How Do Your Stakeholders Evaluate Success?

Change initiatives work best when they are outcome-focused, as opposed to focusing purely on predetermined deliverables or solutions.  Focusing on desired outcomes allows a team to tease out and understand the perceived problems with the current situation, analyze and evaluate different courses of action, and then carry out a series of experiments to determine which way forward is actually the best.  Working with the team to further understand the situation might uncover a completely different understanding of the current issues, which leads to new and innovative options for change being uncovered.  Techniques and approaches such as pre-project problem analysis, business cases, prototypes, proofs-of-concept, or other similar experimental approaches can be extremely useful.

While being outcome-focused is undoubtedly beneficial, rarely is the question asked “outcomes from whose perspective”, meaning the outcomes are defined internally, often by just a few senior stakeholders. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, yet in reality, processes that are efficient and effective tend to balance different sets of needs and wants.  Put differently, to be successful a process or journey has to meet the needs of a whole range of different stakeholders, each of whom may evaluate success differently.

One place this tension can be seen is anywhere there is a backlog of queries or a queue of customers.  I’m sure as a customer you’ve spent hours on the phone on hold, waiting for someone to pick up.  As a customer this feels really inconvenient—it often involves sitting with a phone against an ear while listening to the same 30 seconds of music interspersed with someone proclaiming ‘your call is important to us’… we’ve all been there!  Yet from the organization’s perspective, it might actually be seen as desirable to have a queue of customers waiting.  If they are focusing purely on “maximum efficiency” and if they define that by “number of calls cleared per agent per day” then it makes sense to have a queue. After all, you wouldn’t want your call center agents sitting idle… or would you…?

It’s Not That Simple: Bring On Other Perspectives

There are at least two other perspectives that would need to be considered here, that of the customer (and in reality, there would likely be different customer groups), and that of the call center workers themselves.  It’s likely that both of these groups would have quite different aspirations over what a good ‘outcome’ looks like.

In a customer’s ideal world, they wouldn’t need to wait at all. In fact, they’d probably have the direct number of a named representative who they could call on whenever they needed.  This illustrates that the customer values convenience, and getting their job done with the minimum amount of fuss.  Making a call to a call center is a distraction in their otherwise busy day.

Employees probably hate situations where there are long wait times on the phone too.  Customers are angry when they get through to them, this creates a reinforcing ‘doom loop’: customers are angry, so they take longer and make complaints that take time to deal with, meaning that more time is taken for each call, which means the waiting time increases….

There would likely be many other perspectives beyond these; however, this illustrates the point that different stakeholders will evaluate success in different ways. Put differently they are seeking different outcomes, in this case:

  • Organization: Wants to maximize profits so employ fewer staff (MONEY)
  • Customer: Wants convenience and just wants to get on with their day (TIME)
  • Staff: Want an interesting job, and don’t want hundreds of angry customers shouting at them each day! (VARIETY/MORALE)

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It’s All About The Balance

One reason that gaining a sense of how different stakeholders will evaluate success is that it can help to determine different possible solution approaches.  If we know the different criteria, we can ask, “How can we improve the situation in a way that balances the need to increase efficiency (save money), whilst also being more convenient (saving time for the customer) and also improving the lives of the staff (giving them more variety)?”.  This leads to a very different set of options than if any one of them were examined individually.

When they are looked at in this balanced way, we might (for example) start by examining the reasons that customers are calling.  We might find that the automated letters and e-mails sent out are confusing, and there’s a ‘quick fix’ which reduces cost and increases convenience by reducing the need for them to call at all!  We might delve further and propose a shift to online servicing for certain transactions, customers to self-service at their own convenience.  The call center workers could then focus on the more complex cases, as well as providing support to those who don’t want to (or can’t) access the website.

Of course, these are just examples but I am sure you get the idea.  Simply projecting the organization’s outcomes as if they are paramount is dangerous.  It leads to an internal focus and robs us of the chance to understand the wider stakeholder landscape. As analysts, we are perfectly placed to ensure that stakeholders’ voices get heard.

What are your views? I’d love to hear about how you have approached balancing different stakeholders’ needs.  Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn


Adrian Reed

Adrian Reed is a true advocate of the analysis profession. In his day job, he acts as Principal Consultant and Director at Blackmetric Business Solutions where he provides business analysis consultancy and training solutions to a range of clients in varying industries. He is a Past President of the UK chapter of the IIBA® and he speaks internationally on topics relating to business analysis and business change. Adrian wrote the 2016 book ‘Be a Great Problem Solver… Now’ and the 2018 book ‘Business Analyst’ You can read Adrian’s blog at http://www.adrianreed.co.uk and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/UKAdrianReed