engagement with your customers, if not actively seeking out ideas on how your business could be threatened.

WGM May 2019

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