Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Learning from adversity

Morbidity and Mortality analysis helps in systemic correction leading to growth

Popular theory has it that the IQ of a person (or corporate) falls to 10% when faced with acute adversity. Is there a way that we can add to the intelligence by learning from adversity? Is there a way that we can end up adding IQ points when faced with a situation of adversity?

When any company loses clients, markets, mindshare or reputation, it is unfortunate that very few do a serious introspection to understand what really happened. A parallel analysis, termed as termed Morbidity and Mortality in the hospital environment, is a common feature when an adverse event happens in a hospital. Not only has it helped improve efficiencies, but in the hospital context, the M&M analysis has actually helped saved lives.

I categorize experiential learning in two categories, subtle and gross. Gross learning happens by pure observation of something new. On the other hand, subtle learning happens due to experimentation or observation of mistakes and critically analyzing the mistakes. It is the way that humans (and animals) are programmed to learn. The learning-adversity connection in the corporate environment often gets missed as these environments witness a continuous intermeshing of casualties and growth. While learning is a continuous process, momentous adversity (e.g. client disengagement) can provide enough fodder for learning, improvement, and growth.

Let us use the example of one such adverse situation such as client disengagements and analyze the same to draw learnings. First fact - In more circumstances than not, clients are genuinely interested in continuing the existing relationships. In truth, they work quite hard to maintain them and there is an intrinsic client resistance to changing the agency especially since the client goes through the pain of having to re-engage, re-educate and re-orient the new partner.

The insight derived thereof is that, contrary to popularly held belief, no disengagement is a single step process. And therefore, naturally, there are signals that demonstrate the erosion of the relationship in parts. Unfortunately, even though these problems could have been corrected by a timely intervention and improvement, the client signals are not understood, or perceived and necessary steps are not taken because of ignorance, complacency or misplaced attitude of the agency.

Let me put down four simple change related aspects that I have learned in my study of failure and how we can avoid them.

1.Recognize change-steps: See change and anticipate new needs – works like mantra to. Some changes are not difficult to see, and are like step function changes (for example, a change in the contact person you are interacting with or a change in client ownership). In such cases it is imperative that the full effort of engagement be put back into the relationship. The incumbent agency must take the effort to re-engage the new team and reorient them into the strategy, activities and results. Also equally important is to integrate the thoughts of the new team to the existing strategy and working methodology.

2.Addressing invisible changes : Recognizing continuous change is not always easy and therefore adapting to this invisible change can be quite a daunting task. Often even the client may not be consciously aware that aspects that have changed dramatically over time. Therefore some process which identify the manifestations of change become imperative. Typically these are manifested through visible in changes in vision, mission & business objectives. Shifts in the ethos of the company and the communication methodology is also something indicative of such change. A good barometer to measure these changes is a dipstick audit of people, policies, processes and technology.

3.Change in expectations: Mismatched expectations can have disastrous effects and will only aid failure. Setting mutually comfortable expectations is a continuous process of negotiation - you give some and you take some. Open forums discussions held between the client & agency on expectations, outputs and outcomes are often a very good tool to calibrate mutual expectations.

4.Perspective change: It is said that perspective has an IQ of 80. Once the agency perspective changes to results from effort, a significant impetus is infused into the relationship. Also, this change in perspective adds a whole new dimension to the way the servicing team handles the client account which in turn may bring a complete change in total working style of the agency.

All adverse situations inherently have a capacity to teach important lessons. It is entirely upto the individuals to learn their share. A proximal analysis and an open mind are all that are needed to ensure that similar adverse situations are avoided by revisiting history and learning from it.

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