Skip to main content

How to Take the Guesswork Out of Developing Your Company Improvement Strategy

How to Take the Guesswork Out of Developing Your Company Improvement Strategy

Successful strategy revolves around what your customer needs, not what you think they want, and guessing or asking the wrong questions can result in costly brand mistakes. Accurately defining the issue or need before you start company improvement work will both mitigate this risk and ensure you find actual and not perceived efficiencies.

[Related: Why Addressing Design Debt May Be Your Biggest Payoff]

Why robust operations structures are essential.

Robust governance and operations structures strengthen balance sheets and optimize performance. Through the use of solid strategy, analytics, and frameworks, companies can drive innovation through their VOC (Voice of Customer).

Defining for quality, and developing structures that ensure every aspect of your operation meets the needs of your customers and stakeholders, will mean that you are positioning your improvement strategy on quality and efficiency, not guesswork.

In today’s volatile economic climate, ignoring these vital elements for success hurts performance, frustrates stakeholders and shareholders, and creates long-term risks that can be easily avoided.

Phase 1: Define your success goals based on your customer needs.

Defining success revolves around your customers' actual needs. Are you operating with VOC in mind?

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated an expansion of e-commerce and online delivery services across many sectors, combined with conscious purchasing, and this trend is likely to remain post-pandemic. Even with the welcome news of a vaccine, a year of movement restriction and economic difficulty has reinforced new purchasing habits.


  • Identify how you are listening to your customers, troops, and board.
  • Review not just how and when you are listening, but whether you are asking the right questions.
  • Get input from your front-line staff, who are current with customer concerns and processes.
  • Determine which of your customer segments are buying and engaged; assess your sales channels and whether resources are focused on best-performing sectors.
  • Review whether you need to adapt your product/service range in light of VOC insights and the current market.
  • Reassess your brand communication during the impact of the pandemic; focus on how you are caring for your employees, customers, and community.
  • Define your success goals based on your customer needs.

Checking in on VOC needs to be embedded in the company framework, not just a one-off exercise. The wider the inputs, the deeper the results and shared success.

As you come out of the curve, it’s crucial that you create lean and strong balance sheets for the business, with accountable individual roles, so employees and the company can create customer value together in the coming months.

[Related: Back to Basics: Do You Know Your Mission and Vision?]

Phase 2: Don’t start improvement work before accurately defining the issue.

You have now done the essential work and invested in listening to your customers to identify what they want from your brand, whether from a product or values perspective, and how that has changed in recent months.

Having put in all this great effort, I see many companies fail at the next stage, falling into the trap of rushing to change and communicate, focusing on speed rather than quality and long-term efficiency.

It’s essential to clearly identify the issue/s, and what needs to change, based on these new goals. Starting improvement work before accurately defining the issue can seriously undermine any investment in the change.

In addition, you may well face the dichotomy of becoming a victim to your successful progress strategy, if the sensible processes you took such care to put in place lack agility.


  • Review whether your IT and online strategy have taken into consideration all consumer touchpoints, differentiating by segment and really "seeing" your customers.
  • Implement smarter long-term use of data and analytics to take the "guesswork" out of your improvement strategy, marketing, and communication.
  • Get your teams involved, and instill an inclusive culture that prides accomplishment and an enabling environment.
  • Relook at your forecast for sales, expenses, and cash flow and test its assumptions in the light of updated VOC insight.

The exactitude with which a problem is defined is the most important factor in finding a good quality solution. This is not the time to go for the quick move, but to take the longer viewpoint.

Phase 3: When defining new efficiencies, simple processes work best.

When you’re obliged to do something that delivers no visible value, this prevents the employee and ultimately the organization from delivering true value. It is generally accepted that almost every business process generates some sort of waste, and the Japanese have a word for this — Muda, meaning any activity that doesn’t provide value to the customer.

One activity that Lean practitioners use is to break down workplace processes into categories of Value Added, Non-Value Added, and Necessary Non-Value Added. This helps to identify which activities are necessary, and which are simply wasting valuable resources.

When defining new efficiencies, simple processes work best. For example, efficiencies are often found when process mapping reveals actual, not perceived, workflows. This is because process mapping visually shows the steps of work activity and the people who are involved in carrying out each step. It helps your teams to visualize the details of the process, highlighting key areas of strengths and weaknesses, and clearly identifying potential process failures, redundancies, repetition, delays, or over-governance.


  • Identify the specific issue based on your VOC success goal.
  • Review how your businesses, divisions, and departments are interconnected, and how the impact of each is a key driver to another.
  • Create a clear understanding of the synergies, breaking down processes and procedures to optimize current methods and add new approaches,
  • Understand and document each process and its impact at every touchpoint.
  • Use simple, easy-to-use tools to create simple, easy-to-use processes.
  • Implement agile and robust structures based on resilience for your process management.

Based on recent market research, McKinsey & Company describes five trademarks of agile organizations:

  • Shared purpose and vision (with actionable strategic guidance).
  • A network of empowered teams.
  • Rapid decision and learning cycles.
  • Dynamic people model that ignites passion.
  • Next-generation enabling technology.

An improvement strategy works if you truly understand what efficiencies the business needs to continue to deliver and excite its customers. Only then can you remove low-value process steps and implement new approaches with the confidence that you are adapting to VOC changing needs while protecting the future of your company.

[Related: Ignore the Myths to Be a Better Change Manager]


Audrey Hametner is a global leader in operations, governance, and risk management, drawing on over 20 years of experience as an international operations strategist and NED. With an honors degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA from Imperial College London, she has managed teams across the globe, including India, Europe, the Middle East, USA, Canada, and Singapore. She is a regular keynote speaker and panelist on business platforms, specializing in best practices that are relevant and responsive to changing customer demands.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


Continue learning with this Ellevate Playbook: