How to Have a Strategy for Change

Think of “strat­e­gy” as hav­ing a per­spec­tive, an agen­da if you will, about how things could be bet­ter. When I’m help­ing a man­ag­er think about what those things are for a depart­ment in a more or less tra­di­tion­al hier­ar­chy, I like to employ a kind of sys­tems map that illu­mi­nates dif­fer­ent aspects of the work and its envi­ron­ment. Ask­ing about each of these aspects in turn can gen­er­ate a help­ful array of pos­si­ble changes relat­ed to the over­all health of the func­tion. Let me show you what I mean.

Systems Map.001

Please click to enlarge>

Let’s imag­ine I’m help­ing you and your depart­ment direct­ly. Here are some of the ques­tions I might ask you.

1. I may begin by ask­ing you about the expe­ri­ence you intend for those you serve — clients, cus­tomers, patients, patrons, what­ev­er you call these peo­ple. Notice that I’m not ask­ing you direct­ly about the ser­vice or prod­uct you pro­vide, but about the expe­ri­ence that you want peo­ple to receive through that ser­vice or prod­uct. “Good” or “sat­is­fied” is not enough. Not even “delight­ed.” Those words, these days, are tak­en for grant­ed. Rather, look for the qual­i­ties — for exam­ple, “we want pur­chasers to feel they are wis­er, more capa­ble, and more cre­ative for hav­ing bought this prod­uct” that dif­fer­en­ti­ate that expe­ri­ence from a hun­dreds or thou­sands of oth­ers. The head of a very suc­cess­ful design-build firm told me he want­ed his cus­tomers to feel “relieved” to have found his firm. “It should feel like find­ing not just a new com­pa­ny, but a new and trust­wor­thy friend.” In the com­pet­i­tive con­struc­tion indus­try, that could be a sig­nif­i­cant differentiator.

This dri­ves a lot of oth­er ques­tions, such as how many peo­ple, how well trained are in fact need­ed to deliv­er this expe­ri­ence? Do you have them, or are they turn­ing over rapid­ly? Do you pay them what they are worth? Do you treat them in the same way you would like your cus­tomers to feel treat­ed — a ques­tion about cul­ture? Has the intend­ed cus­tomer expe­ri­ence actu­al­ly ever been artic­u­lat­ed? If so, how well is it under­stood? If not, why not?

2. Assum­ing the cus­tomer has entered your “store” or “process,” the next thing I may ask you about is how the work is done. Are the steps in the work process actu­al­ly designed to ful­fill the intend­ed cus­tomer expe­ri­ence? How well are those steps orga­nized? Is there a pre­ferred way the work is to be done? Is is cus­tomized to each cus­tomer? Do dif­fer­ent peo­ple have dif­fer­ent ways of doing the job, some of which fit the orga­ni­za­tion bet­ter than oth­ers? What’s the impact of that? Do these steps meet expect­ed time­lines? bud­gets? To what extent are there errors and delays yet to work out? How is “non-stan­dard” work han­dled? How are mis­takes han­dled along the way? How stressed are the peo­ple car­ry­ing out the work? Do they love their jobs? Why or why not? (Anoth­er ques­tion about culture).

3. What is your depart­men­t’s point of “hand-off?” Does the cus­tomer go on to oth­er parts of the orga­ni­za­tion for oth­er ser­vices? Come back next year for the same ser­vice? How does your hand-off point shape the expec­ta­tions of the cus­tomer for what comes next? Do oth­ers, such as staff in anoth­er depart­ment or func­tion (anoth­er kind of “cus­tomer”), pick up the pieces for what was­n’t com­plet­ed in your depart­ment? Do you make sure the client has every­thing he/she needs before the hand-off occurs? How are the cus­tomer’s ques­tions han­dled after they “leave the store”?

4. Since super­vi­sors and man­agers are often those who design and gov­ern the actu­al sys­tem of work, how effec­tive and respon­sive are they? Are they more than lead employ­ees? Do they have the req­ui­site peo­ple skills? Are they capa­ble of orga­niz­ing work, train­ing staff, coach­ing them, del­e­gat­ing, empow­er­ing, engag­ing oth­ers? Do they love their work? Do they care about peo­ple? Do they have per­son­al bound­aries? Can they set bound­aries for oth­ers? What would you say about trust lev­els in teams?

5. As the ulti­mate own­ers of strat­e­gy, cul­ture and resources, how are senior lead­ers of the orga­ni­za­tion viewed? Do peo­ple feel acknowl­edged, heard and val­ued by the high­est lev­els of the orga­ni­za­tion? How would you say the behav­ior of top lead­er­ship influ­ences the cul­ture of your depart­ment? How do peo­ple feel about that cul­ture? How does it affect what work gets done? How well the work gets done? Does top man­age­ment offer mean­ing­ful sup­port and guid­ance or divorce itself from the every­day con­flicts and chal­lenges faced by the rest of the organization?

6. To what extent is feed­back val­ued and sought after by indi­vid­u­als and teams? What feed­back sys­tems are in place for your depart­ment? How do you obtain feed­back from cus­tomers? Is your sys­tem equal­ly use­ful in get­ting mean­ing­ful feed­back from peo­ple who are sat­is­fied and those who are unsat­is­fied, espe­cial­ly those who drop out of the ser­vice or return the prod­uct? To what extent does a real, human dia­logue exist with cus­tomers? Do they feel wel­comed to engage with the orga­ni­za­tion? How do you go about show­ing them they have influ­enced any of the five aspects already mentioned? 

7. What, in fact, is the intend­ed cul­ture of your orga­ni­za­tion — begin­ning with clar­i­ty about mis­sion, vision, and val­ues — and to what extent do peo­ple actu­al­ly lis­ten when con­tra­dic­tions to that intend­ed cul­ture sur­face? For exam­ple, it’s one thing to say “we are an eth­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion,” but what hap­pens when a top leader oper­ates in a poten­tial­ly uneth­i­cal way? How good is your orga­ni­za­tion at own­ing the need to change and improve over­all? To what extent are the lead­ers lead­ing? To what extent are peo­ple real — have they learned to defend and cov­er up the actu­al prob­lems that are there, or can they be open, human, and true to their own judgment?

These are just some of the pos­si­ble ques­tions that come up when work­ing through this sys­tems map. As I men­tioned, the effort to work through each of the areas in turn can bring dif­fi­cult chal­lenges for­ward. For exam­ple, in one orga­ni­za­tion, it had been appar­ent for years that more staff train­ing was essen­tial but the orga­ni­za­tion seemed to be caught in an awful Catch-22: new staff left because they felt incom­pe­tent yet believed they could­n’t ask for help to learn the job; expe­ri­enced staff were reluc­tant to offer too much help to new peo­ple lest it take too much of their own time and pre­vent­ed them from meet­ing job stan­dards; and super­vi­sors were so busy fill­ing in for peo­ple who were out or had left or for teams that were down in num­bers that there was no time to devel­op the pro­grams need­ed to fix the prob­lem. Ouch! — and Yikes! (This is, of course, not just a train­ing pro­gram prob­lem, but also a staffing prob­lem, and a prob­lem of how super­vi­sors’ jobs had been defined.)

I encour­age you to gen­er­ate your own ques­tions around each of the sev­en aspects of the sys­tems map. 

Once you’ve done an inven­to­ry, you can begin to think about the steps need­ed, the resources, and the pri­or­i­ties essen­tial to improve­ment. Per­haps you’ll find, like many do, that the intend­ed cus­tomer expe­ri­ence is actu­al­ly still unclear, that the work process is cre­at­ing unwant­ed delays and errors, that the hand-off to the cus­tomer could be con­sid­er­ably bet­ter, that super­vi­sors need real care and sup­port, that con­nec­tions up the sys­tem to top lead­ers must be opened and attend­ed to, that feed­back is required at all lev­els and that the inter­nal cul­ture of the orga­ni­za­tion as a whole needs to mir­ror the intend­ed expe­ri­ence cus­tomers are to receive. Iden­ti­fy­ing these issues hon­est­ly and direct­ly — mak­ing them “dis­cuss­able” — may be your most pow­er­ful start­ing point to cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive strat­e­gy for change.

Sandia Peak

RSS and email sub­scrip­tion, occa­sion­al Unfold­ing Lead­er­ship newslet­ter, search and oth­er func­tions may be found at the “Fur­ther Infor­ma­tion” tab at the bot­tom of the front page.

Pin­ter­est users, you can pin pic­tures from this weblog via this Board.

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.