The Success Case Method: Find Out Quickly What's Working and What's Not

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Each year, organizations spend millions of dollars trying out new innovations and improvements-and millions will be wasted if they can't quickly find out what's working and what is not. The Success Case Method offers a breakthrough evaluation technique that is easier, faster, and cheaper than competing approaches, and produces compelling evidence decision-makers can actually use.

Because it seeks out the best stories of how real individuals have actually used innovations, The Success Case Method can ferret out success no matter how small or infrequent. It can salvage the few "gems" of success from a larger initiative that is not doing well or find out how to make a partially successful effort even more successful. The practical methods and tools in this book can help those who initiate and foster change, including leaders, executives, managers, consultants, training directors, and anyone else who is trying to make things work better in organizations get the greatest returns for their investments.

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1 What is the Success Case Method and How Does it Work?

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rganizations today are in a constant struggle to renew themselves and their processes, continuously trying out new ways of being more effective and competitive. People at all levels are

faced with an endless parade of new technology, new ways of organization, new tools, new methods, new training programs, new jobs, and so on.

• An automobile manufacturer introduces a new team assembly approach

• A furniture company employs laptop computers to help salespeople present a dizzying array of potential office configurations

• Ambulance crews use wireless communications to communicate with a remote physician who provides real-time directions for care

• Airline security staff have access to new databases to scan passengers in an attempt to spot likely candidates for increased scrutiny

• Telecommunications operators receive listening training to help them better establish rapport, in an attempt to increase customer satisfaction

• A hotel chain provides cash incentives to housecleaning staff to help drive repeat business

 

2 The Success Case Method: Step by Step

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At the smaller end of the scale, we followed up just seven pharmaceutical sales representatives who were trying out some new methods and tools for soliciting business with health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

Only one rep had had an opportunity to use the new tools, yet had experienced an especially successful sales call that leveraged the program’s capability. This one successful instance was exactly the sort of application that the program sponsors had hoped for and served as an exemplary model for others to follow. In this case, the entire study was completed over a period of nine days, with only a few brief telephone calls.

At the other extreme, one of our SC projects looked at the impact of management development for an international child adoption and community development agency. This multimillion-dollar project employed trained field office managers from dozens of countries around the globe, most in very remote and rural areas, as this is where the principal work of the agency took place. Because impact was hypothesized to involve organizational change and work relationships among a number of office staff, field visits were deemed necessary to develop success profiles. Success Case interviews were conducted in person at several agency office locations. Given the remoteness of sites, our staff had to travel for several days (in one case by donkey when a rural bus broke down) just to get into the office locations.

 

3 Focusing and Planning a Success Case Study

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Focusing and Planning a Success Case Study

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particular portion of the program being investigated, unless an increase in resources can be negotiated.

1. Clarify and Define the Purpose of the Study

An SC study has the general intent of finding out how well some program or initiative is working. But why is this important? This “deeper dive” into the intent helps to clarify and define the purpose to frame and shape the SC study. In fact, the clarification of the purpose for the study can lead to a decision that the SCM is not the best approach. The

SCM is good for some evaluation purposes, but not others.

If, for example, it is important to determine precisely how many people are making use of an innovation, or exactly how many people have completed or benefited from a program, the SC approach is not useful. The SC approach focuses on just a few—the most and least successful participants—to understand and document their success (or lack of it). When the central purpose is to gain a precise estimate of total numbers of people who are benefiting, or to determine the breadth of benefit for each of several demographic categories of participants, the more usual quantitative survey methods should be used.

 

4 Envisioning Success: Creating an Impact Model

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The impact model serves as the basis for the survey and for the questions that will be asked during Success Case interviews. Because the survey portion of the study is intended to discover those participants who report the greatest success, it is necessary to know what success would look like so that the survey “knows what it is looking for.”

Likewise, the interviews are intended to describe and document successful applications in detail, thus the questions asked during the interview must be aimed in the right direction.

This chapter presents and discusses several examples of impact models used in actual SC studies. By reviewing these examples, readers will develop an understanding of what an impact model is. Following the presentation and discussion of examples, the author provides guidance in how an impact model can be created and validated. In some SC studies, it is necessary to create only a brief and superficial impact model; in other instances, a thoroughly detailed impact model is required. The chapter closes with a discussion of the situations in which more, or less, detail is needed, and it provides guidelines for making this key decision.

 

5 Using a Survey to Search for Best and Worst Cases

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is not? Whose story should be told? Whose experience will enable the greatest learning so that the initiative can be made more effective and successful?

The survey step of the SC inquiry process addresses these questions.

We put the word survey in italics, because though this step is very often accomplished with a written survey questionnaire, this is not always the case. Sometimes it is possible to use other methods to accomplish the survey purpose of locating the most likely and informative success cases.

This chapter provides detailed guidance to help readers:

• Plan the best survey method to use

• Design and administer the survey

• Analyze the data to identify potentially best and worst success cases

A High Level Look at the Survey Process

It is easiest to think about where this step begins by first thinking about where it needs to end. What we are looking for in a Success Case study is the right stories to tell—stories of success (or lack of it) that will help us quickly understand how well our program is working, why, and what needs to be done to make it work better. To accomplish this, we need to have a way to sort through all of the potential cases—each and every person involved in the program or change initiative—and figure out what small handful of those is worth following up with an in-depth interview. This “sorting out” is the survey step. By the end of this step, we want to know:

 

6 Interviewing and Documenting Success Cases

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document these stories objectively and completely so that they will not lose their persuasive power because they are not credible or cannot be defended as accurate and truthful.

The steps in completing your success case stories are as follows:

1. Analyze the survey responses to identify potential success.

2. Preparing for the interviews.

3. Conduct your SC interviews.

4. Document the most interesting and noteworthy stories.

The following pages of this chapter expand on and illustrate each of these steps. The final section of the chapter includes several Success

Case stories drawn from actual SC studies we have conducted. These will serve to illustrate the format of an SC story and will help readers think through their interview preparation so that they will gather enough of the right information to produce stories like these.

Step 1: Analyze the Survey Responses to Identify Potential Success Cases

How you proceed with this step will depend on the purpose of your SC study. You may have a limited purpose study where simple illustration of a few high successes is all that is needed. Or you may have a more complex study purpose. If, for example, you wish to make estimates and conclusions about how widespread certain practices and success results are among certain subgroups of participants, then you will need to think through how to define and select success from among a subdivided set of survey responses. Or a purpose may be to explore and identify reasons and barriers that kept nonsuccessful participants from achieving the success of others. In these instances, you need to select both highly successful and highly nonsuccessful candidates.

 

7 Communicating Credible and Compelling Results that Tell the Story

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This chapter reviews the major types of purposes and questions an

SC study is typically designed to pursue, which were presented in the first chapter of the book, then describes how the reporting step is structured to address each purpose and question. Examples of SC reports are provided to illustrate these where appropriate. Special attention is paid to the sort of analysis of survey findings that will have to be completed and how these survey findings can be combined with Success Case interview information to arrive at final conclusions and recommendations.

Most, but not all, SC studies will culminate in the preparation of a final report that can be distributed to interested audiences, though this is not always the case. In some instances, especially where the SC

Method was used as an informal tool to help further develop a program, all that is needed is to capture the essence of the success cases that were discovered. This can be done by writing up each of the Impact Profiles

 

8 Putting the Success Case Method to Work: Strategic Applications

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whom may be especially skeptical. The SCM works especially well here, because it can produce data relatively quickly and because it can yield clear and specific examples of results and benefits. Demands for accountability are also a common driver of evaluation applications.

These demands can spring from any number of political, market, or organizational forces. That is, a program might be called on to demonstrate accountability in times of decreasing resources and greater budget pressures. Or, a reorganization (such as during a merger) may require that some programs that are possibly duplicate in nature be investigated to assess how well they work and what value they really add.

Whenever forces conspire to require a review of how well a program is working, whether it is working, what sort of value it is contributing, and so forth, then the SCM is a logical choice.

But the SCM is probably most valuable as part of a larger organizational change and improvement strategy. As organizational change leaders, we are all stuck in the same boat of having insufficient and incomplete knowledge as to what exactly needs to be done to improve organizational effectiveness. Although a client, for example, may be 100% right knowing they need to do something to improve sales performance, they will rarely be anywhere 100% correct as to exactly what needs to be done to achieve that goal. Rapid change, incomplete knowledge of cause–effect relationships, insufficient information about what is really happening, misleading data, and the pressure for a quick response all conspire to make our solutions less than perfect. And, of course, even if our solution were perfect, when it was designed (which it is not), by the time it got delivered into the field of the organization, things would have changed to make it less than right at the moment.

 

A: A Success Case Study Final Report

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of training and performance support services that an automobile manufacturer made available to its many dealerships nationwide in the

United States. These training programs and support tools were provided to the dealerships over the company’s proprietary satellite television network (called here “MortonStar”). The company telecast the courses and performance support tools (e.g., filmed behavioral examples) from its central headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. Dealerships anywhere in the country could tune in to the program from a room in the dealership that was specially equipped to receive and participate in the broadcast using two-way full interactive (voice, visual, and handheld touch-pad response units) capability.

The evaluation reported in this appendix related to two MortonStar courses that were each aimed at increasing the effectiveness of interactions with dealership customers. These two courses were often taken as a combined pair, thus the evaluation sampled from among those participants who had enrolled in both courses.

 

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