Critical success factor: A culture of continuous improvement

“I don’t care that we scored well… we can get better”

These were the surprising words from one of ICR’s participating suppliers as we were going through their survey results from our Channel Partner Leadership survey (which gets industrial suppliers action-oriented feedback from their channel partners’ executives).   The comment caught me off-guard because they scored higher than any other company previously had scored on 51 of the 56 best practices we outline in the survey.  Nonetheless, we spent several calls and numerous hours deciding how to address their improvement areas.   I was thrilled they were taking the feedback so seriously, but they did so well… why were they concerned?

Curious, I went through the list of all the companies that participated in the program to see if there was a behavioral pattern.  I noticed a trend:  The higher a company scored, the more time they spent with me afterward to understand what they could do to improve.  This included multiple meetings with several players, detailed dissection of the comments they received, reviews of structured improvement programs, emails back and forth, etc.  Conversely, when companies scored poorly, I noticed most participants were less interested in discussing.  In some cases, I even had a hard time getting the contact on the phone to discuss a plan of action for improvement.  My guess is they didn’t spend a lot of time reviewing the feedback.

I was a little taken aback by this… given that receiving lower scores generally implies more opportunity for improvement, wouldn’t those people be the most motivated to take action?  My experience tells me just the opposite.

I have a theory as to why this happens:  Companies scoring high are those that already have a culture of continuous improvement.  They are already focused on excellence and crave feedback on how they can get even better because they’ve already executed many of the obvious improvements they could think of themselves.

Senior-level company leaders often participate when we debrief on survey feedback and discuss improvement opportunities.   Leaders from higher scoring companies tend to focus on their lower scores, leading discussion on how they can be improved.  Leaders from lower scoring companies tend to focus on their higher scores, explaining that many things are going well.

But there’s a notable exception… When a company scores low and leadership is highly focused on driving to the root causes of issues, it’s almost always because the leader is new in his or her job.  I suppose it’s because they don’t feel criticized by the feedback personally.  In hindsight, it sounds obvious.

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Bart Schwartz is President of Industrial Channel Research, a company focused on helping industrial manufacturers understand customer needs and perceptions. He can be reached at

Channel Partner Feedback, Distributor Feedback, Distributor Management Best Practices, Distributor Performance Improvement, Indirect Channel Best Practices, Indirect Channel Performance, Indirect Channel Performance Benchmarking

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