Templates, Scripts, Context, and Variability


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I read a fascinating discussion led by Jeff Molander on the Copy Culture.

Much of the discussion revolved around how we look at best practice, finding things to copy or emulate to improve the ability for others to achieve higher levels of performance.

We develop scripts and templates, that help us leverage those practices and experiences that have worked, minimizing those that don’t work.

We can gain great performance advantage by systematizing that which has been very effective, and consistently executing those best practices in a disciplined manner. The templates, scripts, methodologies, processes are all tools we leverage to do this. Much of what now passes for conversational intelligence, also helps us do this.

In the discussion, there were some great views suggesting the importance of context. What works well in one set of situations doesn’t work well in others. This can be a simple as the words we use. I remember a disastrous call I made some years ago. I was talking with the executives of an automotive company around design optimization around aerodynamics. The terms I used came from my work with aerospace companies, but the terms used for the exact same concepts were completely different in automotive design. As a result, I wasn’t “communicating.”

I had failed to adopt my concepts to a context meaningful to that audience (I did recover, once I recognized the problem).

So context is critical to the successful implementation of these templates, methods, and scripts. We must adapt these to each context we encounter.

In reality, we don’t just face contexts defined by industry–for example aerospace and automotive. Nor do we face contexts of function, for example, sales, engineering, manufacturing, marketing, finance, or HR. Nor do we face contexts of position, for example, executive, department head, manager, individual contributor.

Increasingly, we face “contexts of one.” That is each situation and the people involved in the situation are facing issues that are relatively unique to them. What one company faces and a successful solution will probably be different than what others in the same industry face. Their contexts are unique to their organization at a point in time.

Now, a key question arises. Does this mean our templates, scripts, processes, methodologies are useless? If we are, ultimately, dealing with “contexts of one,” what use are they?

The templates, scripts, processes, and methodologies are very powerful in helping us understand and address the situational/contextual differences. They give us a starting point–rather than starting from scratch and reinventing the wheel for every situation, they enable us to get 85% there. We just have to figure out the remaining 15%.

They give us the framework to recognize the contextual differences and adapt what we are doing to the specific context for this customer and this situation.

These enable us not only to be more efficient and effective, but they provide a meaningful/relevant starting point to engaging the customer. For example, customers want us to have some understanding of business, of problems, they face, and of how they might approach solving problems.

But they view that as the starting point, they need us to progress from that starting point to helping them understand and address their specific situation more effectively and efficiently.

Too often, however, our use of templates, scripts, processes, and methodologies, when implemented, don’t recognize this. Rather than looking at them as a starting point to be adapted to the context of one, we implement them as the endpoint. We are rigid in our implementation and execution. We apply them blindly and thought-lessly.

We see this all the time in scripts. People struggle when the responses are “off script,” we design the scripts without accounting for variability. Our templates fail us because we can’t figure out what to do with a square peg when our templates focus on round holes.

The fault lies in how we implement and teach people to leverage these tools. We teach them to apply them rigidly to every situation. Instead, we should teach people that these provide the starting point. They provide rough guidance about how to assess issues, problems and situations.

To be successful in applying them, we have to develop the critical thinking and problem solving skills of our people. We have to help them learn how to adapt the checklists, scripts, processes and methodologies to the specific situation.

The “copy mentality,” is very powerful. All these tools we develop, based on what has caused us to be successful in the past, enables us to solve problems more quickly, and far more effectively. But we have to learn how we adapt them to the situation we face.

Afterword: Actually, these are issues manufacturing and engineering have faced for decades. As mass manufacturing arose, the issue of reducing variability became key to manufacturing effectiveness. People like W. Edwards Deming, Kiichiro Toyoda, and Taiichi Ohno grappled with these issue decades ago. Concepts in just in time manufacturing, lean principles and their agile adaptations have been advancing the thinking around this for decades.

While much of their focus is on understanding and reducing variability, in selling and marketing, we have to recognize there are limits to how we can reduce variability. Rather, we must figure out how to apply these principles, with creativity, critical thinking, and sound collaborative problem solving—helping our customers solve their problems and achieve their goals.

We in sales and marketing can learn much from them. Several years ago, I wrote an eBook, What Sales Can Learn From Lean Manufacturing. That might be a starting point to help you figure things out. Just email me for a free copy.

Another terrific resource is Mass Customization, written by Joe Pine in 1992.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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