Do you live and work above or below the line?

David Reyero

“Above the line” is a common term in marketing used to refer to large-scale actions that seek to position or build a brand, as opposed to “below the line” techniques, which segment initiatives according to specific client groups.

In the field of cultural transformation, a new definition of “above the line” is emerging as a facilitator of individual and collective success in this highly complex and demanding environment.

It is a mentality that makes everyone the "protagonist" of their own life, in which they play a proactive role, confronting problems and conflicts and assuming responsibility.

Thus, it is different from “below the line” behaviours, which encourage attitudes of being a “victim”, where excuses and frustration come to the fore, and where things happen due to uncontrollable external factors. Carolyn Taylor, a cultural transformation coach, explains this clearly in her post.

This change in management style requires profound changes at an organisational and personal level.

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Many companies still have to improve their management, enhancing delegation, agile decision-making, risk-taking with common sense, and trust in their teams. It is also crucial to avoid paternalism and to foster a culture of honest feedback at all levels.

And the challenge facing employees at any hierarchical level is to work as if they were "director generals of their job". An attitude that boosts factors such as self-responsibility, continuous learning, commitment, breadth of vision and the need and opportunity to take decisions and be held accountable to others for our results.

Such conducts are a mark of personal maturity, since energy is invested in looking for solutions, over and above criticisms about aspects that can be improved. These are valuable ingredients required by organisations today, if they are to be successful in such a complicated entrepreneurial context.

The challenge facing employees at any hierarchical level is to work as if they were 'director generals of their job'

A complementary and extremely powerful element is the technique of exponential improvement (10 times). It is no longer a case of improving incrementally (1-5%), but of being disruptive to improve ten times over, with respect to both financial ratios (sales, profits, number of customers, market share…) and more qualitative ratios (customer loyalty, worker engagement, innovation, reputation of the company, …).

With a view to moving towards transformation, “above the line” management is underpinned by some powerful questions. For example:

  • Is there a different way to confront this problem or opportunity?
  • Can you challenge my solution to test whether it is correct?
  • What have I learnt from what has happened?
  • Am I confronting this situation in a role of “victim” or “protagonist”?
  • What can I do very differently or stop doing to improve my results tenfold?

This differential management is already being applied in many organisations that wish to overcome inertia and release all their latent potential. By way of example, my experience of applying this method at Sanofi has been very positive: better results, significant advances in management and a high degree of involvement on the part of teams.

'Above the line' management is already being applied in many organisations that wish to overcome inertia and release all their latent potential

The key to the success of its implementation lies, once again, in the people themselves and their desire to move from their comfort zone into a learning environment. This transition must be accompanied by good communication and training, and by management setting an example on a daily basis.

Today, there is a great deal of talk about the exponential opportunities generated by digital transformation, and there is a logical focus on leveraging its advantages. Just as important, if not more than important than this, is personal and cultural transformation. A trend that accelerates or slows down the changes that the market never ceases to demand.

Now, we need a collective (social and educational) effort from both organisations and individuals, in order to radically improve what people can offer, drawing on their strengths and passions. In this way, we will work our way out of this severe crisis more easily.

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