Who’s Covering Your Blind Side?

Originally Published: Packaging News, July-August 2021, by Paul Allen

PKN’s B2B advice columnist discusses the importance for every business to activate the protective instincts of a cross-functional team to guard the P&L from hostile attacks.

When an American football quarter­back prepares to throw, their left shoulder faces downfield, meaning they are literally ‘blind’ to any tack­les coming from their left-side. Knowing this, the opposition or defensive team position their most dangerous tacklers on the thrower’s ‘blind side’ to maximise the likelihood of a sack or fumble. In other words, they do all they can to deliver a ‘king-hit’ on the quarterback prior to his pass. Take out the quarterback and the game is half won. Being blindsided in sport or business has serious consequences.

It’s for this reason that one of the most important positions on a American foot­ball team is that of the ‘left-tackle’. These players seldom pass, run, or touch the ball. Their sole purpose is to act as the on-field bodyguard of the quarterback. Michael Oher, the hero of the 2009 movie The Blind Side, played left-tackle. His adoptive mother, Leigh Anne Tuohy, famously dis­covered that while Michael scored poorly in career aptitude tests, he ranked in the 98th percentile for protective instincts. While hesitant to throw his size and strength around early on, Michael thrived once he understood that his sole respon­sibility was to protect his quarterback.

So, who plays left-tackle in a packaging company? Who in your business takes on the role of protector of client profit, in pref­erence to being absorbed in the monthly cadence of fulfilling orders and securing new business? Typically, the answer is hard to find. Sales are focused on generat­ing revenue. Operations produce to a stan­dard. Logistics deliver in full and on time. Accounts collect payment. Marketing gen­erates demand. Finance report what remains. Leadership teams create strategy. Essentially, everyone is occupied; but the truth is, everyone is tentative when it comes to protecting against excessive demands, scope creep and unduly rough play from clients. No one likes playing left-tackle!

It is for this reason that the equivalent role of left-tackle can and must be shared. Leaders must learn from Leigh Anne Tuohy’s example, and find a way to activate the pro­tective instincts of cross-functional staff. It must become their shared responsibility to jointly guard the P&L from hostile king-hits to unsuspecting cost centres.

Sound hard? It doesn’t have to be. The playbook for each internal function is already documented in the Customer Supply Agreement. It just needs to be followed, mea­sured and supported with a weekly rev-up from a coach who might demands the following:

  • Sales -Need to secure minimum two-year contracts and least 50 per cent of the cli­ent’s business.
  • Operations – Never produce below agreed minimum order quantities unless clients agree to a surcharge.
  • Logistics – Urgent-freight requests must be authorised by Sales; prior to delivery.
  • Accounts – Shout loudly if payments are not paid in full and by respective due dates.
  • Marketing – Raise your hand if product development time is being overly absorbed by individual clients.
  • Finance – Above all else, keep our client­profit scoreboard updated for all to see.

Not every business can have a ready-made Michael Oher. But awaken the protective instincts in every player and the results will astound you.