“What have you got on today..” the office equivalent of “Management by Walking About”

A recent post was about why business projects, especially business change projects, fail when there is so much written about how to make them work. In my view one of the major problems is that studies report over 60% of organisations do not adequately understand where they are starting from. This lack of understanding can be the situation within the company, within its target market or within society as a whole and there are a number of tools – most commonly SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) or PEST (political, economic, social, technological) plus a load more including PESTLE which adds legal and environmental to PEST. All are good tools, if often a little “Big Picture”, to try to get our heads around where the business sits. However I would suggest that there is another much neglected way of getting a handle on things particularly within the business and that is to use our ears.

Many business leaders do not make enough time for casual conversation as a way of getting an understanding of the business. Perhaps an example would help:-

A few months ago I was asked to do labour efficiency study at a company (one of my pet hates because they so frequently start from the assumption that the people are the problem and I seldom hold myself to such narrow briefs). I make it a policy to talk to as many people as possible within an organisation, and to split the conversation into “casual” and “work”

Businessmen talking while walking with bicycle outdoors

Casual conversations frequently supply information not easily obtained in any other way

– often the casual is “I need some time with you today – what have you got on – when can I fit in”. It is amazing what you learn. At this particular company I was talking with the sales team (I said I don’t hold myself too rigidly to briefs) and a couple of the members of the team said they had to do re-quotes to customers. I found this a little strange since the organisation felt it was extremely close to its customers. As I love to measure I had a look at the quote database and found that at over 50% of jobs were re-quoted at least once and around 25% were re-quoted more than once. Taking things a little further, when I met a customer of my client I also asked them “what have you got outstanding with my client” and surprise surprise they said a re-quote.

There could be a number of reasons for re-quotes all worrying to a greater or lesser degree.

At a conclusions session with my client I asked them what made them think they were really close to their customers – and got the usual “love stuff” – I then caused consternation by reporting my examination of re-quotes and suggested that something was going on that the business did not understand. After things calmed down and some discussion it was agreed to try to understand the issue better by collecting data on reasons for re-quote and as a result a program to encourage a fuller understanding of customer “wants” was put in place. A few months later not only are the sales department doing less re-quotes, but more business is being converted presumably because end customers are not throwing outlyer quotes straight in the bin.

So in my experience it is worth senior managers setting aside non-task related chat time (around the coffee machine or when greeting people in the morning) and asking casually – “what have you got on today” – it could end up with a better understanding of business improvement opportunities.


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