Anticipating Problems for 40 Million

Look at the person sitting next to you. If you haven’t shopped at Target in the past month or so, the odds are good that they have. At one time, over half of all households in America shopped at a Target store during a typical month. But all that changed early last year.

As you may have experienced, the discount retailer suffered a data security breach which impacted millions of customers and ultimately led the CIO and CEO to resign. What you may not have heard is that the root cause of the problem had absolutely nothing to do with technology.

Subsequent investigations revealed that Target had contracted with a company to install a malware detection tool to monitor its computers around the clock. The technology worked. When the breach occurred Target’s network security operations in Minneapolis was immediately notified, giving them several days to remedy the problem before the hackers began to transmit stolen numbers out of Target’s system. The alarms sounded.

And the team in Minneapolis did nothing.

Perhaps responsibility wasn’t assigned or the process steps were not developed, but the lack of action allowed the hackers to export the credit card numbers of 40 million customers. This news led to a significant drop in customer traffic and customer confidence for the brand . Such an episode illustrates how organizations often develop well-intentioned plans that fail during the execution phase. Below are some tips to avoid the same problem in your own firm.

1. Assign Responsibility: As the old saying goes, “If everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.” When developing plans of action, assign duties to specific individuals and make sure they understand their role.
2. Set Clear Expectations Using Is/Is Not: When responsibilities are assigned, don’t just focus on what IS expected, but also define what IS NOT expected. This helps reduce ambiguity.
3. Assure Accountability Through Visibility: By broadly communicating who is responsible for what activities we can increase motivation through accountability. In addition, find ways to publicly recognize those who fulfill expectations instead of only recognizing failures. For instance, “our network security team prevented x data incursions last year” reminds every one of the tremendous value people offer by meeting and exceeding expectations.

At Action Management Associates, we have been helping clients successfully execute projects for over three decades. If you would like to avoid the curse of inaction, give us a call at 800-386-5611! We’d love to help.


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