Tag Archives: employees

The One Thing Missing for Innovation

“Innovate or die,” the saying goes. But as companies try to sharpen their competitive edge with new product and service ideas, many don’t realize that their efforts are fundamentally misguided.

That’s because their innovation process is often missing one essential ingredient: their customers.

Companies establish innovation incubators and idea labs. They hold brainstorming sessions and ideation off-sites. They produce and analyze reams of market research.

But if you wander through any of these innovation-fostering instruments, you’d be hard-pressed to run into an actual customer. What you would see are lots of executives and employees discussing what they think customers need and what products or services will help them.

Seldom, however, do companies directly include customers in the innovation process, and that is a dangerous misstep.

The most brilliant customer insights—the ones that drive game-changing innovation—rarely come from focus group rooms or market research surveys. They come, instead, from observing customers in their natural habitat.

Nothing—not the most intense ideation session nor the most robust market research report—can compare with what you learn by simply going out “into the wild,” watching and listening to customers as they navigate through their day, as they use your products and services and as they (sometimes) bastardize those products and services to accommodate their needs.

Automobile manufacturer Chrysler owes its dominance in the consumer minivan market to this concept of customer observation (technically called “ethnographic research”). For more than 30 years, the company has been the U.S. minivan sales leader, a position fortified over the decades by a tradition of customer-centric innovation.

That approach was perhaps best exemplified by Chrysler’s 1996 introduction of the Dodge Caravan, the first U.S. minivan with two sliding doors. Previous models were equipped with only a passenger-side sliding door.

Whereas other auto manufacturers just asked customers if they’d like a second sliding door (and didn’t sense much interest), Chrysler sent a team into the wild to see with their own eyes what minivan owners struggled with but might never have thought to share in a focus group.

In a 2012 interview, Chris Theodore, one of the lead design engineers for the 1996 Caravan, recalled his team’s approach to the project:

“We really had a great time. We looked at customers. We visited customers. We videotaped customers at rest stops, truck stops and lumber yards. That’s where we came up with all the ideas. From cupholders to tissue holders to rollout seats to the fourth door, these were all things that we saw the customer needed but didn’t volunteer when asked.”

As Theodore and his team witnessed firsthand, when you observe customers in the wild, you discover things that even the best internal brainstorming sessions might not have revealed. But they also saw the inherent limitations in merely asking customers for their opinions, because people tend to have needs and frustrations that they would never think to vocalize to a market researcher.

A great example of that comes from OXO, maker of popular houseware products like Good Grips. As Alex Lee, president of OXO, recounted at a 2008 conference, when the company was considering reinventing the measuring cup, it went to consumers and asked them straight out: “What’s wrong with your measuring cup?”

In response, people mentioned things such as how measuring cups are often made of glass, so if they drop the cup, it breaks. They talked about how measuring cup handles get slippery when your hands are greasy, and how the cup itself can get hot depending on what’s poured into it.

And that was pretty much all people had to say.

Then the OXO team made a simple request of the consumers with whom they met: Show us how you measure with a measuring cup.

And they saw people go through a ritual with which we’re all accustomed. They pour something into the cup, then bend down to check the measurement markings. Then they pour a little more and bend down again. Over and over.

Yet no consumer mentioned this as a problem. It’s an aspect of the measuring cup user experience that was so ingrained in everyone’s psyche that no one thought to question it—except the team at OXO. By observing people actually using the product, they exposed inefficiencies in the customer experience that indicated the measuring cup was indeed ripe for reinvention.

That led to the launch of OXO’s now famous “angled measuring cup”—a cup that lets you read measurement markings by looking straight down, obviating the need to repeatedly fill, bend and check. The company sold millions of these cups in just the first couple of years they were on the market.

It’s worth noting that both OXO and Chrysler, when they sought to incorporate the customer perspective into their innovation efforts, did so by observing and questioning consumers of their product.

Both companies at the time relied heavily on distribution partners (houseware retailers and auto dealers)—entities that they might even have viewed as customers. Yet when it came time to look at the world from the customer’s perspective, while they may have engaged distributors in the exercise, it was never done to the exclusion of the end consumer.

This is a critical point for any company that works through sales intermediaries but wishes to foster customer-centric innovation. You can’t define “the customer” as simply the next person in the distribution chain. By doing so, you might very well miss out on important insights that are difficult to capture in any other way.

While lots of companies tend to exclude customers from their innovation efforts, the oversight is probably even more pronounced within the insurance industry. Many industry executives are puzzled at the idea of observing customers. After all, insurance—unlike cars or housewares—isn’t something people use every day.

Even though insurance may be a relatively low-interaction business, there are still plenty of opportunities to observe customers “using” the product. The key is to reject the traditional and very parochial view that customers only use an insurance product at claim time.

The insurance customer experience is shaped by many types of episodes and touch points: research and purchase, underwriting and issue, online and offline service, billing and payments, premium audits, loss control reviews and, of course, claims.

These are all examples of customers interacting with their insurance product, and as such, they afford meaningful opportunities to observe and learn.

If insurers ever do try to incorporate the customer view, it usually happens relative to product development. And while that’s commendable, true customer-centric innovation requires a broader view around when and where to solicit an external perspective.

That means spending time observing customers when, for example, they receive their initial policy package. Or watching when they try to interpret a premium billing notice and then pay it online. Or seeing what steps they go through to prepare for a premium audit. Or witnessing every stressor they’re saddled with when their business is interrupted or their home is flooded.

Great things happen when you break free from the four walls of your office, venture into the wild and immerse yourself in the customer experience. You see things from an entirely new vantage point. You gain insight into how to enhance your products and services. You spark ideas for satisfying not-yet-obvious customer needs.

There’s no single right way to cultivate innovation within a company. However, no matter what ideation approach you employ, the important thing is to make sure customers are included.

And not just included in a cursory way, with a few focus groups or research surveys. It’s about including their perspective in an immersive way, by observing customers in their natural habitat, as they interact with your products and services.

Once you do that, your company’s innovation engine will really start to fire on all cylinders.

Solution to High-Cost Indemnity Payments?

We’ve all experienced it – the jigsaw puzzle scattered across the kitchen table. Each time we walk by, we’re tempted by the loose pieces. The family rivalry of who will solve the puzzle continues, as weeks go by trying to complete the 1,000-piece brain buster.

For payers, solving the indemnity payment puzzle in the quickly changing landscape of workers’ compensation has become the ultimate brain buster.

Today, indemnity payments represent a significant portion of workers’ compensation spending – anywhere from 40% to 60% of claim costs. While they don’t receive much attention, increasing administrative burdens and processing fees associated with traditional payment methods are thwarting payers’ abilities to manage total claim costs.

So, what are these changing pieces? How can payers find the most appropriate payment solution to solve the indemnity payment puzzle and reduce their total costs per claim?

New Workforce Dynamics Means Added Complexity to Payment Processing

While most of us still head to the office, factory or job site daily, this number continues to decline, as an increasing number of employees opt to work from their homes, on the road or in a remote location.

In fact, the Census Bureau states from 2005 to 2012, the number of remote workers increased by 79%. Further, 25 million Americans are currently unbanked or underbanked, according to the FDIC.

Should these individuals become injured on the job and eligible to receive indemnity payments, sending a check may prove to be a challenge. No convenient or stable access to a bank or lack of a permanent address could result in escheatment issues or lost and stolen payments.

Claim Severity and Duration Equals Harder-to-Manage Payments

Claim severity is on the rise. Thus, the more severe the injury, the more likely that an injured worker will receive indemnity and for a longer duration. For example, an Aon study found that in the healthcare industry alone, indemnity payments average more than $18,000 per worker each year.

This increase in total indemnity payments results in a greater threat of missed, duplicate or incorrect payments.

Changing Business Climate Drives Additional Look at Revenue Cycle Processes

Traditionally, indemnity payments have been issued via checks. However, as the cost of writing and managing checks continues to rise in tandem with data breaches and corporate fraud making daily headlines, it’s imperative to place more stringent controls on workers’ compensation payments. As businesses look to streamline costs, it’s safe to say these traditional processes are no longer our answer.

While EFT is increasing in popularity as a viable option, streamlining difficulties still occur as this error-prone solution requires a bank account number and can create delays in reaching bank accounts in a timely manner.

So how does the payer solve the indemnity payment puzzle?

Just as workers’ compensation claims have increased in complexity since the first lost wages legislation was passed in 1911, transaction methods have also changed. According to a Federal Reserve study, card payments increased by $17.8 billion while non-card payments decreased by as much as $3.1 billion between 2009 and 2012.

Consumers are increasingly more comfortable using a card-based solution, thanks to its bank neutrality, no need for a permanent address and convenience in receiving faster and more efficient payments.

In addition, card-based solutions help payers navigate today’s complex landscape by lowering operational expenses, reducing errors, decreasing escheatment, ensuring accurate and timely payments for all workers, mitigating internal and external fraud, letting adjusters focus on critical priorities and protecting the payer from payment liabilities.

As you explore a card-based solution look for a bank neutral partner that will manage injured worker calls about lost or stolen payments, offers protection through a card issuer like MasterCard and maintains its technology and processes in-house.

Outsourcing indemnity payments will enable you to focus on more important priorities, such as helping the injured workers get the care they need while reducing total claim costs. After all, there’s no better feeling than putting the final piece of the puzzle into place.

Where to Start on Cyber Security?

Because of the recent and hugely public spate of cyber “events,” the world of cyber security and subsequently cyber insurance is firmly in overdrive. According to the UK Department for Innovation & Skills, 81% of large businesses and 60% of small businesses suffered a cyber-security breach in the last year, and the average cost of breaches to business has nearly doubled since 2013.

We have all seen the headlines, from Sony last year to British Airways earlier this month to the French TV Channel TV5Monde. The severity and importance of each of these has material impacts on not only their ability to do business but also their brand and reputation as a customer, employee and partner.

Sony was clearly hugely public, by far one of the biggest and most public I have seen hit the news for a long time. It was all over most news channels, causing outcry from customers and employees, some of whom threatened to sue their employer or former employer for failing to protect their data. Sony, of course, has had many attacks, including one taking down its PlayStation online platform for days on end. As for BA, the first I heard of this was an email saying, “Someone has accessed your account.” Please come change your password! This is the brand that I trust with my personal details, my location and much more.

Finally, TV5Monde seems to be particularly worrying to me. In a scene that reminded me of the wonderfully played Elliot Carver from 007’s “Tomorrow Never Dies,” the media giant was quite simply disabled, their TV taken off air, their public online presence taken over and more. An attack of this scale and power to me simply highlights what Hollywood has been portraying for years (remember “Die Hard,” where the bad guys take over the airport by hot wiring a few cables nearby?). Interestingly, subsequent reports again point to human error here – for instance, a TV interview showed passwords stuck to Post-It notes.

If we are under any doubt by the frequency, scale and impact of attacks, I found a great website (www.informationisbeautiful.net) recently that visualizes some of the data breaches by year, industry and size, reason and more; see here for the full interactive chart.

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Cyber threats have been defined by many; however, as with many other critical business issues, lots of other things are being added to the overall “cyber” definition. The recent report from the UK Government on UK cyber security: the role of insurance talks through both the threat and, importantly, the opportunity for insurers.

The World Economic Forum in its 10th Annual Global Risks Report has cyber risks up with water crisis and natural catastrophe and ahead of WMD, infectious disease and fiscal crisis (in terms of likelihood of occurrence). Given what we have all experienced in the last recession, I don’t think we could have a stronger wake up call.

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– Top Global Risks According to the World Economic Forum

For now, and certainly as I write today, there is a small correlation between cyber-attacks and loss of human life. However, as we become ever more connected with IoT (Internet of Things) or IoE (Internet of Everything), future devices will all be connected. In the latest report, the government said that 14 billion objects are already connected to the Internet, 40 million of them in the UK. By 2020, it could be as many as 100 billion worldwide.

The upside of being able to monitor your heart pacemaker or your insulin levels from an app are already upon us; “wearables” is the buzzword for 2015. When these devices move from monitoring to controlling, the threat just increases. A cyber-attack at a local level, shutting down a hospital, airport, city traffic system, taking over a driverless car or airplane – it’s far too easy to paint a picture here.

What’s the role of the insurer in all of this?

The insurance provider has a huge role in this, not only to pick up the pieces when an event occurs, but also across the entire lifecycle. At the outset, we have an opportunity to better educate the market on cyber risks in general, in creating insurance capacity for the event and ultimately better prepare ourselves for the continuing advancement and frequency of attacks.

This goes far beyond the cyber essentials to better prepare small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and large enterprises alike. This is not collecting a badge; this is time to get ready for a battle. Not just a battle against cyber threats, but a battle for your reputation and brand. A brand that says to your employees, customers and partners, you can trust me with your information – I have a plan in place that’s tried and tested! The government scheme has covered the bare minimum essentials, which is like passing your driving theory test. We need expert drivers here to navigate roads no one has previously seen.

The UK, and London market specifically, is already well-placed given its deep experience in insuring against specialty risks, but capacity in the market will continue to increase as the threats and frequency of events increases, giving rise to new, more tailored products and opportunities for the entire market. How long will it be before we all have our own personal cyber Insurance policy?

Move to prevention rather than cure

We need to better help organizations truly understand the cost of putting this right after the event. As an example, some estimate that the cost of the Target breach in the U.S. has cost them north of $100 million to correct. In the early earnings call post the event, Target executives said, “The breach resulted in $17 million of net expenses in the fourth quarter…, with $61 million of total expenses partially offset by the recognition of a $44 million insurance receivable.”

Hindsight is wonderful, but perhaps a fraction of this upfront would have saved this money and, importantly, provided time to focus on the business strategy, not remedial work.

Reputation, Reputation, Reputation

It’s already been widely discussed, but insuring an organization’s reputation is challenging for a number of reasons. Of course, almost anything can be insured, but defining what the impact is and then working out what you need to be covered for will no doubt bring additional challenge for something that most would describe as intangible. The Insurance Times has a good piece here on this.

More importantly, what’s the short-, medium- or long-term impact and value on the reputational damage? Take your favorite or most-used retailer, give it all your personal financial data and shopping habits. It then suffers a breach – how likely are you to use or recommend the retailer again? Maybe you would forgive it for one breach; what if it happened again? It’s too easy to move. I read that in the UK you are more “likely to suffer a theft from your bank than a physical burglary” these days.

Does this affect your future choice? How long does it take you to re-establish trust with your customers, employees and partners?

Typically, reputation risk is around 5% to 20% of cyber cost. However, in reality, it’s the gift that can keep on giving, that no one really wants.

What if you are an online-only business? What if you were the ones who disrupted your market through technology and now that has been taken away from you. You don’t have the luxury of physical outlets as a backup or alternative part of your business plan. Dealing with other breaches such as shoplifting has been an occurrence since retail began, but these were isolated to the individual locations.

SMEs, especially, are not as well-equipped. On one hand, digital makes access open to anyone to create a new business, but on the other hand we must now factor in the cost of doing business online, of which cyber is a now business-critical.

What do you think?

Are we prepared and doing enough across the sector?
Is this at the forefront of your business continuity strategy?
Have you a plan in place to protect your employees, customers and partners?
Do you have adequate cover that is well-enough defined?
Are you investing ahead of the curve to prevent it?

The Power of the Right Prototype

I’m a long-time advocate for leveraging prototypes and demos in the enterprise to explore ideas and emerging technologies. And, there’s a particular reason. It’s that precise moment during a prototype presentation when everything in the room changes. Eyes light up. People sit forward in their chairs. The conversation shifts from potential problems to possibilities. Executives become transfixed with ideas of transformation. The power of prototypes to persuade is undeniable.

The practice of prototyping has typically been isolated in certain pockets of the organization. However, as technology purchasing is distributed across the company, more executives can benefit from the prototype’s ability to put an idea or technology into the context of the business. Through a prototype, a technology once considered the latest consumer fad turns into a vehicle to advance enterprise innovation. Prototypes make a big, amorphous idea personal, relatable and feasible.

I was recently onsite with a client who was keen on prototyping, and the first question I asked was: Why? Not because I was skeptical that prototyping would work. Understanding the why behind a prototype is imperative for picking the right prototype for your project. Different business drivers demand different types of prototypes, and prototypes often need to evolve as the lifecycle of the idea or technology matures. Prototypes are more than rough first productions of an object. Prototypes span the dimensions of physical, high-technology and digital and can take various forms; even a workflow diagram can be considered an early prototype.

Prototype-table

For example, PwC used digital story telling via video to communicate our vision of the future of shopping as well as to portend the potential impact of wearables on the insurance industry. In this case, video was the most effective prototyping medium because the technology is already available in the marketplace. The impetus was more on inspiring executives to realize what is possible vs. testing the technology’s capability or feasibility. By contrast, when a client asked us to explore the use of sensors for increasing business intelligence, we built a smart refrigerator to test the feasibility and usability of the technological components in physical form, given that the Internet of Things is a nascent technology. A particular area of focus was exploring the transmission of data via the cloud.

Challenges With Getting Started

As businesses expand their prototyping programs, they will face challenges. Here are some of the obstacles they will need to scale.

1) New Skills. Prototyping requires a combination of creative design skills and rapid iterative development skills. Most companies have yet to cultivate these skills. Our 6th annual Digital IQ survey of nearly 1,500 business and technology executives found that only 19% of respondents rated the IT’s prototyping skills as “excellent.”

2) New Prototyping Processes. Traditional business processes like building a business case and determining an ROI don’t apply to prototyping. Businesses must find new ways to plan, fund and evaluate prototyping initiatives, such as the ability to identify the next new opportunity for growth, efficiency and effectiveness. How many ideas were generated, how many advanced to the next stage and how many ideas were taken to market?

3) A New Understanding. Executives need to understand why prototyping is vital in today’s fast-paced business climate, and the word needs to spread like wildfire across the enterprise. The good news is that it only takes one prototype presentation to turn someone into a believer.

Technology is touching every aspect of our lives, and businesses must constantly explore ways to better engage customers, employees and suppliers. Technology is moving too fast for companies to wait until a vendor hands them the next version of their product or service. Prototyping is no longer reserved for a handful of companies that are considered the kings of creativity. It’s necessary for all companies.

How ‘Cascades’ Can Build Work Culture

Most of us have heard the phrase: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It could be restated as, “Your actions speak louder than your words.” This means that management can dream up any strategy they want, but their behaviors and actions are what create the culture of an organization.

Culture drives how efficient an organization’s processes are. Culture drives the success or failure of an organization. Culture is the product of leadership decisions or the lack of decisions.

The best-articulated corporate vision and strategy are of no value if they cannot engage the hearts, minds and work habits of employees at all levels and convey a purpose beyond just profit.

A vision states where an organization wants to go; a strategy defines the path to get there; and the work culture describes how business processes are actually executed along the path toward the vision. The health of a work culture can range from a contagiously high-performance work culture to mediocre or all the way down to a disruptive, confrontational culture that can’t get much done on time or done right the first time. A disruptive culture can trump the best vision and strategies every time. On the other hand, if a work culture is nurtured and groomed to align with a carefully crafted vision and strategy, the positive momentum could be unstoppable.

Figure 1 shows possible scenarios of vision, strategy, culture and performance alignment and misalignment. Business process performance (small white arrows) is more correlated with the work culture (small red arrows) than with the vision or strategy (big blue arrow) of an organization. Work culture — not vision or strategy — culture drives business performance. The challenge presented by this dilemma is that the work culture is an invisible force that is hard to measure. It shows its good side when you watch it and only displays its bad sides when you look away. The work culture is the product of complex cascade effects inside an organization and is as much affected by leadership actions as it is by the lack of appropriate actions. If left unattended, it will create its own random world of hidden agendas, which will probably not be aligned with the priorities of the organization.

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Figure 1
– 3 Possible scenarios of vision, strategy, culture and performance alignment

Corporate visions and strategies are usually rolled out in formal three- to five-year plans. Work culture management and monitoring is too often not in sync with that plan and referred as an “HR thing,” even though it is the gate-keeper of business performance. If you do not understand and actively manage the work culture, it will manage you.

Measuring Cascade Effects Risks

It would be wonderful if we could just plug a measurement device into an organization to check its health and the risks of cascade effects (Figure 2). The work culture defines how employees work with each other through communication, coordination and cooperation. It generates multiple slow-motion and rapid chain reactions, ripple effects and cascade effects that greatly affect the mood and attitude of the organization. It predestines an organization for success or failure.

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Figure 2
– The challenge of measuring work culture health and risks

How can we measure the health of invisible cultural chain reactions that can drive the success, mediocrity or failure of an entire corporation? I suggest a series of management and employee surveys and brainstorming assessments to test for the presence of 56 different elements of risk that can be present at any level in an organization. (See Figure 3 for a partial view of the survey.) The culture assessment tool shown in Figure 3 should be used for at least three different levels of management in an organization. These three levels of perception will offer triangulation data points, which will show how common or diverse the perceptions are that describe the organizational culture.

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Figure 3 – Partial view of a gamified organizational health survey

The Organizational Force-Fields That Drive Success or Failure

Chain reactions, domino effects, ripple effects and snowball effects are similar in that they are defined by the single acts that created them. Once triggered, they will play out their effects depending on the amount of resistance the system presents against them. Cascade effects are different. They are fueled by a hierarchy of multiple interacting triggers at different levels in the system.  Time delays between cause and effect are common, making the direct correlations between cause and effect more difficult to identify. Each element of the cascade effect can create dramatic outputs involving as many as three degrees of separation, rippling through an organization. There are three types of organizational cascade effects:

  • Destructive tsunamis of non-cooperation and negativity
  • Expanding groups of  status quo herd followers
  • Constructive waves of cooperation, empowerment, motivation and positivity

If all of the cascade effects are present in an organization at the same time, the result will be conflict, employee frustration and lack of momentum in the right direction.  A random mix containing equal parts of motivated, frustrated, positive and cynical employees co-located for 40 hours a week is not a formula for success; it is a recipe for mediocrity or even disaster.

Positive Organizational Cascades

These are acts of positivity that multiply and can also spread from person to person. In 2010, researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Harvard published the results from their experiments in an article titled: “Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks.” They showed that cooperative behavior can be just as contagious as bad behavior. They showed that positivity can spread from person to person to person by displaying random acts of cooperation, generosity and other positive behaviors. This creates a cascade of cooperation that influences dozens of people who were not involved in the initial trigger event.

Mediocrity and Consensus Cascades

These cascades are the result of contagious personal decisions to blend in with the crowd and not make any waves (also known as “group think”). Many researchers, including those from the computer science department at Carnegie Mellon University, have confirmed this phenomenon. Forces in organizations and society like peer pressure, blending in, the herd mentality and the band-wagon effect can cause an individual to follow the herd, even if that violates personal preferences and value systems of what is right and what is wrong. This is often done to save one’s reputation in a group and gain acceptance. Efforts to achieve team consensus can create the same phenomena, resulting in conclusions that might not always be the best ones. Teams can assign a “devil’s advocate” role to a participant to deliberately challenge “herd decisions” to counter this cascade effect.

In 2013, Forbes wrote an article titled: “Brainstorming is Dead…,” which summarized recent criticism by many about how creative people can get suppressed by other personalities during brainstorming events when the main priority is to get consensus on all brainstorming conclusions. Forcing consensus is as useful as it is dangerous. To avoid ineffective and dangerous group-think cascade effects, group decisions should build on each other’s ideas, when possible, to create innovative hybrid solutions and not pick one idea and totally discount another idea that might have a flicker of genius.

Negative Organizational Cascades

These are acts of negativity that multiply and spread from person to person in an organization. Risky, combative and uncooperative behaviors all have the unfortunate ability to multiply and spread to three degrees of separation from the original act. This can have a negative impact on dozens and even hundreds of downstream people not involved in the initial negative triggering acts. Negative human interactions can break the bonds of humanity and teamwork. These cascades can destroy the work culture, effectiveness and performance of an entire organization.

The Broad Influence of Cascades

Behavioral researchers have demonstrated with team experiments that positive, mediocrity and negative cascades can all have affect three degrees of separation (friends of friends of friends). Other researchers and computer models have determined that only three to four degrees of separation is what separates everyone in the USA, and only six degrees of separation separate everyone in the world. Exceptions to this rule are the secluded tribes in the Amazon jungle and other remote places. Yes, the world is smaller than we think, and actions really do speak much louder than words. Actions and behaviors can reach beyond the horizon and into different time zones.

The Organizational Forces Survey

The Organizational Forces Survey tests the health of the individual organizational forces that drive chain reactions, cascades and other behavior propagation phenomena. This survey asks participants to assess the presence of positive and negative organizational forces shown in Figure 4 by identifying the forces they believe to be present. This survey is given to all levels of employees and management.

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Figure 4
– The Organizational Forces Survey used to assess the health of the work culture.

Figure 5 shows an example of survey responses, using the form in Figure 4, that were attained from the survey for three different levels in an organization: top leadership, middle management and non-management. One sign of healthy communications between management and employees is when organizational risk assessments are similar between different levels in the organization. However, that is not the case here.

In this survey response example, top leadership rated the health of the work culture as overwhelmingly positive (green). They perceived their environment to be a Grand Organization in the making. Unfortunately, non-management employee responses to this survey were at the opposite end of the scale (red). They rated the forces in the organization as overwhelmingly negative, filled with high risk and knocking on the door of a Grand Disaster. Middle management rated the work culture as mediocre (yellow), with some responses slightly positive and others slightly negative. This group of employees was apparently influenced by perceptions of top leadership and non-management.

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Figure 5
– The range of survey responses from various levels in this organization shows major discrepancies in their perception of the health for the organizational work culture.

Conclusion

Grand investigations are often done after a loss of life disaster occurs, such as a NASA space shuttle disaster, a passenger airplane crash or an accidental employee death on the job. However, it is hard to find this level of effort and analysis applied to prevent such disasters. Deep and thorough disaster investigations often find flawed undisciplined leadership practices and organizational cultures at the root of the problems. It is also common to discover a zealous ambition to grow the business without really ensuring that a healthy work culture foundation is put in place to safely support such expansion.

Huge opportunities for organizational productivity improvements still exist today by cultivating a high-performance work culture. Breakthroughs can be made when organizations appreciate the fact that  “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” a phrase coined by Peter Drucker, a famous management consultant, educator and author. True organizational greatness can be achieved when organizations look beyond trying to just manage the bottom line and learn how to manage, analyze and monitor the cultural forces and cascade effects that drive success or failure.

A grand vision and strategy can only revolutionize a company when the work culture is healthy, engaged and aligned with those concepts. Taboos on talk must be broken. Open, frequent and candid communications must exist between all levels in the organization. Employee issues and concerns must be addressed in a timely manner as proof that a functioning communication and countermeasure system are in place. Only then can an organization really have a chance to break its barriers to greatness.