The market, technological, and environmental factors that create disruption to drive innovation are quite intense in today’s landscape. This puts pressure on business leaders to evolve and transform at a pace that allows them to remain relevant, keep competitive, and create differentiation. This pressure is not simply perceived – it is real, no doubt. But how that pressure causes leaders and companies to respond is quite interesting, and I think begs an exploration of the differences between urgency and haste.
On last week’s podcast, I welcomed Eduardo Bonefont, VP of Life Sciences Technical Services at BD for an insightful discussion around the conundrum of balancing short-term priorities and long-term success. He shares the story of how, in 2017, he was asked to take his current position to transform the service experience across BD Life Sciences globally because customer feedback wasn’t stellar, and he had a proven track record of aiding underperforming regions in transformation to better performance. He worked with leadership to create a transformation plan, which included investments in people, processes, and tools.
As he dug in, he realized that the mission to invest in new technology was in many ways at odds with the parallel mission to improve the employee experience – which he knew would equate to a better customer experience. In a nutshell, he and other leaders learned in their firsthand listening of frontline employees that the last thing teams wanted was investment in new technology – they wanted issues with their current systems that were causing daily struggles addressed first.
“It turned out that the cost to fix all the issues that they had, and there was a big list, was equal to the investments that we were going to make on new technology,” explains Eduardo. “Myself and the entire leadership team decided quickly that we needed to pivot our goal to refocus our efforts on fixing these issues to create a better experience for our associates. That became our “pause year” when we used everything that we had available to us in order for us to fix the old stuff before we began with new.”
The idea of BD’s “pause year” is so intriguing to me, for a few reasons. First, I think the pressure companies are under to innovate causes them to race – often past foundational issues that will ultimately inhibit their success. Second, it illustrates BD’s recognition of the very critical fact that employee experience is tied directly to customer experience. If your frontline service workers are frustrated, experiencing daily challenges, or disconnected from your strategy and roadmap for innovation, it’s almost impossible to accomplish your objectives. They are an essential aspect of your company’s differentiation, and ignoring their feedback, desires, or feelings – no matter how challenging to address – compromises the most important resource you depend upon to deliver the customer experience you’re striving for. Finally, it shows restraint in considering not just the short-term objectives or problems but in factoring in how the capacity for longer-term victory grows with a relatively short investment of time.
Set Sail for Service Success
“I am a sailor and in boating, if all of a sudden you run aground, there’s a sand dune or something, and you cannot move forward, the majority of boaters have an instinct to plow right ahead,” explains Eduardo. “They put the engine in full force, thinking ‘I’m going to get out of this. It’s not supposed to be here.’ But that can create damage to your boat, that can create damage to yourselves too. And it’s a very expensive proposal to go do that when the right answer along all along could have been, why don’t I just reverse? I already had a path behind me that’s working. If I take reverse, it’s the easiest way to get out of a sand dune when you’re stuck in order so you can move forward effectively.”
Eduardo and his team applied this analogy to the Life Sciences business and the overall objectives they had. Yes, they were trying to move ahead in improving customer experience. And yes, they believed that the incorporation of new technology was imperative to that mission. But they hit a sand dune when they uncovered the fact that their frontline workforce had some real issues they needed addressed. Rather than plow through those and risk damaging the business, they hit reverse and took the time to fix those issues so that the sail ahead would be safer, smoother, and with a higher likelihood of success. “Applying that analogy to the business, if you plow head, if you push forward, you could create a significant amount of damage and distrust that is just really hard to overcome in future years. At the end, you’re not going to get that continuous improvement if you don’t take the workforce into consideration.”
Knowing When to Hit the Gas vs. Hit the Brake
Eduardo was clear to point out that this pause year didn’t mean the entire business came to a halt while BD addressed employee concerns. They kept on with the day to day, and with focusing on improvements. But the brake was applied in terms of layering new technology investments on top of the tools the workforce felt weren’t working properly.
It can be challenging to determine when to apply gas versus when to hit the brake, particularly because pressures are high. While there’s no cut-and-dry formula for making the best decision, here are a few questions I think it helps to ask yourself and your team:
- Are we balancing short-term pressures with long-term objectives and potential?
- Will this decision harm us at all in reaching our longer-term goals?
- Are we listening to and prioritizing what our customers want and need?
- Are we taking into consideration, genuinely, the feedback of our employees and the realities of their experience?
- Are we slowing down based on facts or fear?
- Are we promoting employee creativity and employee voice enough, knowing that’s where many great innovative ideas come from?
- Do we have technologies in place that we are keeping based on outdated criteria rather than a true consensus that they serve our current, and future, needs?
There are of course many more factors – if you have input on how you balance a proper sense of urgency with avoiding the risk of haste, I’d love to hear from you. And if you haven’t yet listened to Eduardo’s podcast episode, I urge you to do so – I really respect the balance he and his team have struck between prioritizing the employee experience and making progress on business outcomes.