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The Official Baldrige Blog

It's Like Sampling and Buying Jam

jam jars

This is about strategic thinking. However, I need to preface it with a story.

It all started with an NPR broadcast recently that discussed data from a TED talk by Sheena Iyengar. In the TED talk, Iyengar discusses an experiment she conducted with a local grocery store that offered a large number of choices for each of its products, including 348 different types of jam. With Iyengar's encouragement, the store set up two sampling stations for jam. One had 24 jams to sample and one had six. Given the choice, 60 percent of the people stopped at the 24 jam station and 40 percent at the six jam station. Next they looked at how many of the people actually purchased jam. Of the people who stopped at the 24 jam station, only three percent bought a jar. Of those who stopped at the six jam station, 30 percent actually bought a jar. For the store, this meant those with only six choices were six times more likely to make a purchase. Choice overload led to inaction. More limited choice led to action (purchase).

Now let's turn to strategic thinking, Baldrige, and strategy execution. The Baldrige Excellence Builder (and also the more extensive Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence) ask the following questions:

  • What are your organization's key strategic objectives?
  • What are your key short- and longer-term action plans?
  • What are your key workforce plans to support your strategic objectives and action plans?
  • What key performance measures do you use to track achievement and effectiveness of your action plans?

The word "key" in each of these questions (as well as elsewhere in the Baldrige Excellence Builder) is about prioritization. What would the likely impact be of having 24 key strategic objectives, with 24 key action plans for each? You would have 576 action plans. Lots of options to choose from. And like the jam jar purchase, choice overload would lead  to confusion and either random action plan selection or choice paralysis and inaction.

Deciding what is most important and then focusing on those few important opportunities is critical in everything organizations and people do. That is why the word "key" and the concept of prioritization are so central to organizational performance leadership as repeatedly emphasized in the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence.

And a final suggestion, for those of you who attended the Quest for Excellence conference April 2-5. As you go back to your organizations, remember the word "key" and prioritize the many, valuable learnings from the conference down to the vital few for implementation back home.    

About the author

Harry Hertz “The Baldrige Cheermudgeon”

I am Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon, and Director Emeritus of the Baldrige Program. I joined the Program in 1992 after a decade in management in the analytical chemistry and chemical sciences laboratories at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the home of the Baldrige Program. I started my career at NIST (NBS) as a bench analytical chemist.

My favorite aspects of the Baldrige Program are: (1) the opportunity to interact with leading thinkers from all sectors of the U.S. economy who serve as volunteers in the Baldrige Program, who participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program, and who represent Award applicants at the forefront of the continuous journey to performance excellence, and (2) the intellectual challenge of synthesizing ideas from leading thinkers and from personal research into Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence and other blogs that tackle challenges at the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice,” and contribute to the continuous revision of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Framework.

Outside of work I spend my time with family (including three beautiful granddaughters), exercising, baking bread, traveling, educating tomorrow’s leaders, and participating on various boards and board committees.

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Hey Harry, I listened to the same TED talk last week! Focus to the right degree that people can handle the decisions that follow is such a key challenge. Great commentary on strategic thinking.
to Mr Harry Hertz thank for your artical best regard Abdul Halim Examiner Indonesia
I actually encountered the “too many jams” scenario twice with Baldrige clients.. One time, when I asked the leadership team how many strategic objective they had in their current strategic plan, they said 42. I summarily advised them that this may be “too many” for the exact reasons Harry states and I recommended that 3 to 5 would probably serve them better. They were unable to absorb the wisdom of the “too many jams” lesson, and persisted in interpreting al subsequent feedback OFIs as “they don’t understand how we do things.” They never earned a site visit. The other organization had 23 core values. Once again, it did not take senior examiner level experience to try to disabuse them of the efficacy of a “too many jams” approach to setting culture. I asked them what process they had used to identify and agree on the need to have 23 values. They indicated that the 23 values were generated by a survey of the entire organization and the they did not want to discard any because this might “offend some associates” who had suggested any of the ones they eliminated. They achieved the same level of “excellence” as the other organization, the 30% to 45% scoring range. Neither saw the wisdom evaluating and improving their processes they were using. Harry, you may have identified one of the major barriers to achieving excellence – too many jams. And I am guessing that asking these same people which type of bread they would like to put that jam on
Barry Johnson actually makes interesting observations. I had similar experiences when I was tasked to assist a company (through SAFRI) to compile an application for award assessment. There are four elements to measuring organizational performance measures. (1) A goal or objective specifies where the organization wants to be at some point in the future. It is difficult to see how a serious leadership would have 42 objectives. A measure is a quantifiable measurement of how the achievement of a goal will be measured. In the Jam Store Case study, everyone will suffer burn out. The baseline measure which is an indication of where we are. It is clear that decision making within 6 choices in Jam Store Case implies Serious wastage and Strategic Sourcing Principles of supply chain management would have revealed to the Jam Store leadership the extent of wastage in the entire value chain. Finally the target which specifies what you want to achieve in terms of the metric. For example if one targeted a higher stock turn, how many different types of jam would an average customer buy? Indeed it boils down to Strategic Thinking, Strategic Sourcing.

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