What Our Government Has In Common With Failing Businesses
Every company leader has had the experience of stepping back to reevaluate what's not working. In fact, it's at that point that most of my clients engage my company's services. We help them get to the root of why the product they have built isn't making the sales they expect, or why they are receiving too many customer service calls.
And what we find most often is pretty basic: These companies haven't spent enough time understanding their customer.
When battles occur like what's happening on Capitol Hill over the federal budget, I am often asked if I've done market research projects with political groups. I haven't done much. The reason? Politicians are even worse than companies. Despite their job description, they don't spend time truly understanding their "customers"--the constituents they serve. They do too little market research, too late.
If we evaluated the current state of our political system like a company with a failing product, we would uncover four big problems:
1. A Lack of Real Choice
Voters are just like consumers and they expect choice. The fact that we have a two party system means that each party has to take a stand on too many things. Without clear delineation, it's difficult for voters to make a decision, which leads to apathy and helps explain low voter turnout.
Brands from toilet paper to toothpaste work hard to make sure the consumer understands how each is different or better. The fact that each party only offers up one candidate and there are really only two candidates to choose from doesn't provide the choice needed to make a true decision.
2. The Parties View the People as Numbers
If consumers don't want to be viewed as a number by companies, they certainly don't want to be viewed that way by those who represent them in the Washington.
Reports on the news, especially around election season, focus on the demographics and segmentation of the groups that are voting for one candidate or another. If being a middle-aged housewife from the Midwest doesn't dictate your choice of coffee, it certainly doesn't indicate why you would choose one person over another to represent your best interest in Congress.
3. Decisions Made Don't Impact the Top
I have had to make some tough decisions as a business owner. When times were tight, I was always the last to get paid. Contrast that to what's happening in Washington with the budget battle. While almost 800,000 federal workers are going without pay, Congress paychecks don't skip a beat.
And the impact of Congress' decision is not immediately felt by the government because voters only get a say every four years. When a company's leadership makes a bad decision, consumers have the choice of immediately voting with their dollars and honoring another brand. Case in point is the recent fallout to Barilla because of their leader's unpopular comments.
4. There is No "Arbitrator"
One of the best ways to resolve an outstanding issue is to enlist a third party. Smart companies that are in trouble will bring in a third party to help them evaluate what's working and what's not. They also do a good job of listening to their customers as that third party. It's amazing what your customers will tell you if you are just willing to ask.
On the contrary, the two party political system creates an us vs. them mentality that is hard to overcome. It's harder for one group to concede on any of the issues because they feel like they are losing.
Congress should look to the successes in the entrepreneurial and business space for examples of what works well today. Businesses have that survived the economic conditions of the past several years are a laboratory that Congress could study for guidance and best practices.
Well I can dream, right?
ERIC V. HOLTZCLAW is a serial entrepreneur who has founded multiple startup companies, including one of the first profitable Internet enterprises. His last company appeared on the Inc. 5000 three years in a row. Holtzclaw advises clients on the whys of business--why customers buy, why teams work, and the all-important "entrepreneurial" why. He is the author of Laddering, and his weekly radio show, The "Better You" Project, shines a spotlight on entrepreneurs' individual business journeys and successes. To learn more about Holtzclaw, visit ladderingworks.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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