Looking In the Mirror: Ask Your Customers

“In business, the idea of measuring what you are doing, picking the measurements that count like customer satisfaction and performance… you thrive on that.”

Bill Gates

As we continue our discussion on this year’s theme of Looking in the Mirror (https://mailchi.mp/5f69c0941fc6/lookinginthemirror2024), let’s dive in and assess the value of asking our Customers their assessment of how we are doing.

A few thoughts as you consider this:

  • Obtaining input from your “best” Customers will give you insights as to why they keep coming back.
  • While asking a 1st time Customer whether he/she will want to use your services or products in the future provides valuable information on first impressions.
  • Reaching out to inactive/previous Customers will explore why they are no longer engaged with your Company.

What should you ask your Customers?

  • Create a list of objective, thought provoking questions that will provide you with insights into what your Customers really think.
  • Ask every Customer the same questions and ideally, send them the questions ahead of time so they can ponder them.
  • Limit your list of questions to no more than five.
  • Include questions related to what your Company does well and suggested areas of improvement.

Consider the most effective methods to ask your questions. Utilizing an external resource – either a software tool or Company engaged to do this – allows for more candid, honest answers.

Once you have compiled the input, assess the findings looking for commonality, trends, etc. Determine how to continue to incorporate the positives or make necessary changes based on what you learn from the input obtained. Looking in the mirror to see what your Customers think allows for ongoing improvement.

Looking In the Mirror: Learning from our past

“Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.” – Colin Powell, Former U.S. National Security Advisor, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired 4-star general 

Edinburgh, Scotland has founded a Library of Mistakes that has compiled a collection of 2,000 books that help the next generation avoid future mistakes. The Curator has stated that this collection proves that “smart people are doing stupid things” and he believes that the only way to strengthen an organization and the economy is to learn from prior mistakes.

As we continue our discussion on this year’s theme of Looking in the Mirror (https://mailchi.mp/5f69c0941fc6/lookinginthemirror2024), it is valuable to occasionally pause and learn from our past: both successes and failures.

This is so important to the ongoing success of any organization as it:

  • Identifies areas of weakness and improvement opportunities
  • Encourages an environment of ongoing improvement
  • Allows for the establishment of a formal methodology to routinely assess the performance of your organization

In John C. Maxwell’s book, Failing Forward, he emphasizes that the challenges are not that we are going to have disappointments and failures (because we will). Instead, he states “Failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success.” As we look at our past, we can learn that failure actually is a roadmap to success by encouraging us to continue to take risks and learn for the failures when we make them. By embracing our failures and allowing ourselves to “fail forward,” we instead position ourselves for greater opportunities than we originally imagined.

Maxwell continues his insights within Failing Forward, by saying: “Successful people have learned to do what does not come naturally. Nothing worth achieving comes easily. The only way to fail forward and achieve your dreams is to cultivate tenacity and persistence.” So, he encourages us to “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.”

As John Wooden said so well: “It takes time to create excellence. If it could be done quickly, more people would do it.” As we look in the mirror, stop and consider the following:  

  • When is the last time you took a look at a failure to assess what can be learned from it?
  • Are you so afraid to fail that you are not taking risks – and the right risks – to propel your organization forward?

Embrace those mistakes and failures so that you can propel your organization forward.

Looking in the Mirror: What is working well?

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” – Aristotle

In January, we introduced this year’s theme of Looking in the Mirror (https://mailchi.mp/5f69c0941fc6/lookinginthemirror2024). Then in February, we summarized why Looking in the Mirror is so important (https://mailchi.mp/5f69c0941fc6/lookinginthemirror2024).

Looking in the mirror requires an honest assessment of what is working well …. And what is not. Unfortunately, there is often an emphasis only on the negative. As Leaders, we can be guilty of focusing on fixing, improving, and enhancing the organization. However, there is excellent value in pausing to assess what your organization does well. Understanding this is a key step in assessing your organization’s strengths and the value you are able to bring to your Customers and Team.

How does a Leader identify your organization’s strengths? Ideally, performance management has been established within your organization and you should be able to easily identify areas where you excel. This allows for a quantitative method of understanding those strengths.

In addition, assess the not-as-quantifiable aspects of your organization’s strengths to better understand why a Customer chooses you versus your Competitors.

Why is understanding your Organization’s strengths so valuable? It highlights what you do extremely well. Amazingly, Leaders may not have defined these strengths. Taking the time to define those strengths equips Leaders in building on an established foundation. Looking in the mirror to see where your organization thrives allows for further assessments that we will discuss throughout this year.

Looking in the Mirror: Why Does It Matter?

“In business, the idea of measuring what you are doing, picking the measurements that count like customer satisfaction and performance… you thrive on that.”

Bill Gates

In January, we introduced this year’s theme of Looking in the Mirror (https://mailchi.mp/5f69c0941fc6/lookinginthemirror2024). As we begin our discussions on this, let’s initially focus on why this is so important to the ongoing success of any organization. This includes:

  • Identifying areas of strength and improvement opportunities
  • Providing a formal and objective methodology to routinely assess the performance of your organization
  • Establishing the baseline for creating operational effectiveness
  • Positioning an organization for continuous improvement, which is the process of making regular, small changes and improvements that reap long term results

As we look at the importance of Looking in the Mirror, begin with establishing what needs to be assessed and the measurement for that success. In other words, the method in which to “look in the mirror” to identify how the organization is performing.

Think about baking cookies or building a deck without utilizing specific measurements to create the desired results. Adding too much or too little to the cookie batter or not having specifications for the design of the deck can almost guarantee failure.

In the same way, defining the measurement for assessing successes or failures is critical to evaluate how your organization is performing and position it to achieve desired improvements. These measurements should be as quantitative as possible! A danger is establishing incorrect measurements that do not reap desired results. EXAMPLE: If the Customer Service Department’s success is defined based on how quickly they can close an open item may result in quick turnaround. However, if the turnaround does not actually resolve the issue, then the result only creates Customer frustration and continued follow-up with Customer Service.

These are some hints as those measurements are defined:

  • Identify when a process or task is being performed well: As the example above summarizes, a common mistake is not measuring the outcomes that produce excellent performance. Ensure performance is measuring the desired results.
  • Consider expectations of results: Ensure assessment includes timeliness, quality, expertise and knowledge of Staff, and other KPI’s. These KPI’s (key performance indicators) define what is being assessed and why they matter.
  • Establish monitoring and reporting methodologies: These should be designed to effectively assess the established KPI’s.
  • Determine frequency of review: Consider the timing based on frequency of processes or tasks performed, those that require more frequent review if it is a process that has been identified as an area of improvement, etc.

Over the coming months, we will discuss action to take based on this Looking in the Mirror process.

Looking in the Mirror

“There is immense value in consistently examining the health of an organization.” Charlene Aldridge of Aldridge, Kerr & Associates, Inc.

What do Eastman Kodak, Montgomery Wards, RadioShack, Borders, and Blockbuster have in common? They were thriving, successful companies that went out of business!

How does this happen? What causes this to occur? We at Aldridge Kerr believe there are several factors that can be summed up as follows: they failed to routinely look in the mirror to see how they were doing!

I had several interesting discussions over the holidays related to organizations that do not seem to have any idea that they have issues. These typically reflect a variety of shortcomings, including, for example: poor customer service, ineffective processes, inadequately trained staff, or poor quality.

With this in mind, our insights for 2024 will focus on encouraging you to step back and do some self-reflection to see what your organization does well and where there are operational challenges that need to be addressed.

There is immense value in consistently examining the health of an organization. It can create ongoing excellence and avoid the outcomes of those thriving companies that did not survive. We look forward to walking through this year of discovery to identify where we can improve and increase sustainability and growth.

Signs of Operational Insights in Review

“No man ever reached to excellence in any one art or profession without having passed through the slow and painful process of study and preparation.”

– Horace, Roman poet and thought leader

Throughout this year, we have explored the signs of operational effectiveness. These signs provide a benchmark to evaluate the effectiveness of your organization. Those signs include:

  • Creating consistency: of processes, messaging, standardized terminology …. the list is vast on the value of consistency
  • Effective communication: among Staff, with Customers, in messaging, in marketing, in documented communication
  • Setting clearly defined priorities: knowing what is most important will guide the focus of the organization
  • Building repeatable processes: a foundation for sustainability and growth
  • Documenting your processes: positions an organization for unlimited possibilities
  • Happy customers: without them, there is no organization
  • Mitigating risks: reduces failure, delays, confusion, and prepares for future opportunities
  • Establishing project management methodologies: the execution of any initiative or project becomes more probable when there is structure, risk assessment, clearly defined expectations, ongoing communication, and a defined timeline for success
  • Providing tools to build knowledge and skills for Staff: this is needed to strengthen the value your Staff brings to the organization and reduces knowledge loss when Staff leave
  • Exceptional quality: hard to achieve, but creates long-standing rewards

As we pause at year-end and reflect on those signs listed above, may we suggest you consider those areas where your organization excels and where there is room for improvement. Think about performing a self-assessment of each area (or hire a firm like Aldridge Kerr to assist you with the assessment) to establish a baseline. This will better position your organization for those opportunities for improvement in 2024.

Consistent Quality

There are several notable quotes worth sharing:

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple

“Quality means doing it right even when no one is looking.”

Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company

It is quality rather than quantity that matters.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, early Roman statesman and philosopher

If you look up the term “quality” in the dictionary, there will be some interesting definitions: “a degree of excellence;” “a peculiar and essential character;” and “a distinguishing attribute.” (Merrian-Webster). The Cambridge Dictionary defines quality as “how good or bad something is.” If you were to ask 5 people to define “quality,” you potentially will receive 5 different definitions. Quality can be difficult to define and even harder to achieve.

Unfortunately, we probably have experienced poor quality that negatively defines the word. So it becomes difficult to define what quality is and what it looks like.  

Aldridge Kerr defines quality as consistent behaviors and actions that demonstrate desired results. This definition identifies several areas that require evaluation:

  • What type of behavior and action produces quality deliverables?
  • What are the desired outcomes or results for the quality behavior demonstrated?
  • How frequently is “consistent?”

If you answer those questions, you will have begun to define your organization’s Quality Plan. In addition, here are some hints to gain understanding of how your organization incorporates quality into its culture:

  • Obtain input from Staff on areas where they believe quality is compromised.
  • Ask Customers what your organization does well – and where you need to improve.
  • Create a safe environment where Staff feel empowered to make the right choices.
  • Establish processes that support and enhance quality.
  • Define and measure success.

Creating a quality-driven organization is another sign of operational effectiveness.

Knowledge and Skills

“You gotta build a team that is so talented, they almost make you uncomfortable.”        Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb

For a short stint of my career, I worked on the Help Desk of a software consulting firm. The good news is that it was a great learning experience. The bad news is that initially almost every time I answered the phone, I had to get someone to help me with the Caller’s question.

If you have been on the receiving end when calling a Help Desk, it can be quite frustrating when you need to wait while the Customer Rep obtains your answer. Unfortunately, our impressions of a Company become less than stellar when Staff are unequipped to answer basic questions as part of their job duties.

As we continue our discussions this year on signs of operational effectiveness, one sign that must be on that list is providing adequate knowledge and skills to Staff in order for them to perform their jobs. Why is this important?

  • It improves the Customer Experience when issues are resolved quickly and effectively.
  • Staff become more empowered to perform their job with excellence.
  • It strengthens skills and expertise throughout the organization when Staff gains knowledge.  
  • It reduces the time it takes to address and/or resolve tasks.

How can you create an Organization where Staff have the knowledge and skills to perform their job duties?

  • Define the skills and knowledge needed to perform each job.
  • Ensure existing Staff understand what is expected of them.
  • Equip Staff with ongoing training to strengthen expertise.
  • Identify and resolve skill gaps.
  • Document tasks that only one or two Staff perform to mitigate the risk if someone leaves.
  • Create an environment that encourages Staff to step forward to learn and grow in their job duties.
  • Utilize external resources, as needed, if required skills and knowledge are unavailable internally.

As Hendrith Vanlon Smith Jr, CEO of Mayflower-Plymouth said so well: “It’s wise to think of employees as a talent pool and treat them accordingly. They have talents and skills that can help the company to be successful. Some of those talents and skills may even go beyond the scope of their job description but maybe can still be utilized.”

Empowered, knowledgeable, and highly skilled Staff position any Organization for operational effectiveness.

Effectively Executed Projects

Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal.

–  Cornelius Fitchner

Would you build a house without a clearly defined plan that outlines the parameters of the size, shape, structure, and dimensions? Of course, not (or at least, hopefully not). That’s the purpose of a blueprint, to define the specifications of what will be accomplished. The success of the end-product is driven by the plan for its implementation.

As we continue our discussions on signs of operational effectiveness this year, we would be amiss if we did not include the need for a structured project plan methodology that is used for implementing any project or initiative.

However, a plan outlining the specifications and deliverables is only a part of the successful implementation of any project. For example, the last few years have created some challenges for those building houses or cars or many other products because of material shortages. This is complicated with the staffing shortages. It is hard to move forward without the resources needed, whether materials or staff, to accomplish the desired outcomes. This has introduced an enhanced need for planning, risk mitigating, and defined deliverables.

By having a plan, you can consider those unique challenges and risks that must be faced in order for any project or initiative to be successful. A proven project management methodology enhances the chance for success and strengthens operational effectiveness.

Utilizing a project management methodology produces momentum to move forward. The goal is to build the plan and use it to execute the identified deliverables. As U.S. General George Patton said so well: “A good plan, violently executed now is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” Create the plan and execute the desired results.

Mitigating Risks

“Don’t be fearful of risks. Understand them and manage and minimize them to an acceptable level.” ― Naved Abdali, Author of Investing Magazine

Risk is defined as “the possibility of loss or injury.” Quite simply, risk is the possibility of something undesirable happening.

We deal with risk every day…. We could be hit crossing the street, or driving our cars, or falling in the shower. All possible, undesirable risks. The same relates to business as there are risks that threaten the ongoing success of any organization.

As we continue our discussion on signs of operational effectiveness, managing risks is critical for sustainability and growth. My father used to regularly ask me “what is the worse that can happen?” This was his way of getting me to consider the risks of actions I was about to take so I could determine if even with the greatest risks, it was worth moving forward…. Or not.

How does an organization address risk? There are several factors to consider related to risk management:

  • Avoiding risk is unattainable; but there are many methods to mitigate the risks an organization faces.
  • Building a risk assessment into every project, initiative, and/or program encourages mitigating those risks that could arise.
  • Understanding possible risks allows an organization to be proactive versus reactive.
  • There is a higher probability that a project or initiative could fail if there is not an effective risk assessment built into the project plan.
  • Establishing a standard risk assessment process and methodology encourages long term success.
  • It is important to manage the cost of risks including considerations for ignoring risks and taking no measures to address those risks versus placing too much importance on a risk and utilizing extraordinary resources when the risk is not that great.
  • A risk assessment should be built into the annual planning process.

Utilizing risk management within an organization encourages operational effectiveness.