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Making Sense of Things

March 21, 2019
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Helen Bevan, CEO of England’s National Health Service, was asked recently about the challenge of preserving gains from one initiative while launching new efforts. She said, “Leaders must make sense of these things.” In a world of constant change for organizations, it’s hard to sustain focus on one initiative when competing interests are always on the horizon.

Consider an organization’s interest in improving its customers’ experience. It gathers research from a loyalty survey, assembles focus groups and does some secret shopping. All the data it collects is now ripe for analysis and action. Leaders huddle in a room and, in tight whispers, share their frustration and concern about the feedback. Then they move toward doubting the results. “This can’t be right!” “We can’t be failing our customers so badly.” “This doesn’t match up to our sales results or our renewal rates.”

But if leaders could focus on the current initiative and achieve the desired outcome fast, they could complete that one, recognize the gains and then move nimbly to another. This takes energy! Here are the steps we recommend:

Step One – Analyze both strengths and opportunities

  • When reviewing data, start with strengths. Ask, how could we do more of this? Which other customers would benefit from this initiative? If we spent more time, energy and resources on this, would it improve customers’ experience?
  • Then list areas of opportunity. Ask, how important is it for us to fix this? What does the cost-benefit analysis tell us? In other words, if we spend money on this, will it improve our customers’ experience?

Step Two – Focus on the meaningful few, not the meaningless many

  • Limit your focus to no more than three opportunities. Often, organizations waste time on the many, sacrificing true focus on the few.
  • Select the opportunity of most importance and “hold” the others. They are potential new initiatives.

Step Three – Brainstorm freely to resolve an opportunity creatively

  • No idea is too small, too stupid, too costly or too crazy, especially if it means improving the customer experience. Brainstorming allows you to form and build on other, more rational ideas.
  • Once you post all ideas for resolving an opportunity, you can try multi-voting. Multi-voting gives leaders five or more votes, which they may weight more heavily on one solution or another by giving it multiple votes.
  • One last note: The CEO votes last. His/her votes should not be allowed to sway others. However, the CEO’s votes should be allowed to break ties or influence the outcome on the “too-close-to-call” solutions.

Step Four – Develop and communicate a SMART action plan for the initiative

  • Creating a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-driven action plan is the critical next step. Team members from across the organization should be involved based on their expertise and passion for the initiative.
  • This is not the leadership team’s plan; it’s the organization’s. After all, improving the customer experience is everyone’s responsibility.
  • The leadership team is responsible for communicating the plan effectively, describing how the project is framed and explaining what it means to the organization. Taking time at the beginning to explain why the project fulfills the organization’s purpose gets people invested and sets the project up for success.
  • Leaders must show data and avoid jargon. They convey concepts that people can understand and share information on actions being taken.

Step Five – Hold team members accountable for results

  • Hold routine cross-functional team meetings to check on progress and address any obstacles that have arisen.
  • The progress checks create some “tension” for the team to complete the Project Action Plan on time and on budget.

Step Six – Celebrate and reevaluate

  • When you complete the Project Action Plan, celebration is appropriate. Also, communicating to the organization about your accomplishments can be fun. If the team specified a goal to measure improvement, keep this target front and center so that all employees and staff understand that, when new data is delivered, eyes will be on the prize.

The biggest barrier to change is nearly always a confusing set of strategies. When a new initiative comes along, people don’t know whether it’s more important than the previous one unless leaders make sense of these things.