The Moving From Being A Shaper To Being A Supplier Approach

A person may take different roles in their working life. Sometimes they may be a shaper in an organisation. They may take a strategic role and enjoy being able to influence the organisation’s future.

Sometime they may find that their role changes in certain circumstances, however, and they are asked to become a supplier. They may still have some autonomy but their main role is to supply services to the centre.

This can happen if either of the following things happen: a) the organisation gets bigger; b) the organisation gets taken over; c) the organisation asks them to head a sub division

A person who was used to shaping things from the centre may find this challenging. Different people do different things in this kind of situation. One approach is to redefine themselves as suppliers but also find ways to shape things in their life and work. Let’s explore these themes.

Moving From Being A
Shaper To Being A Supplier

One person I worked with described how they had moved between these roles. They expressed this in the following way.

“The organisation I work for is five years old. I was employee number six and we turned our hands to everything. We moved from setting the strategy to dealing with everyday problems.

“Those were exciting days. We invested heavily in the business and our efforts paid off. We made profits, grew to around eighty people and also expanded to other regions.

“The board then decided to bring in several senior people from bigger organisations. At first these moves were welcomed but then morale began to drop.

“The new C-Suite members put in processes that did not respect our strengths or deliver better results. Some of our best long-standing staff were also moved to less senior positions.

“I was asked to run a region far away from the centre and this looked good on paper. It would also give our children the chance to learn another language and appreciate other cultures.

“The first months went well but then it got frustrating. The centre said it valued my team’s input but our suggestions were not acted upon. There became an increasing divide between the centre and the staff on the ground.

“We now have little control over the services and products we have to deliver. My family and I like living in this region, but I am considering my future. I want more satisfaction in my work.”

The person and I explored the possible ways forward. They wanted more freedom to shape things. This would be difficult in their present business but there were other possibilities.

The first thing was to buy time. It was important: a) to maintain their present income stream; b) to continue to do good work in their present role; c) to explore the possible routes where they could shape things.

The person had an extensive network of people with whom they had worked in the past. Several of these had gone on to start new businesses that needed scaling.

Bearing this in mind, the person made their action plan. This involved taking the following steps.

They accepted that they and their team were
now suppliers to their present organisation

Certainly they could make suggestions, but their main role was to do following things:

To make clear contracts about the specific outcomes the centre wanted the team to deliver in terms of profitability, product quality and people morale;

To provide great service to the centre and their customers – much of this depended, of course, on getting the support required to deliver the goods;

To maintain a positive atmosphere in their own team and enable people to continue to develop.

The person focused on how to make these things happen. Whilst acting as a supplier to the centre, they could do their best to shape the culture of their own part of the business.

They began acting as a trusted advisor
to several people in their network

The person met with several CEO’s in their network who were not competitors to their present employers. Before meeting these people, the person took the following steps. They aimed:

To understand the CEO’s business, the challenges they faced and their aims for the future;

To clarify the knowledge they could pass on that could help the CEO’s business to achieve their goals;

To meet with the CEO and pass on this knowledge in a way their business could use to achieve success.

The person’s aim was simply to provide practical knowledge that the CEO’s could use in their own ways. These conversations also led to more meetings and some of the CEO’s saying:

“How can we take this further?”

They began acting as a mentor to new
businesses at their regional incubator

The person knew several venture capitalists and also people who ran one of the region’s incubators for new businesses. They began to act as a mentor for several businesses in the digital and AI spaces.

This proved to be stimulating and beneficial for all the parties. It also opened the door for the person to take future consultant work and non-executive roles.

Being A Shaper Again

The person’s team continued to deliver good service to the centre and its customers. There were occasional blips caused by a lack of resources that stretched the team.

Some of these were rectified by presenting the business case to the centre. Instead of griping, it was vital to explain the benefits that would result from providing the right resources.

The person stayed with the organisation for a further three months but then moved on. One of the CEO’s they met invited them to lead a new part of their business.

This proved liberating on several levels. The person enjoyed being able to shape things in their work. They took more care of their health and began exercising. They later explained how their family noticed the difference.

“My partner says I seem much happier. I had not realised that previously I sometimes looked preoccupied or even grumpy. It is good to feel more in control of my life and work.”

As mentioned earlier, a person may take different roles in their life. They may sometimes be a shaper, sometimes a supplier. Whatever role they play, however, they like to feel they can shape their futures.

Let’s return to your own situation. Can you think of how you can continue to shape parts of your life or work – even if some of this involves being a supplier? How can you translate these ideas into action?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to complete the following steps.

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