Activities Aren’t Results

Some business people do stuff. Others fix stuff.

activities vs results - Activities Aren’t ResultsCase in point. The head of HR at a mid-sized Midwestern company called me a few weeks ago and said she needed to act on the company’s recent employee survey results.  She and her survey team had concluded that the organization needed to address four weak areas that the survey revealed, namely teamwork, communication, leadership and recognition.

I’ve used organizational research to improve business performance for more than 30 years, so I suspected I could help and offered to do so. I asked her to send me the survey report.  The results were as she described.

The scores in those four areas were indeed low, but customers don’t really care about low teamwork or communication scores. They care about whether their requirements for quality products and services are being met.
Likewise with shareholders. They don’t care if leadership or recognition scores are low or high. They care about the investment returns they are receiving.

My client wanted to improve teamwork, one of the four low-scoring areas. But, what is teamwork? Is it mandating that every project must assign a team to work on the project as a large chemical company did a few years ago? Is it training people how to work as a team?

And what about communication? Does improving low communication scores mean increasing the number of booklets, brochures, posters and blogs? Does it mean training people how to use email? Or does it mean teaching conflict resolution, root cause problem solving or meeting etiquette?

My client was making the same mistake that many people in her position make. She was focused on improving survey scores instead of the numbers that mattered. This mistake seems more prevalent today as organizations work to increase employee engagement; viewing it as an end unto itself instead of a means to better operating and financial performance.

Addressing employee survey scores should start by identifying the numbers that need to move and in what direction.  Jack Stack, the open book management pioneer, describes this as the critical number.

“Every company has one. It is the number that at any given time is going to have the biggest impact on what you’re doing and where you want to go. It is the number you have to do well on if you’re going to succeed, or maybe even survive.”

Assuming you’re measuring the right things, it’s important to identify the root causes of gaps that exist between your goals and your current performance.

Improving survey scores such as teamwork, communication, leadership and recognition may help you improve scores on a follow-up survey. But at what potential cost? There’s a cost to making the survey score improvements. If you haven’t improved the business you’ve wasted money and drained value from the organization.  My client’s objective needed to be about fixing rather than doing stuff that may not matter.

For example, another client was struggling with meeting the customers’ on-time delivery requirements. The root cause of the performance gap was poor communication between order entry from sales, to inventory management, assembly, and shipping.

Improving communication among these functional areas eliminated the gap between the goal and actual performance.  On-time delivery went from 67 to 92 percent. And because customers’ requirements were being met, sales increased 30 percent.

Key Takeaway: It’s not about creating more stuff. It’s about fixing the business.

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