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Updated: March 3, 2010 21:06 IST

Quick ways to turnaround

D. Murali
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Questionnaire is so common a data-gathering tool that it may not evoke much excitement. Yet, this was what Dave House chose when arriving at Bay Networks as the CEO with fifteen direct reports.

After assembling fifteen teams of five people (one team per direct report), he sent the teams out on a data-gathering mission: to spend one week talking to customers, recounts Behnam N. Tabrizi in ‘Rapid Transformation’ (www.HBSPress.org). “He sent group members to Europe, Asia, and South America, and each member was to visit and interview three to five customers per day. At the end of the interview, each customer was given an eight-page questionnaire, which included questions targeted at assessing their needs.”

Sample these: What is your biggest technology need? What is your biggest business need? What is your greatest strength? What is your greatest weakness? What are the competitors’ strengths? What are their weaknesses? What advice would you give to the new CEO?

When the teams returned, a key benefit was the data gathered; but more important was the message to employees and customers. “The teams connected with a tremendous number of customers, and their effort signalled to people that something was different – that change was imminent,” writes Tabrizi. “By focusing on gaining customer feedback, they were communicating to employees and customers alike that from here on out, the customers would be number one.”

Another example in the book is of the transformation in Nordstrom, where Bruce Nordstrom started ‘listening tour’ of all seventy-seven existing stores. During the tour, he and his sons talked to over 2,000 employees, saying: ‘Look, we made a lot of mistakes. What are your thoughts? What do you think is most important and how can we improve?’

The stories they gathered allowed them to gain a high-level picture of the issues facing their company, the author narrates. “At the highest level, they found that they were losing customers because they were losing the customercentric and individual-attention approach the company was known for. They were not giving customers a reason to come to them.”

Yet another example of diagnostic effort is how Louis V. Gerstner handled transformation in IBM through ‘Operation Bear Hug’ to identify the causes of many of the internal problems. The operation required each of the fifty executives from his corporate management board to make a ‘bear hug’ visit to at least five of IBM’s biggest customers in just three months, Tabrizi notes.

“During each visit, the executives were instructed to listen to each customer, record their concerns, communicate IBM’s commitment to customer satisfaction, and implement holding action as appropriate. Each executive was required to submit to Gerstner and relevant parties a one- to two- page report detailing the problems found.”

When people realised that Gerstner was in fact reading and addressing every report, there was significant improvement in responsiveness from his executives, the author continues.

He lists the operation’s three main goals, which can be takeaways for other enterprises, too: One, to reduce the customer perception that IBM’s top executives were difficult to deal with; two, to identify the top executives, according to who performed well on this assignment; and three, to push the new customercentric culture.

Imperative study.

**

Tailpiece

“eGrowth-O-Meter is the latest software we created, to track the economy’s growth rate by studying the most recent news.”

“It crunches the numerous variables that are the building blocks of economic growth?”

“No, it picks up the number from what our netas and babus say!”

**

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