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Ask the Experts – November 06

The following are actual questions posed to the TRG experts. You can pose your questions on our website.

Trough of Despair

Question: “I was a meeting the other day where one of the Managers suggested that the biggest challenge with an oncoming initiative was going to be the ‘Trough of Despair’ and I had never heard this term before. What is it and how will affect our call center project”.

Expert Response:
The term ‘Trough of Despair’, refers to a common occurrence with any new project or initiative. The name originates with the decline in benefit or effectiveness that is often seen after initial success. This can occur for a number of reasons including underlying operations, alignment or process issues, but often can traced directly back to a reduction in management support and attention to a project.

(insert trough of despair chart)

The following is a pattern we have seen hundreds of times…a company announces a new and significant new initiative, complete with employee communications, staff meetings, banners, golf shirts and contests. The level of management and involvement of the senior managers is palpable and evident to all staff. The program succeeds wildly out of the gate and very quickly begins to deliver the expected and forecast benefits. But then the results tail off and the benefits attained seem to erode quickly. This erosion occurs in many cases very close to when the senior managers move on to another project or task. It is as if the senior staff says to themselves, “there well that’s done on to the next challenge”.

What is generally happening however is a combination of events. Yes the senior managers have reduced their involvement and their public profile to other staff. The contests have ended. Any associated launch incentives have also come to a close. It appears to the line staff that this is no longer a priority. As a result the results and benefits are diminished and settle into a trough.

Once recognized the managers realize that success is an on-going process and requires on-going support so they introduce on-going staff communication, new metrics to recognize the best performers, enhanced training and staff support and regular updates from the senior managers. This again begins the process up the benefit curve and leads to long term success if the initiative is sound.

Of course if there had been better planning in advance by the management group they would have realized that it takes time to form any habit or to habitualize any behaviour. Big splashy announcements, contests and incentives will achieve short term focus and short term results. These benefits however, vanish once the honeymoon period ends. Developing a sustainable in your center requires that you develop and drive adoption of a new way of doing things with all of the support systems, metrics and motivation. By doing this you can avoid the ‘Trough of Despair’.

How would you have answered this question? Let us know at [email protected].

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