I hate watching businesses fail. Sometimes it is just tragic with circumstances that can’t be overcome but much of the time I see organizations drive their own car over the cliff. I’m astounded at some of the strategic decisions some organizations make and then appear surprised when the get negative results.
An example of this is the post office. The United States Post Office is struggling and they have cited reasons such as email, delivery services such as FedEx or UPS, etc. What I hear from these explanations is, “It is changing out there!” but I don’t see them doing a lot to change themselves to fit into our world. They have a few good strategies (the flat rate box IS a good idea) but most of their strategies have actually made it harder to even give them our business. If you want someone to cite two examples of wasting your day in line you say the DMV and the post office. And the customer service at the counter isn’t generally a pleasant experience. I don’t mean to be unfair to the folks who work in the post office because I’ve lived in some little towns where the people behind the counter were some of the loveliest people I have ever met but they are the exception. Rather than address this, the USPS organization decided to shut down some of the offices and raise rates. Honestly, there needs to be an emergency intervention to get this organization back on track because think of our info-structure without a postal service!
Rather than identify what might be making their competitors successful and seeing how those strategies can be applied, or even done better, the USPS is falling back on the focus of the bottom line. The bottom line is just a measurement, it is the result of the organization’s work. Look at your work. Are you doing your work well? Are others doing it better? What can you do to make your work the best? What do your customers want and need today?
I once worked for a high tech company that had been the industry pioneer. But they saw themselves as completely unique and insisted they were unlike any other business or industry. For example, their customer service organization didn’t know any world-class customer service metrics, trends, or even tools. They didn’t look outwardly at other customer service organizations because they truly believed it didn’t apply to them. They believed their business was too unique but they were completely forgetting that while their business might be unique, their customers are not. By the time I came along this company that had once been cutting edge was hopelessly behind technically. The products they released were about five years behind other companies. They spent so much time looking at their own unique business, they weren’t hearing what their customers were telling them.
Both these companies struggle because they don’t look outwardly. They also don’t look at their competitors. They either didn’t have one for so long that when some came along they just got confused or they flat-out refused to admit to having a real competitor. This is a missed opportunity. Great organizations often get there because they have a great competitor that challenges and drives them. Organizations should embrace their rivals!
I went to the University of Southern California who has a very competitive rivalry with UCLA. I looked at the history and accomplishments of the two schools and couldn’t help but seeing that they owed much to each other for their success. They work hard to best each other and this has resulted in two world-class schools that offer spectacular opportunities to their students (and great sports too). I absolutely love that energy they create with the rivalry.
If we don’t look outwardly at other organizations, at our industry, even at other industries, we are resigned to make the same mistakes as others and to miss innovative strategies. We cannot innovate if we only look inward; if we only focus on our bottom line. Our customers are telling us what they want when they choose another business so listen. It really comes down, as it so often does, to not being afraid to change.