The Strategic SCAN framework is a structured set of concepts and associated questions that enables one to determine a group’s potential effectiveness in working together to meet a common goal. It provides directional guidance to the user as they assess their specific answers so that they can strengthen their team’s relationships, dynamics, and abilities.
I applied the Strategic SCAN framework to my primary working group, the Senior Leadership Team of a US subsidiary of an international medical-solutions company. My goal was to assess our team’s readiness for change against the backdrop of a global pandemic that has presented our team and our customers with many challenges over the past year. Our business, like thousands of others, was confronted with new challenges that required us to radically change how we make decisions to deliver products to our customers and the patients that rely on our life-saving technologies. We are experiencing change, whether we recognize it or not.
Our business success is evaluated, at the top layer, by traditional financial-performance metrics. Beneath this layer are dozens of key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure patent disclosures, product complaints, and almost everything in between. KPIs are used by many companies, factories, departments, and project groups to measure performance against standards that we think are important in contributing to our success. Meaningful KPIs are a tried-and-true tool that allow us to monitor and correct the factors that contribute to our business performance at a frequency that is greater than the frequency of required financial reporting. So, how do we effectively influence the operational factors that we care about BEFORE they negatively affect our business? Well, first, we must acknowledge that there is a layer that the first two layers, above, are built upon. This layer of business performance is our people, and the performance metric is contained in the feelings and unique perspectives of our employees, our peers, and the people we report to.
I have to admit that this is a perspective that I did not have prior to applying the Strategic SCAN framework to my current work situation. I am a Chemical Engineer by training, and I operate within the relative certainty that science, technology, and engineering provide. While seldom absolute, the things I work on are correct, acceptable, complete, or incorrect, unacceptable, and incomplete, regardless of how I feel about them. The laws of chemistry and the principles of material science can easily be applied by another person to check my work for suitability to our technical problems. However, these principles offer little utility in increasing team engagement or addressing business and management issues that I have encountered as I continue to progress through my career. My thinking had become rigid and predictable, and thus limited in applicability to the majority of issues that I currently encounter in my management role.
I opted to apply the Strategic SCAN concept by interviewing my manager and each of my peers, using questions and concepts provided in the Strategic SCAN framework. The interviews were one on one and scheduled for 30 minutes in length. I emphasized that I was looking to explore each person’s feelings about their experience through a question-and-answer format and that there could be feelings of vulnerability that come along with such a request. The goal was to triangulate the group’s current situation by assessing what we say we do (procedures and agreements) against what we perceive that we do (interviews) against the third dimension of our results.
For example, to help identify whether our team has a deeper shared purpose to guide us in our decision making, I asked each participant the following questions:
- Why does our site exist, and what is our purpose?
- Do you feel connected to that purpose?
- Do you think the group is aligned with that purpose?
This relatively simple trio of questions proved to be quite powerful in determining alignment of the team and our perceptions of each other as we work together. We each had a similar definition of our site’s purpose, with predictable nuances that aligned to roles and responsibilities. The overwhelming majority of participants also felt a strong alignment to their stated purpose. Unexpectedly, most participants felt that others were not properly aligned to that purpose. These questions identified that my coworkers and I are passionate and that we connect to a narrative that speaks to “the why” of what we do. This process also helped to uncover an opportunity for our team to focus on improving and increasing our trust in one another as we align ourselves to a deeper shared purpose. Identifying and clarifying that narrative should be a powerful tool that we can use as a guide in our decision-making processes.
To determine whether the intended recipients of our work want and are able to receive what we offer, I asked each person the following question: Does our group understand who we serve, and do we communicate with them frequently enough to know what they want? I did not expect that we would develop a high level of insight into our ecosystem from this process, and that while we all identified our customers and their beloved patients, many of us serve unique internal and external customers that were not universally understood by the rest of the team. This revealed that we do not share a common understanding of our ecosystem, nor do we fully understand how to reach our customers and their patients in the work we do every day. In addition, nearly all of us agree that we do not communicate with those customers often enough to know what they want. These personal perspectives are powerful in aligning the team to a meaningful mission to reach those we serve, but they are somewhat lost in the day-to day completion of our individual job functions.
I also underestimated the openness that I encountered in the interview process and the resulting feelings of connection that developed in just 30 minutes. We are simply humans, and these are humans that I have spent thousands of hours with, solving problems and making decisions. We have agreed, disagreed, argued, and celebrated together over the years, but, I had never asked them how they felt, what they were experiencing in our interactions, in what we do for our clients. This simple act of asking about feelings, combined with the direction provided by the Strategic SCAN, resulted in a treasure trove of useful information about our perceptions of purpose, our connection to our customers, and how we work together. This has enormous utility for the group, and it has served as a foundation for our team to continue to work on the factors that contribute to our effectiveness and readiness for the inevitable changes that we will experience together.
The unexpected result is that this simple, but powerful exercise has shifted my perspective towards recognizing the importance of shared experiences, and it has given me an additional set of tools to apply to what I previously considered intangible problems.