Growing Your Revenue Asymmetrically, the Role of a Screwdriver

Mark is facing an odd question. He runs a substantial seals and bearing business. One of his best salesmen has brought in an order that could be a significant win. It includes expensive and high margin installation kits for a custom seal, so that the customer can order a complete solution to be delivered in the field.

The odd item in that kit is a screwdriver. Every installation will need one, but Mark’s company does not make or carry screwdrivers as a part.

Mark’s operations team wants to decline the deal. Mark’s sales team wants to explore new opportunities and that means selling a screwdriver as part of a high value package. The leaders of each team have asked Mark to make the other team support their position.


Stepping out of Symmetry

The operations team is holding to symmetry. In effect they are saying: “We don’t make and sell screwdrivers and we don’t want to make this a product we’ll have to support forever.” The sales team is pushing for change, asymmetry. The position might be summarized as: “You want us to grow revenue, well that means trying new things.”

I don’t know about you, but in my day I see and enjoy symmetry. It’s in design, in how we define beauty, and more. In the gym, for instance, you usually work to be just as good with both arms, both legs. In driving or skiing you want your left turns to be as good as your right turns. In photography symmetry is a key for composition. We look for balance and symmetry in organizations, employees, and so on.

Symmetry has a beauty, but it’s not how you grow a business, is it? Part of Mark’s job is to keep the business on track and predictable. Part is to grow it, perhaps unpredictably. This discussion isn’t really about a screwdriver. It is about how Mark values symmetry and wants his teams to value it.


Why Manage for Asymmetry?

You could argue that one reason to be out of balance is to keep people on their toes. That isn’t what I have in mind here. Instead a reason to be out of balance is to build more progress.

When you are in balance physically you are in one spot. You may moving slightly forward and slightly backward but you stay in balance. Done well this means that you are barely moving at all. The next time that you find yourself standing, watch to see how still you are. Or are not

The next time you have two groups coming to you for support in different directions will you want balance? Watch to see how mentally still you are. Or are not.

Look at asymmetry in the same way that you walk. When you walk you lean forward. If you don’t bring your other foot up you’ll do a face plant. That can be educational but it isn’t quite as good for progress or growth.

Progress and growth are usually stepping into the unknown. Asymmetry is leaning into the unknown. While balance and symmetry are comfortable, asymmetry usually isn’t. Falling into the unknown is much less so, even if you know that you can put your foot out to avoid a face plant.

So what has that got to do with your business? We need a lot of symmetry in order to make a business work. Repeatable and predictable process is important. Mark’s operations team is asking for that when they want to do deny the screwdriver.

I write about growth. For growth symmetry can be a constraint. For growth, you want to manage like you are falling forward into the unknown.

Choosing One or the Other

This is where you get to set a guiding principle for growth. When your teams (or your own choices) seem in conflict, ask the simple question: Is this where I want to break symmetry?

Most of the time we default to symmetry as familiar and comfortable. It reduces operational cost but perhaps raises opportunity cost. And since it is an automatic decision it does not tell your teams how to manage. That can undermine trust.

Is there a solution? Yes, you can make clear symmetry and asymmetry choices and telegraph them. Tell your teams that you value each, and explain when you choose one over the other. Doing this takes time away from firefighting, but like most good management it will reduce the number of fires that you and your teams have to dowse.

One more benefit - when you do this people on whom you rely will have a better sense that you make considered decisions. They will support more of your choices.


The Screwdriver?

Mark chose to support adding the screwdriver. Mark is a good communicator. He will find a way to explain his thinking to both the sales and operations teams, and it will increase loyalty to him. It will also support more growth in the future. He can fall forward with more ease.

Published by Medium, March 2019. Copr. The Meyer Group, all rights reserved.