Thursday, January 18, 2007

Oooh... Shiny Object On The Road!

I've often thought that business's, like people, can have psychological disorders.

I've worked with a number of organizations that if described as individuals could be said to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, are bipolar in their decision making processes, depressed, have any one of a number of phobias, exhibit self destructive or even schizophrenic behavior. There are company's out there that are sick. No doubt about it. Chances are good that you've worked at one.

So when I came across an commentary today on The HUB titled Customer Attention Deficit Disorder I was intrigued. A company with A.D.D.?

Here's a quick refresher on A.D.D from Wikipedia:
Attention-Deficit Disorder (sometimes referred to as A.D.D.) “is thought to be a neurological disorder, always present from childhood, which manifests itself with symptoms such as hyperactivity, forgetfulness, poor impulse control, and distractibility."
The author, Robert Forrester, references Interstate Bakeries as one of several company's that he claims suffers from A.D.D. I worked at IBC a few years back, so naturally I was interested to read what he had to say.

The quick version of the article is this: Companies that get distracted away from the core reasons they've been successful in the past, by new hurdles, attacks, whims or shiny objects will likely end up in trouble. They lose connection with their core customers. They jump from audience to audience trying to get a new group of customers on board with new products or new services that the existing customers have not requested. Instead Forrester suggests sticking to what works. Dance with the one that brung ya. Don't forget your core customer. Talk to them. Cater to them. Do not leave them behind.

Forrester further explains:
We're not picking on these companies (Ford, Walmart, IBC) in particular. They are just current, prominent examples of what happens when companies become remote from, stop listening to - and consequently lose - their connection to their customers. They develop customer A.D.D.
Would simply staying with what works in the past solve these problems? Is listening to your core customers going to solve all problems and keep these companies on the right, profitable path? I agree that these companies appear to have lost touch with their core. But only listening to the ones that know you now is not enough to keep a business as a going concern. We live in an ever changing, evolving world. Organizations operate in a world of naturally occurring and human influenced events. Laws change, relationships change, technology changes, natural disasters happen. Fads come and go, trends linger and sometimes change happens before anyone realizes it.

Merely listening to your core customers is not enough. In the words of Jim Morrison I'd suggest that companies "keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel". Yes, listen to your to your core customers, but also be aware of what is going on around you. These are not mutually exclusive needs. They must work together.

Forrester, to be fair, did allude to there being other issues with some of these companies, particularly IBC. He concedes that there were "other serious management failures" leading to the company's current bankruptcy status. It just seemed to me that he focused too much on the importance of talking to your core over everything else. He is right that it is important. But if you do that successfully, if you get them on the bus and make sure they get what they need on the bus, but fail to watch out for obstacles in the path of the bus or drastic changes to the road, you may drive that nice bus off a cliff... with all your customers aboard.

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