Performance Excellence Process
Baldrige Workshops
Global Insights Archive
Sharpen the Connection for Immediate Results
Craig A. Anderson
November 2006


How do you USE customer and market knowledge? This question is included in
the 2006 Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence to introduce Item 3.1,
Customer and Market Knowledge.  The emphasis on the word USE is ours. Why?
Too often, we have observed organizations conducting interesting customer (and
employee) surveys without understanding that the survey is the beginning point, not
the end point, of an organizational improvement effort.

Yes, surveys can be useful tools to listen and learn about the most important
requirements, needs, expectations, and preferences of the people who matter
most to your organization—customers and employees. Excellent organizations are
relentless in their collection, analysis, and use of this data. Many organizations,
however, are missing opportunities to improve their vital listening and learning
strategies. Here are four ways to close the gap.

Remember that it is Listen and Learn, not Tell and Teach
Most surveys that we see appear to be more about the person doing the surveying
rather than the person being surveyed. There is a reason this activity is called
"listening and learning", not "telling and teaching". Put your customers at the center
of the survey process. Clarify the purpose. Keep it simple. Ask only for information
that you will do something with. Respect the process.

Respond Systematically
The typical response to survey data is a random act of improvement such as a
training event, a workshop, a leadership retreat, or a tactical improvement plan.
For reasons we all know, random acts will not lead to sustainable improvement; it
takes a management SYSTEM. We can paraphrase here from our favorite Sufi
poet, Jalal Muhammad Rumi, waiting in the orchard for his sweetheart, as we wait
for our absent management system: If you embrace a systematic approach to
management, nothing else matters; if you do not embrace a systematic approach
to management, nothing else matters.

Measure Your Results
You are listening and learning to your customers. You have a system to improve.
The next step is to measure your results, and use that information to conduct
ongoing cycles of improvement. Listening and learning is an ongoing process.
Your aim is to use customer data to improve. So measure your improvement. Set
your baseline. Make projections. Track your data. Measure the results. Draw
conclusions. Show that you are getting smarter over time, or, if not, figure out why
not.

Go Beyond Surveys
Surveys have their place, but they are fundamentally reactive. Your long-term
success depends on your ability to listen and learn to the customers you will have
in the future. Some are with you now. Some are with your competitors. Some are
in places your organization has never been before. Surveys will not connect you to
the future. Unleash your creativity. How do people access information today? How
do people connect today? These answers will tell you how to go beyond surveys
and embrace a truly forward-looking perspective.