Any Harvard Business Review readers in the audience today? Before I started working at ETC, I wouldn't have raised my hand and wouldn't have felt like I was missing anything relevant to me. Now, after reading through a few issues passed on to me by a coworker, I've done a 180. It is good stuff.
One recent article, "The New Leader's Guide to Diagnosing the Business" (February, 2008), had a bunch of great insights that really have broad application to things beyond trying to run the most profitable company possible. Notably, a little chart that goes by the name SNAP, or, Segments Needs and Performance.
What it's meant to do is provide a tool for assessing how well your company is meeting the needs of the consumers you're trying to reach. Here's a completely imaginary (honestly) example of one I sketched out:
Each column represents a market need - a need for quality, a good price, customer service, selection. Each of those needs carries a certain weight with your consumers. In my chart, the taller bar equals greater importance to the consumer. After taking some measure to determine your company's performance, you plot that performance over the bars for each need. Add in a plot of your competitor's performance, and the result is brilliant in its stark truth and graphic simplicity.
If you trust the data that went into the chart, what you have is a clear assessment of your performance - and also, arguably, the validity of all business decisions made - up to this point in time. Customers care about service; did you invest resources in providing it? Your competitors are competing mostly on price at the expense of other needs; is it working for them? You're way over-delivering on selection relative to its reported importance; is that extra effort worth it?
Staring right back at you is a report that either tells you, "Props, dude, you really nailed this and your customers probably love you for it", or, "Boy did YOU miss the mark" (or, I suppose, something in between). I think the emphasis on the SNAP chart in this HBR article was pretty clearly on the attributes of a particular product or service, but the concept could apply is so many other areas.
For example, it's not just about WHAT you're trying to provide to your customers, but HOW you're marketing it to them. Hypothetically: should you spend tens of thousands of dollars on print ads when your market stopped reading trade rags about two years ago? Should you pour money into interactive when your audience has signed up for as many email newsletters as they've won Olympic medals?
It is almost criminally easy to lose track of priorities. As fast as time passes, with a few misguided days or decisions you can pretty quickly lose sight of where you started and what you were trying to accomplish to begin with. Similarly, as fast as time passes, you can pretty quickly get stuck doing "what we've always done" without realizing your customers had really been hoping for you to evolve along with them for the past 10 years.
For me, taking a SNAP look at the way we spend our days and comparing that to how we'd like to or should spend them is powerful stuff. And this isn't a hokey motivational speech telling you to just chase you dreams - sometimes what we should be doing isn't at all what we'd like to be doing, but that doesn't mean we can ignore the former. I see it as more of an exercise in taking time to chart progress, and to look for achievable ways of staying on a desired course.
I suppose it's the intersection of those two paths - the want and the should - that makes for a happy and productive individual, or a successful company. I'm being truthful when I say that I have no idea if ETC has done assessments like this and what the results were if we did. But I think it's something I'd like to look into.