They say that one sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, and this is exactly why a lot of organizations struggle – they go about their business as usual while wondering why they don’t see any growth or positive changes. What struggling organizations need to do is ask the tough questions.
In Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions: Enduring Wisdom for Today’s Leaders, author Peter F. Drucker has narrowed things down to the five most important questions. By asking yourself these five questions, and answering honestly, you’ll soon have a much better understanding of what’s working, what’s not and what needs to be done to get on the right track.
If you’re the leader or manager of any sort of organization, there are five questions that you should ask yourself if you want your organization to be the best that it can.
The first question is “What is our mission?” It’s the number one question because it identifies the objectives and goals that you and your organization are aiming to fulfill. The answer to the question is no less than the primary reason for your organization’s existence, and therefore it will be the guiding force and the common bond that holds your organization together.
Given how important your mission statement is, you should take care to make sure it accurately reflects the commitment, ability and hope of the organization. However, the statement should still be both accurate and concise enough to fit on a t-shirt.
While consulting at a hospital, Drucker was tasked with helping administrators come up with a new mission statement for the emergency room (ER). Their first attempt was “Our mission is health care.” However, it became apparent that the ER wasn’t caring for health as much as it was caring for illness.
They also wanted to recognize the fact that in eight out of ten cases the job of the ER staff was to tell patients their problems could be solved by a good night’s sleep. With these considerations in mind, the mission statement became “To give assurance to the afflicted.” Immediately, the hospital found that this mission helped ER staff re-evaluate their priorities, and the patients began to be seen much quicker.
A strong mission statement can also help your organization adapt to a changing world, while not losing sight of its core objectives.In e very organization, there can come a time when your principles need to be fixed. To do this, you need to separate the flexible elements from those that are non-negotiable.
Likewise, the mission of the international scientific community isn’t going to change much, even when old theories are replaced by new ones. No matter what, the core mission remains the same – the advancement of human knowledge.
Last but not least, a strong mission can help you decide whether an opportunity is right for you. Knowing your typical customer is key to any business’s success. As an executive at Ford Motors once said, “If we’re not customer driven, our cars won’t be either.”
Therefore, the second question for a successful organization is “Who is our customer?” In answering this question, you should be careful to distinguish between your primary customers and supporting customers; so that you’re focusing on the primary while making sure the supporting aren’t neglected.
A primary customer is one whose life is directly changed by your product or service. A supporting customer is someone who you want to satisfy, but isn’t the focus of your mission.
In the case of the non-profit organization, their supporting customers could be local businesses as well as the family members and those caring for their primary customers. All of these customers can significantly help the organization to achieve its mission.
Another reason to know your customers is to be aware of how your business is affected when they change. By knowing your customer, you’re able to recognize when you’re reaching a whole different group of people. This is what happened to a pastor that the author knew: The pastor launched a program at his church aimed at helping newlyweds. Imagine his surprise when the only people who showed up were cohabiting, unmarried couples unsure about marriage. By knowing your target audience, you’ll be sure to recognize when others are being unexpectedly attracted to your product.
Also keep in mind that the world is continually shifting – if a completely different audience is taking over, you’ll have to know when it’s time to evolve alongside your customer base while staying true to the mission that’s helped you succeed.
The next question is one that gets ignored more than all others, yet it’s essential for every organization: “What does our customer value?” By asking this question, you can avoid the pitfall of assuming what your customer wants, and instead get valuable feedback directly. When you have a deep understanding of your primary customer’s values, you’ll be in a position to maximize your ability to satisfy your customers’ needs.
For example, when a homeless shelter discovered the values of their primary customers, it led to profound changes in the values they placed on food and bedding. The organization conducted a series of face-to-face customer interviews which revealed that, while food and clean beds were appreciated, they ranked almost zero compared to satisfying the customers’ primary need: not to be homeless.
As a result, the staff put more time and resources into working alongside their customers to help them achieve their goal. This included extending how long they allowed people to stay at the shelter. By making the period longer, it helped to create a safer, more home-like environment.
This question also changed the way the Sinai-Grace Hospital operated. When Patricia Maryland was hired as the hospital’s new president, she learned that it was known in the community as the “dirty hospital,” and patients were unhappy with how long they had to wait for service.
With this customer feedback, Maryland knew what needed to be changed, and she led a massive reorganization of how the hospital was run. This included dividing the ER into separate areas for urgent care and patients with chest pain – reducing the wait time by 75 percent.
Maryland also oversaw a complete refurbishment of the hospital to erase its “dirty” public perception. Through these customer-driven changes, the hospital was finally able to turn into a successful money-making institution.
When asking this question about customer value, it’s important not to forget about the opinions of your supporting customers. For the principal of a school, this means taking care of the primary customer – the student – while not ignoring the many secondary customers, including teachers, the school board, community partners and parents.
Each requires attention to make sure the teachers don’t go on strike, or the school board doesn’t fire the principal. In fact, only by satisfying the supporting customers’ needs can the principal make sure the school is well-run and that the students receive a high-quality education.
With the mission defined and customers understood, it’s time to ask the next question.
Check out my related post: Do you know the science of why? – Part 1