How to Bridge the Knowledge Gap Between Management and Field

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Managers are facing an increasingly knowledge based business environment. This is true not only for the High Tec ones, but also to “traditional” industries. The mature and sometimes saturated markets served by these industries lead to tight and aggressive competition, where knowledge and the ability to act fast can be the only factors separating the winners from the losers.

How can a manager make every day decisions, with high success rate? Well, nothing can substitute for good intuition, experience and guts feeling, but these should be complemented by knowledge of the market, the clients, the competition and the manager’s own enterprise resources and policy. To add to the challenge, decisions need to be made fast – with short reaction lag, as to allow for a high-speed implementation of the decision by the enterprise.

In their continuous seek for sound and unbiased decisions managers are relying on the real time flow of information, produced and processed by the Enterprise information systems. ERP, CRM and financial management applications are producing endless reports and insight, market research and intelligence are capturing fast changing trends and developments in the market arena. Yet, one source of knowledge and insight, highly relevant and important to manager’s decisions, is seldom ignored – the knowledge of employees, and those in field duties in particular.

Anyone familiar with sales and distribution of consumer goods is aware to the sophistication of the Hand Held Terminals (HHT’s) used by thousands of field employees in the sales and merchandising teams of companies such as Pepsi Cola, P&G and many others. Using HHT’s field employees can collect enormous data related to shelf performance of their own and competing products. But these sophisticated information systems do not provide an answer to the simple task of collecting and processing the views and knowledge of field employees – the front line troops of any marketing organization.

Enterprise information systems are providing quantitative measures – sales, inventory, orders, HR, cash, receivables and much more. These numbers provide a clear and updated answer to the “How much” question, yet they cannot provide any information that is not quantifiable. They are not designed to provide insight to the “Why” question, in situations were human feeling, and personal knowledge intuition and analysis are needed.

An example may clarify this claim: a marketing company is facing declining sales in a specific market segment. ERP indicators such as orders, sales and inventories are capturing and measuring this deviation in real time, however management cannot understand the causes and reasons for this event. Why is it that sales are showing decline in one specific region, while keeping the normal path in others? What should management learn from this event, and what should it decide to do in order to reverse the negative trend? In many cases, the explanation to the problem is known to field persons, engaged in continuous communication with the “market” – retailers, consumers and competitors. It can be the result of specific promotion activity by competitors, negative PR in local newspapers, weather, supply chain failures and other reasons. A simple interactive surveying of the filed force will highlight the most relevant cause or causes.

It should be emphasized at this stage we are not preaching here for democracy in management systems. It is simply a process of gathering and analyzing relevant information, bridging the knowledge gap between headquarters management and the front line field employees.

Like with many other management tools, the rapid progress in technology and communication is facilitating the practical implementation of ideas that were too difficult and costly in the past. The fact is that almost all corporate employees, all around the glob, are using a cellular phone. Text messaging (SMS) technology is providing the cellular handset qualities that resemble those of the two-way pager – low cost and efficient means for communication with mobile persons. With this in mind, what is needed is a software application and a central communication platform that enable managers to deliver right from their desktop questions and queries to populations of field persons, receiving a full management report of the replies in real time, and anytime.

Any organization can start using this information facility immediatly, without any need for investment in hardware. In addition to the major benefit of improving the knowledge base used by decision makers, it has a second favorable effect – preventing field persons from complaining about “those managers in their air-conditioned offices, who knows nothing about what happens in the field…. ”

Mike Stolz is the CEO for Mobile Feedback - 2way sms messaging platform and Mobile Reply SMS marketing platform, who build powerful tools for today's managers.


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