Paula: Welcome to the LS International Career Success Podcast. I’m Paula Sáenz Lopez and today I am pleased to introduce you to George Psomiadis. George has over 10 years of experience in the FMCG industry, working internationally for companies such as PepsiCo, JDE, Mondelez and more. Recently, he has gone back to his home country to become the sales director for Diageo Greece.
In this episode, we’ll deep dive into what it takes to achieve operational excellence, why is it key to have a successful business and how can companies innovate within the field. Welcome George.
George: Hi Paula. Nice talking to you and thanks a lot for the invitation.
Paula: No problem. One of the questions that I had for you is, why are excellence teams key at sales organizations of a successful business? What is your opinion on that?
George: That’s a big topic overall and it expands across many different functions and processes within the company. But overall, I’d say that operational excellence is really key, specially for the commercial functions. It is the, I’d say, – eventually it’s the aspect that differentiate a successful business versus a not-so-successful business – or a business that focuses on the future, let’s say, and the future performance, the sustainability of this performance, versus one that is looking mainly at today or having a very short-term perspective.
Why are they so important for a sales organization itself now? Well, the first thing that you learn when you start talking with very experienced sales managers is that, more or less, everybody knows everything. So, it’s quite interesting to see that there is always a legacy of a way of working, of a way of thinking and of a way of operating. Even if this is a customer, even if this is an internal, let’s say, process. It’s quite impressive the self-confidence that we, ourselves, people have. So, it was really a hard moment when I started dealing with operational excellence back in 2017, I’d say, when the first thing that my manager told me was that we forget what we know and should really spirit when we go into a business into a country. This is what we need to praise for. We need to challenge everyone and ourselves on the status quo and on the way of operating so far. It’s a healthy challenge and you can only expect good things to come after that.
So, I’d say that it’s really crucial to have this mindset. Operational excellence is not a thing, it’s not a process itself, it’s a framework, it’s a method, it’s a way of thinking. So, imagine a company that owns something like that and a company that doesn’t own something like that. Imagine a sales force of 100 people within a company that really understands and has seen already the benefits of operating in a specific way – we can discuss a bit later about the aspects of that -; and another sales team, another company that actually knows nothing about why they are doing what they are doing and can not see actually the result of any kind of different thinking in what they are doing.
So, I’d say operational excellence overall is a method, it’s a framework that is based on structure, its structure is methodology that gives emphasis on a fact based and disciplined thinking. The point, after all, is to focus on execution and be able to deliver short-term or mid-term financial gains for the organization which we’re part of. And it’s not something that is owned by someone: it’s owned by the sales employees themselves, the sales managers themselves. That’s why I said in the beginning role modeling is so crucial.
I’d say commercial excellence or operational excellence within a sales team is the fundamental way of thinking and it’s like a nice disease: when someone has it, everybody gets it.
Paula: Okay. I like that term.
George: The moment you realize how beneficial this can be for your business, first of all, but for you as a professional overall. If you follow these specific principles – being an owner of this thinking and share the spirit of open-challenge whenever you think that something is not right – this can only be beneficial and creative after all. So, that’s why I’d say that the obvious benefits of a team that invests in operational excellence are there everyday and they expand from alignment between the manager and sales force, between sales and marketing. Actually, we’ll always point out existing or even new opportunities. Maybe some things are in front of you, and you could never actually get them because disciplined way of thinking and the discipline knowledge that comes with operational excellence was never there.
Paula: Okay. So, you mentioned what’s necessary to build this methodology, this good sort of sickness that you mentioned. How can companies build a high-performance excellence team? How can they find the right talent to build this methodology that you speak of?
George: That’s the most difficult part. To realize or understand that, eventually, you’re not excellent. There’s an element of self-awareness for the company itself also. Not only for the manager, but the company has to realize an area of optimization, an area of development and make this introspection. That’s the first step.
And then, the moment you realize that you definitely need to understand that you have to invest. An investment is not only about money, it’s also about time, it’s about all kind of resources you may need to sacrifice or acquire in order to make this happen. You also have to anticipate a bit of an initial disruption or frustration. Imagine going to a company or to a sales force that really knows that whatever they know is whatever it exists, and suddenly started talking to them about a different way of thinking, a different way of acting, a different way of operating. Change causes a bit of disruption and a bit of ambiguity. You know, the first reaction being, instinctively, I mean what you do is that you feel a bit reluctant. And then you feel a bit frustrated. But then, the moment you start engaging into this learning curve, you start understanding that “ok, maybe I don’t know that much”, “ok, maybe I listen more”, “ok, now I’m a role model for the new comer, for my peers of the company”.
It’s a tough process, so companies need to invest, need to understand that maybe they lose something temporarily, but the short/mid-term financial gains that will eventually arise from such an investment will create a surface.
Paula: Ok, do you feel like having a good excellence team, does it make it easy to make the changes or to innovate within excellence teams, or how do you feel can companies innovate in that field?
George: Innovation and eventually creativity that leads to innovation – one of the very senior people that I met throughout these years, once said in a forum that innovation or creativity is only coming as a sequence of discipline. So, operational excellence, by itself, is a disciplined thinking, implies discipline overall and this is a bad word in this context. You have to know what is really important for what you do. If you are a good sales manager you have to know which are the important things that you have to focus on, you need to be able to have all this key set regarding analytics, data… You need to be able to manage all of this access to information that everyday arises in front of you and be able to cascade that in the best way possible to your teams. Yeah, I mean, innovation and creativity are consequences, I’d say, of operational excellence. So, it comes by itself. If you start analyzing and understanding what you do, if you find the areas of optimization, you identify the big bets that come out of this structure process and the thinking – and the analysis eventually -, then, definitely, you’ll find innovations that were there in front of you. So, it’s not only new product, it can be a new way of working, it can be a new process by itself. I think it’s the natural outcome of engaging with an operational excellence program.
Paula: Okay, very interesting! Thank you, George, for sharing all of these insights on the topic. Thank you so much. I feel like I learnt a lot!
George: Thank you, it was great talking to you.
Paula: Yes, thank you so much, it was a pleasure. And of course, thank you as well to our listeners and see you in the next edition of the podcast.