In my blog of 30th August I identified three aspects of performance that I believe characterise excellent organisations. One of these is meeting, or where possible exceeding, stakeholders expectations. In this and some future blogs I will start to explore this a little.
The first thing that needs to be said is that meeting stakeholders needs is a key and basic expectation of them so I am not going to separate needs from expectations. However, expectations do extend beyond, and often quite considerably, only the meeting of needs.
If we are to meet our stakeholders expectations then clearly we first need to understand what these are. So how do we do this? It seems to me there are at least two aspects we have to consider. The first is the present expectations of both existing and potential stakeholders, the second is the future expectations of these stakeholders. Take customers for example. It is vital to the survival, let alone the ongoing success of any organisation, whether private or public, for profit or not for profit, that they understand the present expectations of their customers. But for many organisations, for example those developing and bringing new products to markets, it is also vitally important that they are able to anticipate future expectations of not just their existing customers but also all those within the market in which they choose to operate. Indeed product leaders, such as Apple, Dyson and many others, frequently create and influence customer expectations through innovative new products that affect what we do and how we do it.
In future blogs I’ll be examining in more detail this whole are of understanding and anticipating stakeholder expectations, and also how we can make the transition from understanding to meeting them.
Today I have been looking out from my ‘second home’ over a rugged and windswept coastline on the western tip of Cornwall in the UK. The wind is blowing, the gulls are calling and the surf is white and thunderous. It is magnificent and no matter what the weather is like, (and it is frequently wet and windy here), I can always say that my visits are excellent simply because I enjoy the scenery, the sounds and the wonderful fresh air. I said as much to a holiday visitor, but he said “Do you really think so? Worst holiday I’ve had, the weather is awful”. Later in the day I was reading an article in one of our national papers. It recorded that in a recent speech, our Prime Minister (PM) here in the UK stated he wanted British schools to be excellent and that in his view this could be best be achieved by encouraging elitism. It was not recorded what he meant by “excellent” but it is reasonable to assume that it related in some way to outcomes that he had in mind and that he had a clear idea of how these could be achieved. Although the article did not say so it is likely that some people will fundamentally disagree with the outcomes the PM wants as well as the approach that he considers will achieve them.
These two incidents reminded me of two important lessons we who want to encourage excellence in organisations need to learn. The first is that it is the stakeholders who determine what excellence is, based on their expectations, and the second is that different stakeholders often have different expectations and consequently different excellence criteria.
So how do we address this. Well the first is relatively straightforward – ask the stakeholders what their expectations are. I find it amazing how few organisations actually do this, or do it in any meaningful and effective way. The second is more challenging because it requires the organisation to not only understand the differing expectations of different stakeholder groups but to ‘balance’ these through a well thought through strategy. Challenging but not impossible!