Written by Endia Leonard, CEO of StrateCamp

While there are running lists of problems every organization can choose to solve, finding the right one at the right time can make all the difference in the outcomes of customer satisfaction, profitability, and being known for innovation.

When selecting an airline, there isn’t much consideration given to the infrastructure that makes the planes fly. You select the airline that best suits your travel preferences or credit card rewards and book your trip. If you frequent airport lounges, Southwest Airlines’ ability to solve problems may have never crossed your mind. Many travelers are not thrilled with the lack of first class or advanced seat selection, but we do have the airline to thank for some of the convenience we experience regardless of who we choose to travel with. 

Known by Fortune to be one of the most innovative airlines, Southwest Airlines takes the trophy for one of the best innovations which has solved a considerable problem for millions of travelers every single day. There are few innovations their customers are more aware of that yield any notable benefits, than their introduction of the paperless ticket. Southwest Airlines was the first airline to introduce the paperless ticketing system in 1994. This was the right problem to solve for any consumer running through the airport with no time to spare and often with luggage and companions in tow. The efficacy of this innovation is well demonstrated by practically every other airline in the world emulating Southwest’s invention by utilizing digital tickets. In a 2007 survey by the International Air Transport Association, it said that over 97% of all tickets worldwide are now issued as e-tickets. I can’t remember the last time I printed off a paper ticket to show a gate agent when flying. Bravo, Southwest! 

Finding the right problem and pairing it with the solution consumers want is akin to solving a rubix cube. While the whitespace for innovating a digital ticket is once in a lifetime, finding the right solution for your customers is well within your grasp.

 

How do you solve problems like Southwest’s industry changing paperless tickets? 

 Get clear on what your customers need and want. 

Consider the daily paper waste airlines were guilty of before the age of digital tickets. Or how customers could print the tickets, tuck it safely away among all the belongings in their hands, only to arrive at the gate and realize that the same ticket had somehow been misplaced in the airport. This is a problem worth solving that has implications far beyond convenience.

Within our teams and meetings, where we draw up elaborate solutions, and fill our white boards and slack channels with ideas that would make us internally proud, it’s easy to miss the true voice of our customers. The most critical requirement before initiating any solution to a problem or any far reaching change is having a clear pulse on what your customers are looking for. Alternatively, providing a solution to a problem they don’t know they have or don’t want can have a reputational damaging effect. 

A short list of questions to ponder: 

  1. Is what your team plans to send to market a nice to have or need to have? 
  2. Are there customers who in fact want the solution?

 

Asses organizational capacity. 

For a solution like paperless tickets to be undertaken, there obviously has to be sufficient capital resources available to pursue the endeavor. Beyond the availability of resources, there are other factors that serve as clear indicators of whether an organization has the capacity to solve the problem or make the change it is initiating. 

  • Leadership. Change requires leadership, and managers won’t cut it. A strong leader will need to roll out a compelling vision that stakeholders can get behind with optimism and a bit of enthusiasm.You will need leadership capable of inspiring change and gaining buy-in. Who will be responsible for keeping the vision alive and in front of the teams?
  • History.  Has the organization successfully conducted a similar effort with the processes in place to do it again? Are there known company culture hindrances that would likely impede progress? Considering company history and perhaps how stakeholders responded in previous related circumstances, does the team have enough grit and resilience to endure setbacks and get to the desired solution?
  • Capabilities. Do you have the right competencies within the team of employees to make the changes outlined in the vision? Is there an urgent need for development or additional staff or consultants? When solving the right problems, you need the right skills.

 

Empower champions at every level.

Solutions are never fully realized or successful in silos. Cultivating advocates across all tiers of the organization is critical. While the initial readiness for change among the wider population might be limited, building a coalition of supporters dedicated to the solution is crucial. This initiative might start with a compact group of pioneering leaders, but as the change journey unfolds, this circle of advocates must adapt and expand.

This foundational team serves as the spark for fostering enthusiasm and dedication to the problem-solving effort. Their pivotal role includes exemplifying the behaviors sought, articulating the advantages of the change, and offering guidance to peers throughout the adaptation period. As this circle of champions showcase the solution’s positive effects, their influence widens, slowly convincing late adopters within the company and those reluctant to embrace the new direction.

 Map out a plan that shows proof of progress and prioritizes short-term wins. 

Develop a strategic roadmap that illustrates incremental achievements and emphasizes immediate victories. Ideally, leaders spearheading change initiatives would see their efforts come to fruition within a span of 6-8 weeks. However, the reality of embedding profound transformation within an organization is that it seldom happens overnight. Achieving lasting change requires a step-by-step approach, akin to the accumulation of a snowball rolling downhill. Each short-term victory not only marks progress but also builds momentum for the change effort.

For solutions to be truly effective and sustainable, they must be approached with a clear plan that not only tracks progress through tangible milestones but also strategically prioritizes early successes. 

These early successes serve as tangible evidence of the benefits of change, catalyzing wider buy-in and participation from stakeholders. By recognizing and celebrating these wins, an organization can maintain momentum, overcome resistance, and gradually embed the change into its core, ensuring that the transformation becomes a permanent part of the organizational ethos and quite possibly shape the way an entire industry approaches the same problem. 

While there are running lists of problems every organization can choose to solve, finding the right one at the right time can make all the difference in the outcomes of customer satisfaction, profitability, and being known for innovation. This approach will get you started on the right trajectory as you seek opportunities to make more impact in your industry. 

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