The value of immersion in the details

Caution: sports-related material ahead.

Managers prize the ability to “look at the big picture” and there’s value in that. But there’s value in looking at the little picture as well.

What I mean is illustrated by a quote from a New York Times article today (”Ravens form NFL Draft Team That Has Game Plan“) on the drafting prowess of the Baltimore Ravens football team. The Ravens are perennial contenders, which the Times story attributes to their ability to find strong players in the later rounds of the draft. Here’s the part that I found most compelling:

They are one of the few teams in the league that do not subscribe to scouting services that provide a packet of information on players before the February scouting combine. The Ravens’ scouts do the legwork in gathering the background and the measurable statistics that would be in those reports. It takes eight grinding weeks after the draft, when the scouting department devotes itself to looking at tapes of juniors and calling their universities. But it also produces deep insight into future prospects.

In other words, the Ravens’ scouts immerse themselves in the details of their drafting prospects. They don’t rely on written summaries, charts or secondhand assessments.

In many ways senior leaders are like the teams that rely on scouting summaries. The reports, dashboards and presentations they receive cause them to feel as if they have an understanding of issues, but they lack “deep insight” that immersion in the details can provide. Of course, senior leaders can’t deal with the broad scope of their responsibilities by homing in on every detail of the business. They can, however, set processes in place to harvest and sensemake large collections of information about their business, such as customer stories, complaints, surprises, even some everyday banalities. With this information collected, they need to spend some time every month immersing themselves in those stories, participating at a detailed level in the lives of their customers and their front-line staff.

And stop relying on the “big picture” to tell them everything they need to know.

Like my friend, now a senior executive at a large insurer, once said to me, “Whenever we listen to the customer service calls, it’s always shocking.”

Related posts:
Dealing with what customers tell you online
Are 200 customer stories more useful than 2,000,000 data points?
Opening your company up for customer dialogue
A method for using customer intelligence from your front-line staff
Reading between the lines

[Photo: Adalius Thomas (now with the Patriots), a sixth-round pick of the Ravens in 2000 who has been to two Pro Bowls]

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  • http://blog.threestarleadership.com Wally Bock

    Sports material or not, John, that's a great post. It reminded me of the story of Robert Frost who gave a class for poets in which he discussed the details various poetry forms, the effect of different rhyming schemes and much other technical detail. A student asked Frost if he really cared about such minutinae. Frost glowered at him and groweled, “I revel in them!”