ADVICE. How do you feel about this word? Have you ever given someone advice only to find that the person did not take it? Recently a friend of mine told me about traveling by car with three other people. The driver became lost in a rural area at night and twice asked the three passengers for advice. My friend and the two other passengers gave suggestions that were promptly ignored. The third request for advice was met with silence.
Why do individuals ignore advice? Is it due to stubbornness, pride, or lack of confidence in the person giving the advice? The latter sometimes happens when we are young adults, especially when the advice is from our parents. It is funny how our parents get smarter and wiser as we get older! We learn for ourselves how wisdom can come from experience.
It is one thing to ignore free advice, it is quite another when you have paid for it, perhaps hundreds of dollars per hour. Talk to anyone who is paid to give advice, such as financial planners, physicians, mental health counselors, or lawyers, and they will all tell you that people often do not take their advice, usually to the person’s detriment. Businesses, like individuals, are also known to ignore advice on occasion. Ignoring good advice can be costly, especially in business. Ignoring the advice of a consultant can result in wasting time, effort and human resources. Such costs can add up to millions of dollars.
One type of advice sometimes ignored by businesses is that given by consultants after conducting employee or customer surveys. Think about the reason for conducting surveys in the first place. Surveys are conducted to gain information that can be used to facilitate improvements that lead to increases in profits. According to Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton, authors of The Strategy-Focused Organization, hundreds of portfolio managers have stated that the ability to execute a strategy is actually more important than the quality of the strategy itself. Unfortunately, they also report that research indicates less than 10 percent of strategies are successfully implemented. Numerous CEO failures have been attributed to the mistaken belief that having a vision and strategy is all that is needed for success. Visions and strategies are of no value if they are never put into practice.
Survey research can serve as an impetus for change when the advice consultants derive from it is put into practice. We can see the dramatic differences in results that come about when some pieces of advice are ignored and others are implemented in a recent study conducted by the National Business Research Institute (NBRI). The case involved a large IT solutions company that conducted employee surveys. Their first survey revealed two items that were driving a total of 44% of the items on the survey. These drivers were identified by conducting a sophisticated statistical analysis known as the Root Cause Analysis (RCA). The primary root cause identified by this analysis was “My manager motivates me.” The secondary root cause identified was: “The company values its individual teammates.” Both of these items scored in the “opportunities” range on a normative scale, indicating that there was plenty of room for improvement. The analysis also indicated that any positive improvement in employee perceptions of these two items would bring about positive changes in the items being driven by them. Based on these survey results, NBRI recommended that the IT company quickly plan and implement strategies to improve employee perceptions of these two items.
One year after the initial survey, NBRI conducted a follow-up employee survey. Interestingly, the IT company had chosen to focus solely on the primary root cause, planning and implementing strategies to bring about improvements to the primary root cause, while ignoring the secondary root cause. The results were predictable. The follow-up survey revealed a significant, positive change in employee perceptions of the primary root cause, “My manager motivates me.” As a result of this positive change, 79% of the items driven by this primary root cause also experienced a positive change. Unfortunately, the secondary root cause that was ignored, “The company values its individual teammates” experienced a negative change. While some of the items driven by this secondary root cause remained unchanged, 57% of the items experienced a negative change. This IT company has learned the hard way that a failure to follow through on valuable advice can be costly.
How can we avoid learning lessons the hard way?
The answer is quite simple. Follow through on advice when it comes from experts. When a highly trained consultant with years of experience conducts scientific research for your business and then gives suggestions based on that research, it is wise to follow the advice. Implementing strategies based on scientific research can lead to more satisfied employees and customers and to higher profits.
Kaplan and Norton address the question of why organizations often have difficulty implementing strategies even when those strategies are well-formulated. They state that one of the problems is that strategies are changing, but tools for measuring them have not kept pace. A second problem is the use of outdated, incremental strategies that take a long time to implement throughout the organization and are incapable of being effective in the dynamic and rapidly changing environment of today.
Utilizing scientifically sound research as a compass for change can help organizations overcome both of these obstacles. When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of strategies, scientific research can be used to accurately measure whether a strategy has had the desired outcome. Using sophisticated techniques such as the Root Cause Analysis can take the process one step further by identifying the direction future strategies should take. This addresses the second issue above regarding implementing strategies that can be effective in a dynamic and rapidly changing environment. Scientifically sound surveys such as those developed by NBRI, utilize standardized, actionable items that take much of the guesswork out of the intervention process. Once the root causes have been identified you know exactly what area or areas need to be addressed and strategies can be planned and implemented very quickly. This is part of the continuous improvement process shown below.
While it is wise to utilize the resources of a well-established consulting firm to help you identify areas that need improvement, beware on any firm that offers to both diagnose your problems and implement the solutions. This is a conflict of interest and must be avoided. A reputable firm may offer guidance on the continuous improvement process, but will not try to sell you solutions.
If you like learning the easy way and are interested in obtaining more information on how NBRI can use scientific research and the RCA to facilitate your continuous improvement process, contact us at 1-800-756-6168.
By Ken West, Ph.D.
National Business Research Institute, Inc.