Victoria Tifft

Have you ever wondered why simple projects often fail during execution? It could be because project planning strategies were not implemented. You might not think this is important, but many organizations have found that adhering to basic project management principles saves time and energy.

To create a strong project plan, start with the end in mind by defining the deliverables that will be provided to the customer. Once this has been established, the project manager can determine and outline the steps needed to attain the deliverables.

While these steps might initially be easy to identify, assigning a realistic timeline and the associated tasks can be difficult for the project manager alone, so he or she must depend on stakeholders to help assess these tasks.

Making key assignments

It is important to identify the appropriate stakeholders to fill these roles. The project manager, along with the stakeholders, should be able to identify hurdles and potential problems before the project starts. These should be factored into the project plan as well as potential ways to manage these problems on the front end.  

The role of the stakeholders does not stop with the development of the project plan and input related to timelines. Both are dynamic documents and changes are expected as the plan is implemented.  

When problems arise

A detailed project plan developed by a project manager and key team members can help identify potential problem areas. It can also aid the project manager and sponsor in making quick, confident decisions. To facilitate project plan implementation and processes:

  • Identify hurdles early, consider what to assess and when further assessments should occur.
  • Begin parallel activity (key team members working on activities within their area of expertise at the same time).

  • Implement a method that applies advanced work, utilizing templates to complete as much pre-work as possible that will be integrated into the final product.

  • Determine what the critical activities are, which if delayed will delay the entire project.

  • Maintain the project plan in a highly visible area to serve as a road map for the project manager and all key team members.

  • Use previous project plans and timelines to identify inefficiencies, wasted time and poorly matched tasks.


Tips for project managers:

  • Trust in your team and respect its members.

  • Ensure that there is evidence of constant management and participation without being restrictive.

  • Go into the project identifying the objectives and deliverables and be able to communicate these to the team.

  • Maintain a highly visible project plan.

  • Clearly define expectations and relevant work processes.

  • When problems arise, meet briefly with key team members, identify problems and potential bottlenecks and deliver customer solutions.

  • Facilitate team member/customer communication.

  • Remove obstacles and manage conflict constructively.

  • Understand that not all teams are created equal.

  • Understand that adding more manpower does not always solve the problem.

  • Recognize and reward achievement.


To be effective, a project manager must be able to assess the project needs and respond with an effective plan. When everyone moves in the same direction, decisions are made quickly and with confidence, ensuring quality deliverables.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management Inc., a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com. For more information, visit www.clinicalrm.com.

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/victoriatifft

Have you ever watched a flock of geese soar through the air? Their synchronized patterns help them conserve energy, communicate and keep track of one another. Understanding and adhering to their patterns is a critical part of their survival.

If you are managing people, you have a lot in common with a flock of geese. On a daily basis you are faced with the challenge of synchronizing your team with the objectives of your business. Making sure that everyone puts forth the right amount of energy, understands corporate objectives and executes according to plan requires constant adherence to a preset pattern.

Determining the pattern is important and requires a lot of thought and discussion. Once the pattern is decided, you can achieve alignment throughout your organization by ensuring that department and individual goals, job descriptions and evaluation tools lineup with the corporate pattern.

Decide the time to start

If you are entering the final year-end quarter, then this is the perfect time to begin this process. Talk with your team about the objectives and goals of your department or business. If you don’t have objectives or goals, then you’ll need to create them. One thing to keep in mind is that objectives are a set of words and goals are a set of numbers.

For example, two objectives for my business include profitable growth and diversification of our revenue base. Our goals include our projected revenue and profit numbers for each line of our business. We also break down our customer base and set numeric goals for each line of business.

Once we’ve set our objectives and goals, we move on to developing strategies and metrics. Similar to the objectives and goals, strategies are comprised of words and metrics are comprised of numbers. Strategies should include important elements such as where the firm will target business and what products or services the firm will offer. Market segments and target audiences should be identified as well as geographic ranges.

The strategy section is also a good spot to determine where the firm will not do business. A few examples of strategic initiatives from my business include activities that drive toward profitable growth, our ability to manage resources, organizational effectiveness and customer satisfaction.

For instance, one of the strategies under our profitable growth initiatives includes developing and implementing a targeted commercial growth plan focused on attracting organizations conducting infectious disease research.

Develop a plan

This plan can be developed for one to three years or more. We focus our firm on a three-year period and fit the plan to one page. The process of developing and fine-tuning the plan takes a few months and should include the involvement of all senior management.

When the senior leadership has signed off on the plan, then each department should develop annual goals that align with the plan. Personnel within each department should work with their managers to develop individual goals that align with their department goals.

Personnel evaluations and bonus plans should incorporate these individual, department and corporate goals thus integrating the plan throughout the organization. Routine monthly or quarterly assessments and opportunity for communication should be scheduled to ensure that everyone remains focused on the corporate plan.

Adhering to this framework should result in a synchronized team that pulls together in the same direction.

 

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

Understanding the critical role that compliance plays within a firm is a fundamental cornerstone for successful leadership. The changes in government regulations over the past several years affect all businesses and require a higher level of compliance and oversight. 

Regulations governing the management of staff, reporting of financial information, environmental impact, stock transactions, and adherence to regulatory authorities must be complied with or the business could face legal charges.

Following the steps below will aid in the creation of your firm’s compliance framework:

Identify requirements first

Make a list of each of the compliance areas for your entire company. This should be a collaborative project so meet with each of your managers and ask them to compile requirements for their area.

Document compliance deadlines and data

Once requirements have been identified, make sure you document them in one place. List the compliance requirement, timelines and dates for reporting data, and the person responsible for reporting.

Listing the information in a spreadsheet allows for rapid sorting of upcoming due dates.

Assess compliance status

Now that you have a comprehensive spreadsheet, ask your team to assess whether or not the processes or tools you currently have in place are adequate to assess the areas where you have gaps. Develop a plan to address the gaps that need to be fixed.

Establish compliance risk/escalation policy

Identify thresholds for compliance ranges and establish a policy for personnel to notify management when thresholds are out of range.

Assign oversight responsibility

Have an individual in your firm oversee managing the compliance document. This person should be familiar with the compliance timelines in the document and check in with responsible parties to ensure that compliance requirements and reporting activities are on target. The person can also be the point of contact for personnel to notify when escalating compliance risks.

Establish compliance audit programs

Once your compliance structure has been developed, establish an audit program. This can be internal as well as external and is usually conducted on an annual basis.

For internal programs, set a time for senior management or experts within the firm to perform a “mock audit” to review various areas of the firm that fall under the compliance program. These internal programs may suffice, however, when there are times that business leaders want outside opinions.

At that point, consult with a firm that has expertise in the compliance area and ask them to conduct an informal audit.

Create a continuous improvement process

Establish a process for analyzing the results of each internal or external audit. Determine whether or not the firm will invest time and energy to fix the gaps found during the audit.

Evaluate the compliance plan yearly

Review your compliance plan on an annual basis. This review should be conducted with the staff involved in the compliance areas. The annual review should include another assessment to identify areas where gaps or inefficiencies exist for compliance areas.

Business leaders have a responsibility to ensure that their firms comply with requirements. Establishing and implementing a structured compliance framework to assure that requirements are adhered to is a sign of proactive, responsible leadership.

Friday, 30 November 2012 19:22

Victoria Tifft: What’s your story?

Every business has a story. Most of us are familiar with the stories of how Starbucks and Facebook were created. These stories touch us emotionally and we connect with them. Understanding and conveying the story of your business should be part of your firm’s branding strategy. The story should reveal how and why the business was formed and some essential facts that make your business unique.

If your firm doesn’t have a story or has evolved and grown since the time of its inception, it might be time to think about writing the story or sharing how the firm has changed over time. Revisiting your story is a great way to reintroduce your firm to existing and potential customers.

About two years ago, my firm decided to put pen to paper and share our story with customers. To help with this, I enlisted the aid of a local consultant with a Ph.D. in theater/arts performance.

The consultant asked many questions, and he told us that we had a great story to tell; we just needed to think about how and why we created our firm. He advised us to think about the obstacles and challenges we endured and the lessons we learned as a result. Finally, he taught us how to weave the emotional experiences gained from both challenges and successes throughout our corporate story. Here is what we came up with.

The history of ClinicalRM

ClinicalRM embodies the vision set out by our founder and CEO Victoria Tifft in Togo, West Africa, two decades ago. Tifft served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa, as an infectious disease biologist.

While in Africa, she experienced the devastating conditions that Third World countries endure firsthand. In her work to improve health conditions in Togo, she contracted malaria three times and came back to the U.S. fully committed to the idea of spending her life working to provide treatments for devastating diseases.

As part of this commitment, she worked on-site at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease.

Working alongside many military and government researchers throughout the U.S. Army, Tifft gained a thorough understanding of the U.S. Army’s culture and research objectives. Opening a second operating center in Cleveland, Tifft tapped into the very rich medical, device and clinical research community in Northeast Ohio.

Just after 1999, she expanded the business into a full-service contract resource organization. Today, ClinicalRM operates nationwide and in Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.

Ask questions of yourself

If you are a business owner, there are many benefits to sharing your story. But telling it requires you to look at your company from many angles. When putting our story on paper, our company was able to do this by asking ourselves several questions, including:

  • Where did the idea for starting the company come from?
  • Were there times when you thought the company wouldn’t make it — how did that feel and what did you do to overcome the obstacles?
  • Were there early successes?
  • What have we learned along the way?
  • Was there a consistent culture and philosophy that should be highlighted?
  • How is the firm different today in comparison to the beginning?
  • Were there moments when you knew the company would be successful?

Analyzing the company in this manner gave us a broader perspective and allowed us to see the firm as an entity with a story — a story that needed to be told. We diligently put our story on paper, and now, we use it as a starting point for discussion with new employees and customers.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

Friday, 31 August 2012 20:09

Victoria Tifft: Growing pains

Most companies start with outstanding customer value propositions. But as time passes, and customers change, the once-upon-a-time on-target value propositions become out of date. Soon customers become dissatisfied because vendors don’t seem to understand their current needs. They begin to believe they’ve outgrown their vendors and start to look for new answers to their problems.

This isn’t true of every company. Some companies make staying close to their customers and understanding their changing needs a top priority. These companies use a process to check themselves and ensure that they’re constantly staying on top of changing customer priorities. The process starts by asking several questions:

1. Who is your customer? What do they do? What are their challenges?

2. Have your clients aged? Have their needs changed?

3. What is your customers’ cost structure in this economy?  Do your bells and whistles deliver the value they did in boom times?

4. Is your customer using technology to do some of your core offerings?

5. How well do you truly know your customers? How often do you visit your customers?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, then it’s time to get back to basics. Here are a few steps to get you going.

Step 1: Get to know your customer again.

Recently, our company found that many of the people with closest ties to our clients were starting to retire. We put together a customer visit “blitz” to visit all our existing customers and prospects within our existing accounts. We made sure they knew who we were and what we did, but most of all, we listened. We inquired about new challenges and took time to learn how we could understand the root of their problems.

The point is, if you want to understand your customer’s changing needs, don’t just visit the people you are familiar with — get out on the front lines with the people doing the core work and buying new products or services. Find out what your customer’s requirements are for timing, cost and quality. Really listen to your customers so that you can understand their goals and the obstacles that prevent them from reaching those goals.

Step 2: Re-center yourself in your customer’s new world.

After listening to your customer, develop a new value proposition. We realized that our customer’s budget constraints were far more severe than we originally thought. Our customer had no choice — they had to do more for less. We had to figure out a way to whittle down what wasn’t essential and find ways to add real value through technology, resourcing, and efficiencies.

Step 3: Change.

Ouch, yes — change. Your staff will be entrenched in the way they do things, or the products you offer, but change will be imperative. Without it, you risk losing your business over time.

Put your staff in a room and present your “new” client’s needs to them. Ask them, “If we had to start over today, how would we support this type of a client?” You may need to develop high-level processes, add resources or create a realistic profit-loss statement. Then, ask your management team to look at how that differs from where you are today. Create strategies that will allow you to execute and deliver your new value proposition.

Present your customer’s “new” need. Create a new value proposition. Go back to answering your customer’s requirements of time, cost, quality, and peace of mind. The result will be a path to change that’s been developed by your people in a non-threatening, problem-solving way. And best of all, it will be in sync with your client’s needs.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com. Clinical Research Management Director of Business Development, Lori Gipp, assisted in the writing of this article.

Thursday, 31 May 2012 20:15

Victoria Tifft: Components of risk

As a CEO, I am often asked to describe the top challenges of leading a business. There is no doubt that setting a vision, creating strategy, and building the right team are at the top of the list. At the same time, one of the most important challenges is to understand and mitigate the risks associated with all aspects of the business.

Years ago, our firm didn’t have a risk management tool or strategy to mitigate risk. We’ve since learned that it is the one management strategy that we can’t live without. Business risks today are comprised of strong internal and external forces, so mitigating both forces is critical for long-term survival. If business leaders don’t have an in-depth knowledge of their industry and how they play in their market space, then they will undoubtedly forge ahead with incorrect and misdirected strategies, costly mistakes for a firm.

Understanding and mitigating risk is not as difficult as some would want you to believe, but it does require three components: a firm application of discipline, unrelenting tenacity and an acceptance of reality. Today, our firm manages risk by applying each of these pieces.

First, a firm application of discipline is applied to every area of the business. We list all of the possible internal and external forces that could present an opportunity or threat to our firm. Internal risks include whether the firm has adequate or inadequate infrastructure, capital, expert resources, technology and facilities for business today and in the future. External risks cover market segments, industry trends, competition, and customer supply and demand, as well as global economic trends. Publically held firms must do this type of analysis on a routine basis. If you have not conducted this type of risk assessment, you might try looking at the annual reports of publically held firms similar to yours. This information is free online and can often jumpstart a brainstorming session with your management team to determine what risks might be similar to your business.

Secondly, an unrelenting tenacity must be applied to ensure that each area of the business is examined. Paranoia is essential. If something can happen, then add it to the list of potential risks. We take the entire list of risks and place it in a spreadsheet. Next, we determine a numerical threshold of acceptable risk for each area, placing a score in the column next to each risk. In a column next to the risk threshold, we then list the strategies that we will implement to mitigate the risk. On a quarterly basis (or more if conditions change), our leadership team reviews our current internal and external risks and revises the risk and associated threshold as needed.

The last component that we adhere to is the acceptance of reality. When examining risk, it is important to be realistic. This is not an area to defend product or service territories or allow “gut feelings” to dictate strategy. The market does not understand emotions, complacency, or turf wars, so your leadership team needs to be frank and candid about their real business risks. Try asking outside advisers, researching industry publications, and talking with partners and competitors to share views on current and future business risks. The local economic development corporation, chamber of commerce and small business administration are also good places to gather information.

Finally, there isn’t a business on the planet that has eliminated all of its risk. Understanding, embracing, and mitigating risk is part of doing business. In the end, companies that are realistic about their risks and manage them carefully will pull ahead of those that choose to ignore the risks around them.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:53

Victoria Tifft: Productizing your service line

The United States economy has evolved into a service economy. Yet despite the proliferation of service firms, organizational marketing and sales tactics are still oriented toward product-based organizations. Selling a service is much more difficult than selling a product because services are far more intangible than products. Our challenge as service providers is to understand how to sell our services as products.

For service firms, words like customizable, knowledgeable and flexible solutions abound. But what does that mean? What are we customizing or making more flexible? How do we sell that concept in our market? How do we communicate and sell that concept within our organizations? How do you measure success against knowledgeable and flexible solutions?

One answer is to make our services tangible by thinking of them as products. We can start by building a standard product capabilities outline. This outline forces us to examine the services we provide in comparison to what our customers say they need. It also requires us to analyze the manner in which we provide our services.

As service providers, we need to take a close look at what we do for our clients and provide a tangible, repeatable response to their needs. The first step is to effectively define your client’s needs in terms of the nature of their work and the underlying issues they need to address. To address the nature of the work, you need to be able to articulate first at a high level what kind of work needs to be done.

The second part is more challenging. To understand client’s motivators, you need to determine what they would struggle with if they didn’t have you. Would they struggle with expertise or timing? Would they miss out on important growth opportunities or experience cost overruns? Once you understand what motivates them to seek your services, you can begin to productize their needs. As an example, my firm provides professional biomedical and clinical research support services to the government. When we examined what our clients really “needed,” we realized that it wasn’t as easy as providing people to perform research. Our government clients “needed” minimal downtime. In essence, the government wants us to provide and retain qualified research personnel in a timely manner. They also want minimal distractions to occur during the course of the research, which means we need to ensure services are not interrupted due to personnel issues, equipment failures, or lack of communication within our organization. Understanding our clients “need” (in this case, minimal downtime) has helped us to focus on the critical aspects of what and how we sell our services to them.

Once you have the overarching need defined, you’ll want to convince your customer why you are a better choice than your competition. This is where terms like flexible and customizable play a role. Your firm’s strength is in how you deliver your service. It is important to show the client that you have repeatable processes that generate positive results.

The final step involves setting yourselves apart from your competition. Once you have a tangible solution developed, it is much easier to illustrate exactly how your firm is different and better because it will be grounded in tangible statements that apply to your client’s business.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early- to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com. Clinical Research Management’s director of business development, Lori Gipp, assisted in the writing of this article.

Many executives have asked me what our firm’s secret is to maintaining a long-term, high-performing staff. My response is this: the combination of finding the right cultural fit and supporting new employees through an integrated orientation process. This has proven to be an effective means for my firm to optimize our resources.

Often when we look to fill roles, we look for the outside experts, the stars that will come in with their worldly experience and solve all of our challenges. After watching a series of experts struggle, I determined that two things were major contributors to their demise, a mismatch between the employee and the corporate culture and an inability to quickly absorb corporate “tribal knowledge.”

The most common obstacle is an indifference to or a lack of understanding of the real corporate culture. Like dating, companies often present a different face during the interview process and the honeymoon, and it is several months into employment before your newcomer gets a real look at the way your company works.

The other obstacle is a lack of tribal knowledge. Whatever your company’s challenges, you have assets, practices and knowledge that have made you the success that you are. These are sometimes downplayed or entirely disregarded in the quest to bring in new competencies. New experts that are brought into your organization generally get started making changes right away, and therefore, they often completely miss cultural and knowledge content. As a result, they frequently make impractical recommendations with disastrous consequences. Alternatively, the people that are more conscious of the barriers may hang back and appear ineffective.

One takeaway from all of this is that carefully structuring the entry of new experts into the company can improve success. My firm has found that implementing a few basic methods helps management find employees that fit the corporate culture and assist them in gaining tribal knowledge quickly.

When we interview candidates, we provide ample opportunities for them to learn about our corporate culture. We spend time discussing our mission, values and corporate objectives with each candidate in an effort to ensure that they understand the culture of the firm. During each interview we explain the importance we place on growing and fostering our culture so candidates understand how critical our culture is to our business. Then, it’s important to ask several questions during the interview process to ascertain whether or not each candidate shares a similar corporate cultural mindset.

Once a candidate is hired, we address the challenge of passing on tribal knowledge. Tribal knowledge, or the learning curve, happens quickly in our firm. Employees that understand the processes, procedures and internal workings of the firm tend to be more successful than those that do not. We created an employee orientation program to help new employees acclimate to our firm. Our orientation program connects new employees with other staff while simultaneously integrating technical, cultural and management objectives. One unique aspect of the program is that all levels of new employees meet with someone in senior management during their first month of hire. The job of senior management is to reiterate our corporate vision, values and objectives as well as to check in on the employees overall orientation process. We’ve found that our orientation process helps employees immediately feel connected with the company, which helps to yield a long-term, satisfied staff.

I’ve always worked with growing companies, so effective staffing is a challenge that has always been a regular part of my management repertoire. As companies right size, I’ve found that optimizing your current staff can add enormous value to your firm.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011 20:25

Victoria Tifft: new pathways

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. The good news is that social media platforms escalate consumer brand participation and corporate awareness. The difficult news is that consumers and employees want firms to listen and get involved in their conversations even if it causes a blurring of professional and personal lines.

This rapid sharing of information and feelings has created a shift in the business landscape, and the message to CEOs and management is clear. Social media gives companies an opportunity to create a social network strategy to maintain a competitive edge, improve brand loyalty and close the gap between management, customers and employees. Of course, there are several factors to consider when designing this strategy.

The first step is to classify your business. Are you a business-to-business organization or a business-to-consumer business organization? This distinction is critical because consumers have different networking interests than businesses.

B2B social media platforms have a networking and knowledge sharing component. B2B Internet surfers look for educational information or something to satisfy a particular project or requirement. Providing useful and knowledgeable content on your website and through professional networks, such as LinkedIn, is the way to attract these prospects.

In contrast, B2C social media platforms approach customers on a personal level. These customers are looking to learn or to be entertained. Examples of B2C sites include Facebook, Twitter and specialty blogs to name a few. These sites tailor themselves to specific social groups such as students, parents or coaches and special interests such as hobbies, medical conditions or politics. Consumer interest in these sites provides businesses with an ideal platform for addressing their target markets.

When establishing a social media presence, a good question your firm should ask is “What do we want to accomplish with our social media program?” Some goals might be recruiting, lead generation, brand awareness or employee connectivity. My firm wanted to establish a social media presence in order to increase employee communication and knowledge sharing within our product and service lines. Because our employees are dispersed across the U.S. and overseas, we sought the advice of a social media expert to design our social strategy, which involved creating internal service line groups using LinkedIn as the backbone. Each service line has a LinkedIn captain who facilitates communication and knowledge sharing within the group. Our firm then takes best practices from these groups and publishes white papers for the industry. The result has been rapid sharing of information and knowledge transfer from employees across the globe.

This is one example of how a social media strategy can be designed to accomplish specific goals for a business. Yet this leads to another important consideration in designing a social media strategy, which is that although launching a program may be inexpensive, maintaining the program involves a cost to the firm. Managing the program requires personnel time. For example, our LinkedIn captains dedicate a portion of their work time during the week to facilitate discussions with employees. The allocation of personnel time needs to be factored into a firm’s social media program. Also, a cost-benefit analysis should be conducted to ensure that the firm is leveraging the information exchanged or transferred and turning it into real value.

The bottom line is social media is still in its infancy. Some aspects will change dramatically within 24 months. The key is to re-evaluate your programs regularly and check in with consumers of your social media strategies to get a reality check on the changing nature of your business. If you are thinking about using social media, there are several companies in the Northeast Ohio area that specialize in creating and executing social media strategies. These firms can help you navigate and choose the right platform for your business.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

If you asked your employees, would they be able to tell you your firm’s core objectives?

Do you know?

Simply put, a core objective is a critical force that drives the company. Yet every day businesses operate without a solid sense of their core objectives. Many companies don’t know the role core objectives play or how they form its underlying foundation.

It is a well-known fact that Southwest Airlines considers flight turnaround time to be one of its core objectives. Many Southwest decisions support this turnaround objective, including the hiring of in-house mechanics and cross training of all personnel. The flight and ground crews understand the importance of the objective and work together to ensure turnaround times are met, and because the objectives are measurable, flight-by-flight performance is published for all to see so teams clearly know if they have met their objectives, and they can make adjustments if they have not.

The reality is there are generally four or five objectives that drive each firm. Because every business is different, it’s important to identify which objectives are critical for your business and your customers. The further removed your core objectives are from your customers’, the more opportunity you provide a competitor to step in and close the gap. A good example is when the domestic automotive market let the Japanese step in between it and its customers. While quality was not a core objective in practice of the domestic automakers, it was for customers. So when Japanese automakers took advantage of this disconnect, they turned an entire industry on its head.

Once your firm has identified its four or five key objectives, there are several strategic mapping methods you can use to your match core and customer objectives. My firm uses a COAR map designed by CASE Weatherhead School of Management’s Sayan Chatterjee. It is designed to map the relationship between four areas: customer outcomes, company objectives, activities and resources.

Here’s an example of how this works:

Let’s say your entrepreneurial 10-year-old wants to earn some extra money this summer by operating a lemonade stand.  If we asked a 10-year-old (and we did) what his or her core objectives would be, the answer might be: Repeat customers, great lemonade and make a profit.

If we asked the 10-year-old’s customers for their core objectives, they might say: Lemonade that is readily available, great taste and reasonable prices.

In this case, the 10-year-old’s core objectives match the customer’s objectives. With the objectives in hand, effective activities follow easily: recipe, location and cost-effective supplies. Every decision this 10-year-old makes should then align with the established core objectives. If your company’s core objectives are to make a profit and enjoy repeat customer business by selling superior lawn services, the activities and resources that you assign to ensure you have superior lawn services will determine how successful you’ll be in achieving repeat business.

We like the COAR map because it illustrates the interconnections between the customer and the company’s objectives, the core metrics that we should track and the financial allocations for activities and resources that support the objectives. Understanding the connections between customer and corporate objectives, activities and resources is imperative for long-term business success. Once you’ve aligned these connections, you’ll have a good handle on the driving forces at work within your firm.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management, a full-service contract research organization that offers early- to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at vtifft@clinicalrm.com.

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