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Posted: May 19, 2010

Got gaps? 10 timely tips for closing them

Plus a disaster I actually saw coming

Bob Dodge

While I was having lunch with some business associates in a nice restaurant, explaining to them how I have added value to companies by helping them close their business gaps, I could see the busboy coming our way with his tray loaded with dirty dishes and glasses. I guessed he had made that trip many times before and knew what he was doing, so I barely paid any attention until...

Before I tell you the rest of the story, I need to tell you about what I was saying to these fellows, to put the story into context.

Why close business gaps?

First, businesses' gaps are closed to capitalize on opportunities or to resolve issues. We close business gaps to improve top-line, bottom-line, qualitative or compliance performance. These gaps translate to shareholder value, and the inability to close them can frustrate the business executives as well as their customers, employees and shareholders.

10 Tips for Closing Gaps

So what should you consider when you want to close gaps in your organization?

1. Clarify the current situations and root causes of any lack of performance, as well as adding clarity to your desired state.
2. Obtain insight to the gap from multiple perspectives (clarifying the whole elephant). In doing so, you and your people have a line of sight to what needs to be done and why.
3. Establish the Return on Investment of closing your gaps.
4. Determine the barriers and actions required to close your gaps (if you don't know them, you can't plan for them and they'll affect you eventually).

(We'll get back to our busboy soon...)

5. Prioritize the most critical activities that map to their goals.
6. Design and plan the gap-closing activities, then scope, sequence, and staff them.
7. Implement the steps needed to close the gaps and, especially when the business lacks a good track record, hold people accountable and coaching, recognizing and reinforcing desired behavior.
8. Obtain the benefits of the transitions as you had envisioned them - the productivity, profitability, and/or customer-related objectives you had when you authorized the efforts.
9. Sustain the results by ensuring that the people who must change accept, adopt, and sustain the required behaviors through change leadership and change management. Equally important is instilling a sustainable behavior where people are held accountable without outside help, over time.
10. After you have closed the gap, take the time to do a lessons-learned. What worked well, and what could you improve the next time you close a gap?

In nearly 20 years of gap-closing consulting, my clients have seen things they could not see before (or at least have added clarity to their gaps), and have been able plan and implement activities, such as strategies, process improvements, etc., that had enabled them to reach their destinations.

Back to our busboy

... so, the busboy was headed for a little wall behind our booth, and I could see that his "tray was full," not unlike many of the clients I have worked with. I could see the barrier ahead of him, and what happened next happened so fast that I could not prevent it, and you probably know what that is.

What was so weird was that I had just finished saying "My clients have seen things they could not see before (or at least have added clarity to their gaps), and have been able plan and implement activities, such as strategies, process improvements, etc., that had enabled them to reach their destinations," when one of my business associates got an ice water shower.

Maybe you can relate to this somehow... Got gaps?
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Bob Dodge is senior partner of The Alternative Board - Denver West. He helps organizations improve customer loyalty and employee engagement, coaches leaders in leading changes, consults with organizations to manage changes and is a popular speaker and writer. He can be contacted at 303-550-0101 or His website is  




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Readers Respond

Nice article! The inability to see the dangers in plain sight, or to travel the same path completely ignoring the obstacles is behind much of our work. The more common gap we find is avoidance. Avoid looking at a process, a system, or a structure that is full of costly gaps. It is precisely the fresh set of eyes of the seasoned Consultant that is needed to easily spot these gaps and formulate effective and efficient solutions. The cost of not closing these gaps is much too high. The benefits are financial, cultural, customer satisfaction, improved performance. By Tamara Moore on 2010 05 19
You are spot on, Russ. Many know they have problems, fewer know what is causing them, still fewer know what to do about it, and a small number have a track record of implementing lasting solutions. To your question about employee engagement, first we must believe unless our employees are engaged, we suffer from productivity losses and worse, lost customers. I suspect some readers know they have absenteeism, but how many know when they experience the opposite? People who show up for work and collect their paychecks but are not engaged in their work (be it daily work or improvement projects.) Their supervisors and managers do not have a relationship to understand why. Some believe in the “if you can’t change the people, change the people” school of management. They don’t understand that merely replacing Joe with Judy, will not fix the root cause of Joe’s problem. To your point, if we don’t know what causes it, we can’t fix it. I suspect that many lack a consistent, accurate means of gathering data about the current situation, from the employees’ perspective, see point #2 above. I know of a few who collect data and then “wish and hope” it away, which only makes it worse. The next year people have higher expectations. They might give a few speeches and create a few posters, but they often don’t implement, or maybe they hold Human Resources accountable to make it better. To really affect this issue, once you have gathered your data, is to consider the steps in the middle of the above list, identify, prioritize and plan the interventions. You are not done, however, until you hold people accountable and recognize and reinforce the successes. Establish the means of tracking the “leverage points” on a regular basis, what will be measured, who is accountable to take action and what actions are to be taken when we see ourselves reverting to the old behaviors? If we see someone “whistling in the dark”, “wishing and hoping” their problems away, or “changing people” (without putting the right people in the right seats of the bus, I might add) we should anticipate those nagging problems of poor productivity and profits will continue. Good question and best wishes, Russ. By Bob Dodge on 2010 05 19
Great article. I've found that most organizations have another big problem underlying gaps: they can't see what they can't see. In other words, they are unable to detect the gap, so they don't see the need to close it. Worse, they may see a gap, but don't know what's causing it, so they avoid looking at it. Many gaps happen in the area of employee engagement, and most business leaders have no good way of detecting which of (or whether) their employees are engaged or not. So they ignore the problems, 'whistle in the dark'...and the problems - gaps - repeat themselves, costing productivity and profits. What do you recommend as a solution for this problem? By Russ Minary on 2010 05 19

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