Operationalization basics

Increase the probability of people doing what you need them to do (execute on strategy/reach goals/impact metrics/use insight/adhere to expectations/lead others), both in the short and long term.

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I understand what is meant by operationalization

Operationalization means to put into operation or use.

When you operationalize something, you take a set of plans or intentions (be it strategy, expectations or insight), evaluate what is needed in order to execute on those plans/deliver on those expectations/utilize those insights, and embed those specific mechanisms into the fabric of how work is being carried out.

From an organizational perspective, great operationalization ensures that something gets done predictably, transparently and effectively.

From a human perspective great operationalization helps people to do the right things the right way.

When something has been improperly operationalized, we can't say for sure if something will get done, if it actually was done or how it was done. We are also often dependant upon the efforts and follow-up of individual champions in order for that something to happen regularly and correctly.

An example (though non-human) of great operationalization is code executed by a computer. In this situation, there is a very high probability of the intial plans and intentions being used and followed in accordance with expectations (provided that the code has been properly written and the bugs have been fixed). When you are looking to operationalize something, it might think of yourself as an organizational programmer.

I understand the consequences of insufficient operationalization

The consequences of insufficient operationalization is that people will forget, be hesitant, slow, uncomfortable or unable to find the time to execute on expectations.

As a result, they will either experience a lot of emotional and cognitive friction in an attempt to meet expectations, exert a lot of time and cost, or won't meet them very well (or perhaps at all).

I can determine the robustness of an operationalization

By robustness of operationalization we mean how successful we have been at operationalizing something and, as a result, how likely we belive it to be that something will actually end up happening.

Robustness of operationalization is related to how many things have to go right in order to reach a desired outcome. In other words: how many (potentially fragile) links are there in the chain that could potentially fail.

An example of low robustness of operationalization is simply telling someone to do something.

This requires that the person either remembers it, or writes it down and remembers to look it up at the proper point in time. It also requires that they have the proper understanding of how to execute on the instruction, or the ability and time to break it down themselves.

An example of high robustness of operationalization is to embed an expecation as a task in a checklist the team is familiar with and intuitively uses uniformly in their daily work.

This way, all the team member needs to do is to remember to use the checklist, and they will automatically adhere to expectation which has been operationalized.

I understand what is meant by operational mechanisms

An operational mechanism is a way of operationalizing something.

Examples of operational mechanisms include

  • Meetings or other methods of telling someone something. Meetings are considered low robustness mechanisms because they rely on a lot of individual ability, memory and organizational clarity.
  • Systems where long-term expectations are being stored and communicated in the form of responsibilities, checklists, recurring events etc. Systems are considered a high robustness mechanisms because expectations persist, are unambiguous, improvable and are exposed to the right people at the right time.
I know what is meant by the knowing-doing gap

The knowing-doing gap is the disconnect between knowledge and action.

The concept is elborated on in the book The Knowing-Doing Gap by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton.

I understand the role that instructability plays in operationalization 4

Instructability refers to the degree to which something is instructable.

When something is highly instructable, it is capable of and receptive to receiving and responding predictably to instructions.

A highly instructable entity is an entity that can be easily instructed to behave in a certain way. A TV is an example of a highly instructable entity, which can easily be told to change channels by the means of a remote.

When attempting to improve a team or an organization with low instructability, improvement efforts can often have low impact because there is no way to have the resulting insight of the improvement process "seared" into the team.

Instead, the current team members are told how to change their behaviour and practices, which over time can easily fade away as people forget, fall back to old behaviours, or are replaced by new team members.


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