I was recently returning from a business trip and made the unusual decision to watch a movie on the plane. I am normally one of these people who see plane trips as an opportunity to get some work done.
The movie was The Impossible, about the tragic events of Boxing Day in 2004 which saw a Tsunami wipe out hundreds of thousands of people without warning. The most unfortunate part of the story was that there was probably enough time for many people to react and move to higher ground, except that there were no communication or warning systems in place to avert the disaster.
Interestingly, the Pacific Ocean has had an International Warning System since 1949. Following the 2004 Boxing Day tragedy, the Indian Ocean now has a similar system in place. It was during this movie that I reflected on how important it is for the right information to be available at the right time, and how the right systems can help to greatly reduce risks and disasters.
Running a business rarely causes devastation and despair to the extent seen during the boxing day Tsunami, however there are some parallel’s for leaders that I couldn’t help to contemplate.
First though, let’s take a quick look at how most businesses operate. At the beginning of the year, goals and objectives are set, and often then split into monthly financial and performance objectives, or hard measures. As the year progresses, leaders assess business performance against these hard measures, and make adjustments accordingly. Many senior executives will be experts at using this data to forecast future performance, however a single event can change a forecast in an instant. But what about the soft measures of business performance, like confidence, leadership effectiveness, role clarity and adherence to values?
Interestingly, the best type of early warning system a company has involves employees. People have opinions and ideas, and if there is a problem within a business, there is a very strong chance that someone, somewhere, will
have identified it before it became a significant problem. Employee Feedback about the soft measures of business performance is not only important, it represents an excellent lead indicator of future performance.
A common way to seek employee feedback is to use surveys, which are often conducted annually. Many organisations use surveys to measure employee sentiment, opinion, and engagement. Whilst this is a great idea, the problem is that as a tool to run the business they tend to represent a moment in time. Imagine if you took a survey of people sitting on the beach just prior to the Tsunami? I am sure they would have said that everything is just fine.
It is for this reason that smart leaders are now implementing additional ‘Continuous Feedback Systems’ which complement the regular management reporting cycle. By receiving timely information about both opportunities and risks, leaders can make better decisions more quickly, communicate effectively, maximise opportunities and minimise risks.
Jason Buchanan – General Manager Insights & Innovation