Last week we looked at disseminating information, and how dissemination works upwards, downwards and sideways. This week we look at the third stage - responding to information...
Stage 3: Responding to information
Making practical suggestions to colleagues and your own managers is an important way of responding to information. Another is to bring information about customers' experiences to any regular or special team meeting or briefing you may be responsible for, so that your team can consider together what this may mean for how they work.
This can be a particularly useful way of focusing on customer orientation if otherwise your meetings tend to be dominated by expositions of new senior management edicts or policies or the discussion of operational problems.
Finding out about your customers and the environment is time-consuming and you may feel that you are wasting time finding out rather than doing things. However, unless you spend this time, the things you do may not be the right things, or not the things that will make the most difference to the satisfaction of your customers.
So far, we have talked about being curious and finding out about customers, without providing any structure for this. One way of trying to ensure you have covered everything is to start with your department and consider the products it provides to customers, to employees, and to the organisation's structure, technology and systems.
You should then consider customers and all the contact points for them with your department. Being curious and finding out about customers should provide you with a view of the strengths and weaknesses of what you do. Looking more widely at your organisation should provide you with the context for your own department's activities.
It should also reveal what opportunities might be available, and the possible threats to your success. You may also need to consider what is happening outside your company in the wider environment.
For example, are there any changes to laws that might affect you, or changes in technology? Perhaps society is changing in the way it responds to your products or the demands it makes of your organisation. These areas also need to be considered.
The SWOT analysis
A SWOT analysis is the assessment of an organisation's or department's activities, and the strengths and weaknesses in them. The strengths are then matched to opportunities evident in the audit and the weaknesses to threats identified there.
A full SWOT analysis is a major strategic process requiring techniques beyond the scope of this session. However, it is still a useful tool for incorporating customer-oriented thinking into your management.
For the purpose of a manager trying to enhance customer satisfaction, the key is not to be ambitious when using SWOT. Whether you manage a team, a project, a department or a small business, SWOT is a proven framework for categorising your thinking about what is working (and what is not), and what is changing in the interface you have with your customers.
A danger with SWOT is that it encourages long lists of wishes and constraints that remain the same year after year. It is therefore important to focus on the areas that are within your control or that you can influence.
The framework can be particularly useful whenever you review and plan what you do as a manager. It could be an insightful part of preparing for team away-days, annual appraisals and target-setting processes.
Next week we’ll look at this in an example of a manager trying to reduce the number of complaints about the financial reports their department produces monthly for managers throughout their organisation...
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