Archive for the ‘Case Study’ Category

Case Study: Why Not Speak Up?

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Charlie Dobbs is in the company conference room attending a meeting called by the Division Vice President. One of the Vice President’s staff members, Shirley Martin, is presenting a project idea she has developed to improve the company’s customer service.

As Charlie listens to Shirley’s presentation he is intrigued by her basic concept. However, as Shirley brings her presentation to a close, Charlie makes a mental note that she made no mention of a critical part of the company’s Customer Service Program. In order for this project to succeed it needs the support of all of the departments of the company. Each department has some information on a customer and a successful program needs the cooperation and collaboration of the people in all departments in this important effort.

In spite of his concern, Charlie decides not to say anything. He has been shot down in the past for raising such issues and he doesn’t want to get shot down again. He has also seen his colleagues similarly shot down. Besides, he doesn’t want to be a naysayer. So, he says nothing and leaves the meeting with his concern given no attention.

Six months later the project has tanked and the company has lost time, money, effort and credibility. The reason for the failure was that critical customer data was not obtained from some of the departments and the data that was obtained was not appropriately screened and utilized.

All this could have been avoided if, six months ago, Charlie had raised his hand and said, “I like this idea and the approach you are taking. However, I am concerned that you made no mention of how you plan to coordinate the customer information that each department has and how to utilize that information in the best interests of this project.

At that time, Shirley may have responded, “Thanks for bringing that up, Charlie. The collection and screening of data from all company departments is critical and Bill Sampson is our customer data guru. Bill is going to develop a process for collecting, evaluating and utilizing all customer data that we have in the company.”

Or, Shirley may have responded, “Hmm. That is a critical issue and something we haven’t given any consideration and we need to do so. Thanks for bringing that to our attention, Charlie. Since this is an area of concern for you would you be willing to work with us on this?”

Bottom Line:

In all organizations we have to create and maintain an environment in which people feel comfortable sharing information. Charlie and his colleagues need to believe that their thoughts and concerns are welcomed, even critical to the ongoing success of the organization. Managers need to know when they are promoting and supporting that belief and when they may be jeopardizing it.

Creating An Environment In Which People Feel Comfortable Sharing Information

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

The success of any organization depends on the effectiveness of its people in addressing those issues that lead to the organization’s increased productivity and profitability. It sounds simple, but it isn’t easy. I often use the game of golf to illustrate this point.

The game of golf is simple. On the par four holes you are allowed two strokes to get on the green and two additional strokes to get the ball in the cup. On the par three holes you are allowed only one stroke to get on the green and three strokes on the par five holes and, as with all holes, two strokes to get the ball in the hole. So, the game of golf is simple, but it’s not easy.

The same is true in managing people and organizations. The basic principles are simple, but they are not easy. In his book, Overcoming Organizational Defenses, Chris Argyris introduces the concept of Double-Loop Learning. In single-loop learning he uses the example of a thermostat in a room that detects when the air in the room is too cold or too hot and corrects the situation by turning the heat on or off.

In organizations we evaluate the success or effectiveness of a project by interpreting the feedback we receive upon completion of the project, and then make necessary adjustments to our plans to continue the project. According to Argyris, the problem with single-loop learning is that we address only the existing issues that need correction. In doing so, we do not ask why the problem existed in the first place. In double-loop learning we address the underlying issues. In the case of the thermostat, we may learn that the heat is constantly on because someone left a window open.

Argyris contends that we do not engage in double-loop learning because of organizational defenses which he identifies as reluctance to ask questions that are embarrassing or threatening. The 360° Feedback process can lead to an organization in which people feel comfortable sharing information and asking the difficult questions. It can begin with the manager who asks for feedback, listens to that feedback, discusses it rationally and objectively with the person providing the feedback, and then encourages and supports additional feedback.

If our organization is going to be successful, we need the input of all those who are contributing to our mission and values. We need honest feedback on how we are doing on a daily basis, internally and externally. If we have any hope of receiving such information, we need to create, develop and maintain an organizational environment in which all of its participants feel comfortable sharing information and asking the difficult questions.