Posted tagged ‘Decision Making’

Tonight May Be A Turning Point in Television History

March 7, 2010

ABC-Disney followed through with its threat tonight by pulling the New York-area WABC-TV from Cablevision after it failed to reach a re-transmission agreement with the cable giant.  Some 3 million Cablevision customers in Long Island, Westchester, Brooklyn, and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey were affected.

The two corporate giants are playing a giant game of chicken on Oscar night. If no one blinks, several million people will not be able to see the Oscars tonight.

Regardless of who wins this battle, both companies may lose more than they ever considered. Let’s talk about the unintended consequences.

If people decide they really, really, really want to watch this very popular television event, they may turn to the web and seek the tens, perhaps hundreds of sites, who will be streaming the Oscars over the web. Several million people may learn tonight that they can watch their favorite shows just as easily over the Internet — without paying for it.

If that occurs, Cablevision and ABC-Disney may have educated millions that their companies are not required to deliver home entertainment. And if that happens, the two companies may learn about unintended consequences in a way that they have never intended.

I know I’ll be tuning in to see who is the real winner on Oscar night.

Problems vs. Opportunities

December 21, 2009

The single greatest issue in addressing a client’s or colleague’s needs is understanding what we are trying to solve or manage in the first place. The reason this is so critical is because misunderstanding what the desired outcome is supposed to be typically results in the wrong solution.

Here’s a simple example. If we want to entertain ourselves and our friends on a Saturday night, we can ask what are the options? Once we add criteria or constraints, the choices narrow. For example, determining that we are on a budget of, say, less than $50 per person might eliminate tickets to a Broadway show. Deciding that we had to be back by 11 pm to relieve the babysitter might mean that we have to stay local.

What it all comes down to, in management speak, is clearly defining the problem. Solving the “right” problem usuall produces a subset of choices that will yield outcomes for which we would be happy.

Words, here though, are very important.

If one shifts from a problem definition to an opportunity definition, the options will become richer, the choices more exciting. And with that will come far greater and more robust ways of creating an outcome.

After all, wouldn’t it be more fun for you, your clients and colleagues to create an opportunity rather than solve a problem?

Contextualizing Who We Are…

October 9, 2009

Recently, I returned from a trade show. While on the floor of the exhibit hall, I listened intently as people walked up to those staffing the booths and asked about their products. Many of those people did not bother to introduce themselves – rather they asked general questions with the intention to learn about the product being promoted.

Almost to a person, these people did not volunteer any information about themselves. On one level, I can get it. After all, who wants a salesperson calling you and disturbing your day?

Here’s the argument though for rethinking that position…

If you’re stopping by a booth, chances are there is a reason. You want to compare a product to something that you are using. You have a unique need or challenge or opportunity and you wish to see if the product can address it. Or you simply wish to discover if something is possible.

If you contextualize who you are, and by that I mean you paint the details of what your company does, who you are and the role that you play, why you are at the booth and what you hope to address or learn, you allow the salesperson to leverage their expertise and help you determine very quickly if your unique need can be met.

And you can still always decline to move forward with the conversation after you have learned more.

What this all comes down to is trust – and part of this is about trusting yourself to have a real meaningful conversation. If you are willing to share and discuss and engage, you open yourself to the possibility that the other person can help you. And you learn whether the solution fits or what is even possible.

We already know all that we know. It’s usually the other person’s knowledge that is the most useful.

Dealing with Unexpected Consequences and Seth Godin

October 2, 2009

So how does, one deal with unintended consequences?

Honestly and quickly.

As part of my explanation, I will begin by telling you that I am a fan of Seth Godin. He considers himself a marketer and entrepreneur and agent of change. What I love most about him is that he makes me think.

Godin recently launched Brands in Public. His company, Squidoo, was going to set up a place that would aggregate content from around the Web, highlighting the good and informing of the bad, while letting the companies respond to the feedback. Not a bad idea – and his business model for doing this would result in annual payments from each of these companies totaling about $5,000.

The criticism came due to Godin’s decision to actively set up 200 of these ‘Brands In Public’ lenses (consider a “lense” like a location or site) before launch without the consent of the companies involved. The companies would be locked out of the lenses until they decided to sign up and pay up for the almost $5,000 a year service. At which time the lens would be unlocked. Some called it brandjacking, with online branding effectively taken hostage with a price on its head for release.

Needless to say the reaction to the model and its implementation was harsh.

However, Godin’s response was swift.

In his daily blog post, two days after launch, he wrote:

The response from the brands we’ve shared it with has been terrific, but other people didn’t like elements of it. And they were direct in letting me know.

The goal of the program is to invite brands into the conversation that’s already going on around the web, to make it easy for them to do it on their terms. I talked with a brand manager yesterday who explained that this is exactly what he’s been trying to do for his company, but the corporate website systems make that difficult for him. We want to open the door and to permit large brands a way to get started without having to roll their own solution.

One way we tried to encourage that was to build 200 sample pages, pages brands could adopt. Alas, some people felt that this was inappropriate, so we’ve recalibrated and we’ll take those pages down before the end of the day.

When a brand wants a page, we’ll build it, they’ll run it and we’ll both have achieved our goals.

Part of the magic of the web is that you can adjust as you go, particularly if you’re willing to listen.

I apologize if anyone was confused by my original post, and we’re looking forward to having major brands and non-profits using this tool the way we intended–to join in to the conversation that’s already happening all around us. Thanks as always for reading.

Putting aside the questions of whether Godin’s idea and implementation were appropriate, he does get points for addressing the problem honestly and in a hurry and that, I think, earns him the right to try again.

* * * * *

As to my post the other day about my recent experience with Continental Airlines, I received this response from Continental’s Customer Service Manager, Denise Epstein.

Your letter has brought up several very valid points. These are consequences that I have pondered, however, you have put them in words in a thoughtful and straightforward manner.

I will include your letter with the original complaint that was filed on your behalf. This includes your contact information if our management team needs to contact you.

I’ll let you know if it goes any further…

Unintended Consequences, Decisions and Continental Airlines

September 27, 2009

Decisions only scare me when I don’t understand their consequences. If I do, and as long as those consequences are acceptable, I’m fine. That’s why when confronted with a challenging decision, I always try to investigate what could result from it. It’s important to me that I weigh the potential positive and negative consequences.

My recent trip from San Francisco dramatized the importance of doing so.

Continental Airlines prides itself on “flying right.” Their brand is built on attentive service and well-planned departures and arrivals. In fact, in a press release earlier this month, I found this quote — “Continental’s corporate culture is based on treating customers and co-workers with dignity and respect,” said Diedra Fontaine, Continental’s director of diversity and sales development. “Dignity and respect are key principles of our Working Together cornerstone.”

Continental’s recent decision to charge for bags is a terrific example of unintended consequences and illustrates how a set of negative consequences can jeopardize a brand.

Continental, like many airlines, saw this additional baggage charge as a way to increase revenue. Their customers, however, responded by deciding to take more and more of their luggage on the flights so they could avoid the additional fees.

The unintended consequence: With more than 25 people waiting to get on board this plane from San Francisco, the overhead bins were completely filled. The flight attendants at the gate then proceeded to offer free baggage check-in to all those that had yet to board.

Some passengers took the attendants up on their offer and the gate and boarding ramps were transformed into luggage check–in areas. The attendants scrambled to check the luggage at the entry of the plane. This was difficult for them because the physical location made this problematic and most assuredly, assuming they were trained to do so, it was certainly not what these attendants intended to be doing at this time.

Many passengers chose not to check their luggage. They had to stow their bags underneath their seats, resulting in uncomfortable rides for many, many passengers and difficult entries and exits from where they were seated. More passengers also stood in the aisles for portions of the flight simply to stretch their legs.

As to those poor flight attendants…

They were trying to get the flights to take off on-time because that is one of the areas that Continental evidently measures.

Once the plane took off, the flight attendants rudely rushed to pass out the meals. The were frustrated and like most people put in similar situations, they never had the chance to regain their “balance” and they performed their work the way someone would do it if they were upset.

These were the short-term unintended consequences.

The long-term ones, of course, concern the brand and image of Continental.

And if these become tarnished enough, Continental may discover that the revenue that they gained in no way compensated for the customers that they lost.

The Importance of Looking at External Threats and Opportunities

May 17, 2009

My recent forays into the housewares industry and events within my own community have heightened my sensitivity to the importance of looking at our businesses and organizations in the context of the environment within which we operate.

My friends in the housewares industry are very concerned about how their major clients will react to any efforts that they undertake to create new channels for their products and services. Still, the advent of online communities, while representing a unique opportunity, also represents a perilous threat. If the industry ignores the opportunity and someone else chooses to capitalize on it, their businesses may be further imperiled.

Closer to home, my community is experiencing a tuition crisis. The core lifeblood of the community for several generations has been its ability to educate its children about religious and cultural values. The recent economic downturn has accelerated a crisis that has been developing, and been largely ignored, for years. Parents are finding it difficult to pay for this type of education and many, by economic necessity, are choosing to send their children to schools that do not supply this core sustaining educational program. Leadership in identifying and addressing this problem has been conspicuously absent.

What both situations have in common is that there is an external environmental factor that needs to be seriously considered and addressed.

In the case of our housewares friends, failing to act and create that other channel may result in a significant competitor that further erodes their businesses. In the case of the community, failing to act may decrease the connection between the members of the community and their culture and ultimately lead to an unwillingness or lack of desire to support projects that are integral to the community’s growth, simply because the connection to its values has been compromised.

The lesson in external threats and opportunities is that failing to act has as significant a set of consequences as choosing to take action. Decisions and non-decisions have consequences. As long as one is prepared to accept the consequences, any decision is acceptable.

The important thing is to make sure that those consequences are considered before choosing whether to move ahead or whether to pass on an opportunity.

Putting It All Together: Initiatives, Priorities and an Approach

November 3, 2008

Today’s post is the culmination of the “trilogy” of posts (see the “Managing by Priority” and number of Business Initiatives” posts for the first two.) My intention is to provide a working model that allows you to decide which projects should be in the portfolio of projects that you would choose to address.

To accomplish this, I have found it best to apply the classical decision making process with a strategic twist. (To learn more about this approach, you may want to visit the American Management Association site and research their seminars on Strategies for Effective Problem Solving and Decision Making or look at some of Peter Drucker’s books and particularly The Practice of Management)

Here’s the model we will use:

  1. Prework: Understand and agree on the problem / opportunity. This is really one of the most critical steps. Often decisions are made incorrectly simply because the “wrong” problem or opportunity is defined. I consider it wise to add a strategic filter to any discussion. Put more simply, the problem or opportunity has to be supportive or related to one of our strategic goals.
  2. Define the Objectives: Establish the outcome of the process. This is a further refinement of the defined problem or opportunity. It speaks broadly to the attributes of a successful decision. Performing this step allows us to assess the decision that we make is in the context of a specific outcome. If it allows us to meet the outcome that we were aiming at, the decision is probably a good one. This can be quickly accomplished by merging perspectives into a brief written statement regarding the desired outcome.
  3. Establish Criteria: Establish boundaries within which the decision must fall. This is yet another level of refinement of the objectives. I like to execute this step before we discuss tactical options. This is because it is not uncommon for the people in the room to be biased toward a particular tactic(s). By establishing criteria first, the group tends to offer more objective factors or conditions by which the options will later be evaluated. Examples of criteria might be ROI, availability of resources, committed executive sponsorship or complexity.
  4. Generate Alternatives: At this stage we are ready to list all of the tactical options. An effective facilitator should be careful not to edit out options or pre-judge them. To enable buy-in, everyone must be heard and the process must have integrity.
  5. Evaluate / Analyze Alternatives: With our choices in front of us and criteria establish by which we may evaluate them, the group is well positioned to determine which projects are the most appropriate ones to be addressed. I do counsel the group to create a portfolio of short-, medium- and long-term projects as well as allowing some room to handle emergencies.
  6. Make the Decision: This is the final stage. At this point the group reaches alignment. (The choice of the word “alignment” is by design. It is a more apt word to me than “consensus.” In many situations the group does not fully agree but they can “get behind” the decision and agree to move forward with it as the plan for the organization.)

Once all of this has been accomplished, there is typically one of two steps that must take place. Either the group must obtain approval from someone else or it can begin implementation planning. Each of these processes has very defined steps to success and I hope to discuss them in a future post.


%d bloggers like this: