Corporate change can come about in a number of ways. Sometimes, it happens as the result of a planned internal process that involves senior and middle management as well as line staff and sometimes it happens as the result of a project whose requirements result in change.
A Japanese endoscope manufacturer with a significant American market, wanted to determine how frequently the fiber optic cable used in the devices needed to be changed so that there would be no down time caused by broken cables. Endoscopes were and are expensive and in many cases, surgery units only had one. If a cable broke, scheduled surgeries would be delayed or cancelled. The manufacturer had learned that reliability was extremely important to customer retention. In addition, marketing and sales staff believed that if the company could become known for reliability, sales would increase.
Planning and preliminary research was done to insure the design of an effective study; in-depth interviewing techniques able to elicit nuance were particularly well suited to this project. Information desired included, but was not limited to: (1) how often fiber optic cables were changed; (2) how often they broke; and (3) what schedule would be best from the perspective of the surgery units.
Sample composition presented challenges for the Japanese client who felt that only doctors (assumed to be men) should be consulted. However, the preliminary research showed that the surgery unit charge nurse(s) were not only responsible for the equipment but were the ones who made decisions about servicing and spare parts. Accordingly, a diplomatic approach was taken to convince the client that a sample comprised of physicians, charge nurses and technicians would be appropriate.
In-depth interviews were conducted with medical personnel from major hospitals throughout the country including those in Boston, a noted medical center. With the agreement of the client, interviewees were given a summary of the results after the study had been completed.
The data showed conclusively that: (1) surgery unit charge nurses made replacement decisions; (2) they knew how long a fiber optic cable lasted; (3) they wanted a replacement before the cable broke; and, (4) they wanted to have regular contact with the company technicians. Without exception, the charge nurse decision makers were likely to insist that providing the product was excellent, they would choose a manufacturer who replaced the fiber optic cable on a schedule they selected. To the surprise of the Japanese client, doctors only cared that the equipment was working and left decisions in the hands of the charge nurses. Faced with the results, the client decided to concentrate on working with the charge nurse decision makers.