Sunday, May 28, 2017

Has Mediocrity Become the New Business Standard?

What’s happening to organizational standards? It’s hard to pick an exact date, but I’d suggest that prior to the financial crisis many organizations, of all shapes and sizes, were striving to evolve and improve on a year by year basis. There were certain areas of the business that organizations were trying to constantly evolve and it wasn’t just around the product or service offering, but around areas like customer service, quality and the brand or external image. Organizations were striving to develop or enhance their reputation and performance; and were focused on sustainable growth.
Yet since the financial crisis and the continual growth of social media – the drive to enhance customer service seems, for example, to have come to a sudden halt. Even high end ‘luxury’ brands aren’t looking long term any more, but just focusing on the moment and the desire to maximise short-term income, even at the expense of the potential for long term customer loyalty.
For some reason organizations and business schools are promoting the idea that customer loyalty doesn’t really exist and hence now ‘preach’ that trying to ‘create’ loyalty is a waste of time, money and effort. And this is the biggest mistake organizations are making – the selfish focus on short term profitability, is leading to a decline in the focus on sustainable growth and the business environment is becoming more of a constant short-term ‘hustle’ to entice customers to buy their products and services.
A short-term focus is a very mercenary approach to business, but this seems to be becoming the rule rather than the exception. The impact this has on the organizational set-up and organizational culture is astronomical – yet when you analyse the set-up and culture you need for a short-term only focus you can sadly see the attraction.
A short-term focus doesn’t only imply a scant regard for customer loyalty, but also implies a scant regard for employee loyalty too. With a short-term focus organizations just see their employee base as a resource to maximize short-term profitability and nothing else – the advantage of this short-terminism, is that you don’t have to worry about investing time and effort into talent pipelines and succession planning, as you don’t see your workforce as a long term investment. If and when people leave you either replace them internally or recruit from outside, but it’s done on a case-by-case basis and not some fancy business methodology.
The other advantage of this short-term outlook is that you don’t need to recruit the ‘best’ anymore just basically a ‘warm body’ that can ruthlessly pursue short-term goals, with the added advantage that you don’t need – in fact don’t want – great leaders, you want leaders who can implement command-and-control behaviours with their employees just to get the job done.
Organizations accept that some customers may be upset – in fact if there isn’t a reasonably high percentage of unhappy customers, then they actually know they are doing something wrong; as in ‘their world’ there are plenty of ‘new’ customers in the sea and they perceive customers as not being that bright in the first place; and even if the service or quality isn’t as good as ‘advertised’ they know a proportion of the ‘upset’ customers will still be dumb enough to come back and buy again, as it’s ‘easy’ for them.
Business has become so easy for short-term focused leaders, as customers have become less caring and believe it or not, actually expect poor service these days. In fact if the customer doesn’t ‘see’ mediocrity they might even think something seems too good to be true. Hence there’s no doubt that it’s today’s customer base that is encouraging this acceptability of mediocrity in the workplace.
Same goes for culture – short-term focused organizations simply don’t care about building a positive organizational culture, it’s just not important to them. The culture they want is one where employees focus on short term profit maximization at all costs and nothing more.
This makes business life so much easier as building or transforming a culture takes real time and effort; as well as a unique skill set. So not having to worry about a strong, positive culture that allows for sustainable growth is manna from heaven for today’s short term focused, weakly led, organizations.
What’s worse and is the cherry on the cake, is that the younger generations actually see these new mediocre business practices as the new definition of ‘business excellence’ and are redefining the norms and expectations of business. Leaders who wouldn’t have stood a chance in a ‘sustainable’ long-term view organization are now seen as today’s strong leaders as they drive their employees to meet ruthless short-term targets.
Of course, if you don’t understand the concept of sustainable growth, customer loyalty, etc. what chance do you have of developing a future focused organization – it would just be a foreign concept to you and without the skills you wouldn’t even know where to start.
History has shown us that industries and organizations evolve over time – but we all need to take a long hard look at the current direction being taken by too many organizations of all shapes and sizes.
A short-term focus creates an organization that operates at a level of mediocrity, it fails to develop true leaders and in the process creates a talent pool of weak, mediocre leaders that simply know no better.
This has all been allowed to happen over the last few decades as customers have demanded less, complained less and accepted a lot less. The future of business is in our hands – we can demand excellence to force organizations to strive for it – or we can accept mediocrity and that’s exactly what we’ll get.