Thursday, August 30, 2012

Habit #2

Life sometimes 'reads' like a Dilbert comic.  Scott Adams has said that even his cartoons sometimes don't even come close to the real-life stories people have submitted. Recently, I had a case of Dilbert deja vu.  (I've just copyrighted the phrase too, by the way.)

Working with a retail store, I realized that they hadn't created a goal for some training they had been doing.
They'd been trying to upgrade the customer service skills of the sales staff. However, unlike Covey's admonition, there was no end in mind--Habit 2 of his 7 habits of highly effective people. "We want our associates to be better at interacting with the customers," the manager said. The training was being received in rather a lackadaisical manner partially because the execution of the training had no purpose except to impart knowledge. One of the metrics for the store is conversion rate--the percentage of people who walk in the door and buy something. "How about if we set a goal of 60% conversion rate?" I suggested by way of a question. I went on, "If we achieve that, then sales are up in the store. That will allow for more staff hours to be scheduled which would be beneficial to those who want more hours. Not only that, but the sales education that's happening strengthens the competitive edge we're trying to get over Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target and even Barnes & Noble." The sales training is one way to get to that important goal, and it provides a purpose for the trainers and the trainees.

Another manufacturing company had floundered with the Lean efforts because it wasn't attached to any meaningful goal in mind. It was being communicated as critical to the strategic efforts.

In a conversation with an HR manager a few years ago, I had asked why she wanted to work on improving the hiring practice of the company. She had suggested the improvement of the practice as a goal. It seemed that the only reason for setting this project as a 'goal' was to relieve her responsibility of turning in annual goals.

After a few ambiguous and vague answers to "what will we get if we do this?", I tried the opposite question: "What would happen if the hiring practice got worse?" Some more vague answers came. "And if we don't hire some of the best applicants, what can we expect to happen to our performance?" "Oh," she said with some energy, "now I get it! I want to improve the way we hire so that we can improve the performance of the company. If we hire the best applicants, we'll be successful. People will stay. Turnover will be reduced. And so my goal is to reduce turnover, not just improve the process. That's the means to the end of low turnover. Perhaps I can also measure if I'm able to hire the best applicants.  Perhaps there's a 3-month follow-up metric--like the 90-day reviews--that might tell me what percentage of people we want to keep or believe are or will be stars. I already have a baseline from the past few years. After improving the hiring process, I can measure if the 90-day reviews increase."

"So, what's your goal?" I asked again. "To improve the 90-day reviews, and reduce turnover," she replied. She got it. Not only were her goals specific, measurable and relevant (3 of the SMART criteria), they had an end in mind for her own functional responsibility and the company's performance. She didn't get stuck by focusing on the journey, but knew what her destination was.

Begin with the end in mind.  Thank you, Steve Covey.

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