Knowledge Bank Blog, Finding New Ideas

Doing What You Know

Have you got the right checks in place?

In 2004, nine hospitals in Michigan began implementing a new procedure in their intensive care units. Within three months, the procedure had cut the infection rate of intensive care patients by 66%. After eighteen months, it had saved $75m. Most important of all, it saved 1,500 lives.

To achieve this kind of impact in such a short space of time, the new procedure must have been a real game changer, right? The latest science? A powerful new drug? Revolutionary new equipment? No, no and no. The game changer was a simple checklist.

The checklist approach was led by a physician called Peter Provonost. On a sheet of paper, Provonost plotted the steps to take in order to avoid infection when putting a drip into a patient (1) wash hands with soap (2) wipe the patients skin with antiseptic (3) use sterile bandages (4) wear a sterile hat, gown and gloves (5) put a sterile dressing over the catheter. Five simple checks.

These steps had been known for years, so why would there need to be a checklist for them? Well, Provonost asked nurses to observe doctors for a month as they put drips into patients and record how often they completed each step. In a third of patients, they missed at least one.

By not missing any of these steps 1,500 lives were saved in 18 months. Around 3 lives a day were saved. Or put another way, before the checklist 3 lives a day were lost by not following it. There is a big difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Doing what we know.

Whilst our industry is not in the business of saving lives, there are learnings. Last week we talked about training the right shopper behaviour. To do this, you need to do the right things. And do them consistently. To train the shopper, we need to train ourselves first.

So, how can we do this?

Define the Rules. This means the rules for how you design and execute in store activities. It could be the rules for shopper based pack design, POS design, promotional execution, NPD launches. They are the key things you need to follow to give activities the best chance of succeeding.

Importantly, the rules need to be specific. Just saying we need to make POS or Pack designs ‘simple’ is not good enough. What does simple mean? How many visual elements? Following what hierarchy? Most companies have done lots of research on all this stuff. But most have not taken the next step to distil this and define the rules. And if the rules aren’t defined, how do you know what to do?

Drive Awareness. Make sure that everyone in your organisation who needs to know the rules, does know them. Really knows them. This means communication, but it also means writing them down clearly. The nurses couldn’t record whether the doctors were following the 5 checks without the checklist. A simple format is key. It becomes easy to see whether something is being done or not. This also allows you to have objective discussions about an activity. It moves from what Person A thinks versus what Person B thinks, to how well does this activity follow the rules? It can take a lot of emotion out of discussions.

Hardwire. Into the way you operate. Are the shopper NPD rules integrated into your NPD process? Are the shopper pack design rules integrated into the pack design process? This is incredibly important when you are trying to establish a new way of doing things. You need to force change initially. Then, over time, people become trained to follow the rules. The more your people are trained, the more likely shoppers are to be trained. And if you can train the shopper better than the competition you have a significant competitive advantage.

All this is not about restricting creativity. The right rules or guidelines can enhance creativity. For instance, if you know you should only have one lead message on a piece of communication, then you will focus all your time and energy on getting that right. Not finely crafting the other 5 messages that are irrelevant.

Whether you call them rules, principles, guidelines or checklists, if they are good enough for doctors, who are in the business of saving lives, then they are probably good enough for us.

And, like the hospitals in Michigan, you might be surprised what a difference the right checklist can make.

We are going to take a break in August to get the creative juices flowing and will be back on 9th September.

For those of you going away, have a great break and speak to you on the 9th.