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A Rose by Any Other Name

Volume: 1 Issue: 7

I once had a brief engagement with a services firm that had a brand new CEO. He had come from a Big 4 consulting shop where he was the global practice lead for the area in which my client concentrated. Although he was a very bright guy, he had an early and painful education coming about working outside a culture based on the "I am a Partner and you are not" mindset. One of his actions that caused the most cynicism was addressing his broadcast emails to "Team". In fact, most of the people who were on the distribution for those notes spent most of their time at each others throats and jostling for position in the still emerging organization. The message was interpreted as gallows humor and as a clear sign that the new guy was out of touch. While there was a lot more troubling this organization, this new CEO may have been the last straw. 8 months later, the company was de-listed from the NASDAQ exchange. 

I have often wondered about the power of a name. I do not believe that just calling something or someone by a different name will alone engender a transition; however, I have seen cases where the idea of a new name engendered the conversations that initiated meaningful change.  

Whats in a Name?

A few years ago, after a roundtable client meeting, I asked some of the leaders at client organizations to look for things that might benefit from renaming at their businesses. What labels or titles might have been bestowed somewhere in corporate antiquity that no longer fit?  What impact would a renaming have?  The results were quite surprising.

As you might imagine, like our CEO calling bitter rivals a team, renaming for its own sake had little impact.  Groups of people at client organizations had a lot of fun with the natural cynicism that an exercise like this can bring up.  But the exceptions were, well...  exceptional.

Can I Walk the Walk Too?

One manufacturing firm that runs a small in-house call center decided that their agents should be called Customer Advocates.  The concept was the butt of a number of inside jokes until one of the new CAs raised her hand and asked if she now had responsibility for customer satisfaction and the ability to do what was necessary to improve it.  That question, leveled with earnest desire directly at the boss opened up a much deeper conversation.  The CA position, accountability and recognition were completely re-engineered. Today, they are accountable for and measured on customer satisfaction- which incidentally is up 23%.  Changing their name did not make the difference, but the name change opened the door for the company to make the shift real.

The Door Swings Both Ways

Another interesting renaming happened at a business services firm. The President, coming from a sales background had installed a fair amount of rigor into how new business opportunities are managed through the pipeline to closure.  A Chief Operating Officer had accountability for what are long-term customer relationships and profitability of the work undertaken.  So, this company operated under a traditional hunter/ farmer selling model. There had been a not-so-unspoken "we / they" attitude between the outside sales force and the inside delivery organizations until the day someone suggested that they stop talking about closing sales and start talking about opening relationships.  Once again, there were at first a fair amount of phrases like "a skunk by any other name".  But soon the idea began to take root.  Some investigation showed the level of turnover in the client population and how their current structure contributed to a much higher cost of selling and retention.  A re-engineering of sales ended with representatives who had full account responsibility and were supported by an inside sales team for new business development.  The net result was a 6% lower revenue from new business, offset by 27% higher revenue per client and 13% lower cost of selling.  All in all, working towards opening rather than closing has driven top line revenues at their shop up a profitable 23%.  

Renaming is of course just the cosmetic part.  What makes the difference is the repositioning and reorganization to make the name meaningful.  If you are in a leadership position in your organization and looking for ways to improve your business results, you might consider hosting a renaming party and giving your staff full permission to imagine.

A Word of Caution

Where companies often get tripped up is that the renaming is easy, and the change to make the name a reality is harder.  If you are not certain that you want to put teeth in the name, adjusting the staffing, remuneration and accountability of the position or team involved-- do not make the name change. Where we change the label and not the reality, we create space for cynicism. Use the brainstorm as a way to get creative ideas, but be clear about which names you want to stick.

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