Why Your Business Tools Might Be Useless and How To Find the Right Ones

Why are organizations infatuated with tools and have less regard for context?

Why do ‘experts’ push efficiency rather than strategic solutions?

Why is there a push to have best in class methods irrespective of business plan direction?

Numerous tools are available in business, including:

  • Sales funnel management.
  • Business planning SWOT analysis.
  • AI technology applications.
  • Predictive modeling.
  • Psychology profiling.
  • Email and social media applications.
  • Recruitment software apps.
  • Employee productivity tracking.

And on and on it goes.

Mypoic tools are available for literally everything we do in business.

I’m not suggesting that the right toolset for a business is inappropriate; it’s extremely important to be as efficient as possible in conducting business operations in order to keep costs as low as possible.

What I AM saying, however, is that in my experience there is often a void between the tools being used and their larger purpose—what higher level strategic purpose are they serving.

Organizations declare their strategy with programs aimed at achieving it, but in reality most disciplines within it continue to do things the way they always have, looking for ways to be more productive.

Marketing, for example, continues to implement competitive win-back and new customer acquisition programs using tools to be more effective at it, even though the business strategy says that retaining existing loyal customers should be the focus.

People seem to have difficulty thinking (and acting) at a strategic level, aligning their actions to what the strategy says rather than performing their specific discipline more efficiently — they are much more comfortable taking action that is prescribed by a formula or algorithm.

The AI pundits tell us how to use the technology in customer service and marketing settings and we go ahead and implement it with the supplier-designed functionality regardless of the organization’s strategy for marketing and service delivery.

And the marketing analysts implement the new digital ad presentation tools as offered by the experts without understanding how ‘push advertising’ even fits in the overall marketing and customer communications plan.

People rarely ‘look up’ to see why they should be doing the micro stuff. They’re more comfortable implementing the preachings of others in their trade.

It’s impossible to pivot from micro-tool users to being guided by strategy overnight, but these 5 steps will help you start the shift to make the micro matter.

#1. Pick a champion

Since the use of tools is across the organization, you need a Champion to own and lead the pivot on behalf of the CEO (YES! this work demands the chief executive’s fingerprints on it if it is to succeed).

The Champion’s credentials:

  • They must be the expert—strategy-savvy—on the organization’s strategy at the most intimate level.
  • They must hold a high level of currency—trust and respect—with employees.
  • They must be truth seekers not consensus builders.
  • They must be audacious in their approach to the task. This is not a job for thin skinned people.
  • They must have a high pain tolerance (to withstand the pressure to bend to self interest people in the organization who want to continue to use their micro toolset regardless of whether it fits with strategy).

The following actions are the responsibility of the Champion whose compensation should be tied to the results achieved.

#2. Understand the strategy

The Champion must ensure that every unit leader in the organization clearly understands the strategy at a detailed level and what it means in their area of responsibility. If the strategy, for example, is to retain high value customers, leaders must translate this strategic imperative into actions they must take in their particular area of responsibility—sales, marketing, customer service and so on.

This is typically where the breakdown occurs between strategy and tactics. People follow best practices in their discipline rather than shape the appropriate ones by the intended strategic direction.

This step is arduous and that’s why most organizations don’t do it. It requires hours and hours of work analyzing the business plan and debating the key actions required to consistently execute it.

Those that don’t do the work pay the price later on by getting little strategic payback on the micro toolset being used by employees.

#3. Audit the micro

Audit the micro tools being used through the organization. Determine what functions they perform and the degree of fit each has with the strategic imperatives of the organization.

To what degree does a specific tool—CRM for example— fit the overall strategy? Does the tool’s functionality deliver the strategic benefits sought or does it merely conform to industry standards for the CRM application?

The assessment has to be detailed and tough, not cursory and gentle.

If the tool doesn’t have at least a 75% fit with your strategy, drop it ‘below the line’ of tools that should be retained because they’re not delivering sufficient strategic benefits to warrant keeping them.

#4. Modify/delete the micro

For the tools ‘above the line’, keep tools with above an 80% strategy fit and for those in the 75-80% range, see if they can be modified to yield more strategic benefits.

It may be that with a tweak here and a tweak there, their utility improves and it’s worth the investment to do the work.

Again, be brutal on tools you think can be tweaked because tweaking costs could yield nothing in return.

Any tool that falls below a 75% fit must be killed. Stop using the tools that aren’t critical to the strategy and reassign their costs to greater purpose work.

Develop a decommissioning plan for these strategically unproductive assets and get rid of them; try and make it a seamless exit.

What do you do with the functionality eliminated?

Find another more strategic way to achieve the intended outcome. You can’t have it both ways: delete the unproductive AND keep the dysfunctional activity.

Either deliver the tool functionality in a strategic way or delete it.

#5. Hold leaders accountable

Notwithstanding that the Toolset Champion is the overall owner of the initiative, each individual leader in the organization must be held accountable for strategically aligning tools with strategy in their area of responsibility.

So make it matter by revising the organization’s Performance Management and Compensation Plan to include this responsibility in the annual performance evaluation process.

And publicize those who excel at mining out tools that serve no strategic purpose.

Organizations have limited resources to take on new initiatives, and this is an excellent way to recover costs that can feed innovation without having to add expense.

Related: How Process-focused Leaders Are Relentless at Delivering Great Results