Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon
This is about strategic thinking. However, I need to preface it with a story.
It all started with an NPR broadcast recently that discussed data from a TED talk by Sheena Iyengar. In the TED talk, Iyengar discusses an experiment she conducted with a local grocery store that offered a large number of choices for each of its products, including 348 different types of jam. With Iyengar’s encouragement, the store set up two sampling stations for jam. One had 24 jams to sample and one had six. Given the choice, 60 percent of the people stopped at the 24 jam station and 40 percent at the six jam station. Next they looked at how many of the people actually purchased jam. Of the people who stopped at the 24 jam station, only three percent bought a jar. Of those who stopped at the six jam station, 30 percent actually bought a jar. For the store, this meant those with only six choices were six times more likely to make a purchase. Choice overload led to inaction. More limited choice led to action (purchase).
Now let’s turn to strategic thinking, Baldrige, and strategy execution. The Baldrige Excellence Builder (and also the more extensive Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence) ask the following questions:
- What are your organization’s key strategic objectives?
- What are your key short- and longer-term action plans?
- What are your key workforce plans to support your strategic objectives and action plans?
- What key performance measures do you use to track achievement and effectiveness of your action plans?
The word “key” in each of these questions (as well as elsewhere in the Baldrige Excellence Builder) is about prioritization. What would the likely impact be of having 24 key strategic objectives, with 24 key action plans for each? You would have 576 action plans. Lots of options to choose from. And like the jam jar purchase, choice overload would lead to confusion and either random action plan selection or choice paralysis and inaction.
Deciding what is most important and then focusing on those few important opportunities is critical in everything organizations and people do. That is why the word “key” and the concept of prioritization are so central to organizational performance leadership as repeatedly emphasized in the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence.
And a final suggestion, for those of you who attended the Quest for Excellence conference April 2-5. As you go back to your organizations, remember the word “key” and prioritize the many, valuable learnings from the conference down to the vital few for implementation back home.