What is your purpose?
I’m not talking about putting together your company’s mission statement. I’m talking about what the organization’s ultimate goal is.
With a baseball team, the answer is obvious: win the World Series. The key to that is to maintain a high winning percentage throughout the season, so you can contend at season’s end. For a business, however, desired outcomes may not be so obvious. The leadership may be uncertain as to which direction to take the company. Or they may just be unsuccessful communicating those goals to the staff.
Whatever the case, the rest of the company lacks clarity. People aren’t sure what they’re working toward, so their efforts are scattershot. And because they’re not unified in their goals, success is going to be difficult if not impossible.
In that scenario, it’s time for a complete reset. Three key phases of a successful transformation I employ are research, analysis, and planning, and I’ll break down each one here.
The Research Phase
Unless we build a foundation grounded in facts, the odds are we’re going to react to the wrong stimuli and make fear-based decisions, rather than ones that reflect reality. What you don’t know can kill your business. And the research phase is all about making sure you do know everything, so you can not only survive but thrive.
Research doesn’t just precede a transformation, it continues throughout the process. There will always be a new fact that pops up along the way that motivates you to dig deeper. You just have to be open to new information and willing to utilize it in a useful way to inform your decision-making.
Under the umbrella of the research phrase, there is a sequence of three other Rs that should be followed:
- Results — This is basically a diagnostic check of the company’s health; its current results. Results can refer to goals, outcomes, key performance indicators, or milestones. It’s all about being able to document those results in an actionable manner. Those results should then be matched up with what the results should be, not just for you, your team, or organization but, more importantly, for your customers. That way you can see if you’re falling short or meeting their expectations.
Specifically, what type of value is the customer looking for from what you offer? What’s the “why” behind your business? Looking at the current results will help everyone to see what they’re delivering and what they’re not delivering. Sometimes there’s a jarring disconnect between leadership perception and those interfacing with the customers, who are complaining loudly.
- Reconnaissance — This is generally a passive process. You gather data on the people involved just by observing and asking questions. Watch how people interact with each other. How is the leadership interacting with the team under fire? How does that team interact with other departments in the company? What does the team’s internal interaction look like?
I’ve found the best approach is to ask an open-ended question. If they can’t just answer yes or no, they’re forced to talk for a longer period of time. And the more I let them talk, the more they’re likely to feel so comfortable that they inadvertently tell me some revealing information. All points of view serve to build a complete picture of the past and current environment.
When engaging in the reconnaissance phase, it’s critical that you control the narrative and not fall prey to anyone else’s, especially in the early stages. It takes a while to establish the trust you need to get real information, and no one’s going to give you that level of trust until they see some positive action taken.
- Review — Here is where you sort all the information you’ve gathered into two distinct categories: areas of friction and areas of value creation.
Areas of friction in a company represent all the things that are preventing success, both in terms of what’s not working internally at the company and what’s not working for customers. What is causing the loss of momentum? What lowers productivity rates?
Value creation is the opposite end of the spectrum. When I align my research from inside the company all the way to the customer experience, I can more easily see where there are opportunities to improve value elements for the customer.
The review stage should be revisited on a regular basis, perhaps when milestones are reached or at a logical point, where everyone needs to see exactly where they are with their efforts.
The Analyze Phase
This is not just a matter of gathering the information and examining it in a simplistic or cursory fashion. There’s a creative aspect required, where you apply your experience and expertise to the facts in order to devise the best possible outcome, instead of settling on a simplistic solution that won’t do you any good. The analyze phase is where you take a deep dive into the data collected from the research phase to determine its underlying meaning and, from there, move into the plan phase.
For most business situations, the analyze phase should cover at least four distinct categories:
- People — Here, you’re looking at how well people in a company are being utilized. I end up finding lots of friction hotspots in an organization’s personnel. Sometimes I find one person who seems to be doing a lot of work, while three others don’t seem to be doing much at all. Sometimes the worker efficiency problems stem from job description; job design; or a lack of delegation, capability, or autonomy.
- Finance — I only do a financial analysis when there is a serious risk of an organization failing. My goal is to compare and contrast the allocation of resources to customer results. And, depending on whether the financial data provides all the information I need, I sometimes ask to speak with other departments.
- Product — My first goal is to understand what the business thinks the product is — from the perspective of management, employees, and customers. Nail down certain baseline facts, which to me are the table stakes. In business, table stakes are the minimum-entry requirements for a market. They can include price, cost model, technology, or other capabilities that give the product a credible baseline position in a marketplace.
- Technology — The first thing I look for here are flaws in systems, platforms, and other tech. A flaw indicates an architectural problem that will absolutely limit future applicability, current use and customer purchase.
The Plan Phase
In the plan phase, you must create a viable path toward improvement and growth, understanding that negativity is your biggest enemy when you’re trying to induce a turnaround. Unfortunately, negativity is also the prevalent emotion in the firm by the time we’re called in to help, and that negativity is also one of the primary reasons why management has been unable to make productive change happen. They’re too mired in pessimism to think straight.
So, a complete reset is necessary. Attitudes have to be improved. You can’t walk around obsessing about the business going under, even though problems might be incredibly serious. Instead, you have to encourage a fresh perception where people genuinely believe things can be improved. The way you do that is with a realistic but forward-thinking blueprint for progress that offers genuine hope to a company that’s starved for it.
Now is the time when real momentum can happen, because all the researching and thinking combines to create action. That action must address people, process, and product. If just one of the three are out of whack, it will drag down the other two.
- People plan — There are two ways the people part of the business equation can go wrong: skills and culture. Once you’ve determined certain skill sets are lacking, you have to ascertain how to approach the problem. You can also encounter employees who possess the right skills but are a complete disaster in terms of fitting in the company culture. Their negative impact has to be mitigated.
- Process plan — Needs tend to change over time, and often the processes don’t change with them. What we find is that a process a company is using may make things more complex rather than more efficient. Bureaucracy and people’s tendency to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them keep these outdated processes in place. Look for opportunities where a new process will improve workflow and deliver value. That kind of process gap analysis might identify multiple divisions and/or teams where more streamlined procedures would boost results.
- Product plan — Here, there are two distinct aspects to zero in on: The actual products and/or services the client is delivering to their customer, and the internal processes the client uses to monitor the value they’re realizing from those products and/or services. We often find that one department in particular is seen as failing to meet the needs of the other departments. But, most friction points are easy to fix, especially with today’s cloud environments. Coming up with a way to manage the data internally so it’s a more seamless, less stressful process empowers everyone.
Many companies think there’s a magical solution that will solve everything, such as a new platform. But, sometimes, the company actually goes out of business because the problem was never about the platform. The problem was the company didn’t know how to approach and implement a successful transformation.