The lasting impact of poor quality

My favorite corporate soap opera: As The Paint Peels

My favorite corporate soap opera: As The Paint Peels

This past weekend I read an article — sorry I can’t find the link, this Forbes article is pretty typical though — about how it is a shame that the past quality problems still haunt America’s car companies. In particular, the author made the case that car buyers need to get over it.   IMO, poor quality is a betrayal of trust for a product like autos, which are so integral to our way of life and psyches. I must admit that I’m one of those buyers who, in the words of Daniel Snow,

turned to Asian and European cars after the oil shocks [and] found they didn’t require much maintenance over hundreds of thousands of miles. To add insult to the injury, Honda, Toyota and others began manufacturing cars in the U.S. The sterling quality of these products proved American workers were not to blame for quality problems at GM, Ford and Chrysler.

To this day, every time I look at US cars I get cold feet. The memories of the peeling paint and balky transmission of my Monte Carlo and the clutch on my Maverick that lasted 20K miles come back. Let’s not even talk about a teacher’s Vega, my friend’s Pinto, or the leaky diesel McDonald’s GM company cars of the 1980’s. Even worse, the strategy of pawning off crap cars via fleet sales to rental car companies — rather than killing/fixing the marque — means that when I think of Chrysler I think of the embarassing Dodge Caliber I rented last year.

Like they said in the X-Files, I want to believe. But, then I remember…

PM Quote of the Day — Theodore Levitt

Kodak sells film, but they don’t advertise film. They advertise memories

It has been a while since I used film in a camera.  But sure enough, Kodak still advertises memories  not JPGs.  So it should be for our projects and programs.  Too often we get caught up in describing the impact of our initiatives in the wrong order:

  • First, all the work that we and our team is doing.
  • Second, all the great things that we’re building.
  • Third, how many more resources we really need to build it right.
  • Fourth… fifth…
  • And finally, if we ever get around to it, we admit there may be some benefits to the project.

Of course, this approach will give audiences the wrong memories.  When pitching something, one wants to draw the audience in with an enticing vision of the final destination.  They don’t care so much about what it took to get there.

A more subtle problem is that focusing on work, technology, and obstacles makes one sounds self-centered  The message comes across as — look at all the work I’m doing, what I’m building, how I’m suffering — as if no one else is doing the same.

A project should be advertising dreams, not drudgery!

Comments on my “PR and Change Question”

Commenting on my post on PR and Change (here), Indy at http://enoptron.blogspot.com/ noted that: “Some businesses have people/departments who actually specialise in communicating with internal audiences.”  This approach is probably the best I’ve seen.  They work behind the scenes with advice and hands-on support. Indy continues:

Frankly, if the job is being left to PR people, it’s usually not a good solution. If you come up through the ranks of PR you do tend to have a skill-set/knowledge base focused on external audiences. There are PR people talented enough to turn their hand to internal matters, but it’s not something automatically successful.

Indy’s point on skill-set and knowledge base didn’t immediately come to mind when I wrote my original post.  But that helps explain the blind spot when working internally — PR is “hidden” by the brand or spokespeople during external campaigns, PR’s involvement is much more transparent to internal audiences.

Finally, the last paragraph makes an essential point — cascaded strategy and change must have multiple communication channels.  As Indy notes:

It is true that people trust and accept messages more when they come from peers and line managers. However, it’s also true that those groups of people can be “blocking filters” who do not transmit certain things.

Ceris62 (no blog link) suggests that social media has potential for mediating these discussions without internal messengers (or at least not formal or “approved” messengers).  I believe that’s true, but with a caveat: many of these initiatives are also driven by marketing-focused colleagues as well.  The association with marketing/PR does contribute to skepticism, especially at start-up.  However, that barrier is much lower and weaker in my experience, validating Ceris62’s general direction.

Why do PR and marketing lead culture, service, and sustainability initiatives?

While blogging on Scott Berkun’s interview with Grant McCracken, this statement by Scott prompted a comment and some reflection: Corporate PR departments often talk about their “company culture”.

That makes sense on one level: public relations and marketing groups should communicate to the wider world about company culture, sustainability programs, community service initiatives, etc.  However, that statement prompted a question: why are PR departments so often the voice and face of the corporate culture to internal audiences? 

I can get that you’d like experienced and strong communicators to craft and deliver the message.  However, I wonder if executives behind such initiatives realize that when marketing/PR is the face and voice of change, most employees believe (or feel) that it is all for show.  This risk would be particularly high in sectors where the marketing culture would not traditionally be close to the culture of line management.  Perhaps it is a limitation of my experience, but I’ve found that the most effective corporate cultures had messages that were transmitted and reinforced via line management or peers, not professional communicators.

Would any of my PR-savvy readers care to share some tips/examples on mitigating these risks?

Berkun on PMs and Respect

Since I riffed on Manny Ramirez and Theo Epstein earlier (here), let’s continue the baseball metaphor.  Scott Berkun drives a “hanger” a long way when he highlights how PMs sabotage their personal brands (here).  The money quote:

Many PMs unintentionally reinforce this view by trying to get everyone to pay attention to the work they do produce: the meta work of spreadsheets, specifications, presentations and status reports, failing to realize that to most in any organization, these are the least interesting and most bureaucratic things produced in the building. This mismatch of value sends the PM and his/her team into a downward spiral: the PM asking for more and more respect in ways guaranteed to push people further away.

I’ve hammered on this point again and again, but when you’re focused on “work vs. outcomes”, you’re consciously or unconsciously telling others that you’re not a business leader, you’re a technician.  Mastering your project’s business case and its elevator speech — and using it to describe your project instead of the issues log — will enhance your personal brand immensely.  As Scott notes:

Our culture does not think of movie directors, executive chefs, astronauts, brain surgeons, or rock stars as project managers…. The difference is these individuals would never describe themselves primarily as project managers. They’d describe themselves as directors, architects or rock stars first, and as a projects manager or team leaders second. They are committed first to the output, not the process.

Our new patio door and brand promises

We just had a new patio door installed — it’s an Andersen door that replaces the no-name door that came with the house.  The quality of the glass, the amazingly easy glide in the track, the fit and finish of the hardware are all outstanding.  The door itself is everything that you’d expect from the Andersen brand.

But when I sat down at the kitchen table and admired the new door, none of those first impressions were top-of-mind.  What I remembered was the impossibility of getting replacement parts for our no-name door, in particular the door lock.  When the lock had broken, neither we nor our locksmith could find a replacement.  We ended up paying good money to install a separate lock.  The locksmith’s words: “Well, you wouldn’t have had to worry about that with an Andersen.”

Why do so many firms brag about an “initial satisfaction award from rating firm X”?  Talk to me about whether you’ll be able to service your product in five years or about how many of your customers buy from you again — then I’ll begin to be impressed.

Whom is the target of this American Express ad?

I saw this ad this AM — and perhaps I just don’t get advertising — but I’m stunned that there hasn’t been more hub-bub over this years-old ad.  The first time I saw it I had the sound off, so I thought the last couple was father and daughter (it’s about 30 seconds in).

Am I missing something here?  Leave aside the May-December pairing, it seems so patronizing (Tiramisu!).  And what’s worse, the segment appears to be pitched at the college-age wife.  Or is it to the husband (to give the card to his wife)?

Is Starbucks’ stuck in the middle?

Thoughts after tag surfing….  A lot of the comments on the Starbucks store closings claim that the 600 closings are driven by location mistakes.  The recent internal memo from Howard Schultz listing the stores to close in July 2008 headlined the “poor real estate decisions” made (story here).  There has been a lot of talk of cannibalization (here) also.  I’ve seen estimates of 20-30 percent long-term sales declines when new stores open (sorry, but I can’t find the link).

I don’t buy that store location screw-ups are the central story. Less than two years ago Starbucks claimed that this wasn’t an issue at all (story here).  In my experience with McDonald’s, as along as we had our operations act together — which MCD had lost for a while and re-gained recently — the store “in fill” strategy worked and cannibalization wasn’t long-term. 

My take is that Starbucks just isn’t all that in any way any more: the coffee is good, but not great; the service is surly and slow, not showy and speedy.  Dunkin and McDonald’s do it cheaper and local shops do it better.  John Quelch puts the Starbucks dilemna succinctly here (actually it is a nice little piece):

Starbucks is a mass brand attempting to command a premium price for an experience that is no longer special. Either you have to cut price (and that implies a commensurate cut in the cost structure) or you have to cut distribution to restore the exclusivity of the brand.

IMHO, the store building spree itself simply sped up the public’s realization that not only had their old Starbucks lost it, but that all Starbucks had lost “it”. 

Hat tip: Christian Mullins at CU Potential (here)

“Messaging” to audience vs. letting audience draw conclusions

I liked the differentiation between messages and conclusions by Leo Bottary here.  Once I got over the blog’s name — relentlessPR, which evokes a visceral reaction from the project/operations guy in me — I found some interesting posts.

Last year, I met with a leadership team…who were interested in fine-tuning their key messages. Specifically, the key messages that would help separate themselves from their competitors … Sound familiar?

Yes indeed, project managers are often very keen on crafting messages: what they want to say about themselves or their projects.  However, these end up being a series of assertions coming from the “inside -> out.”  To get around this, Leo challenged this group to:

tell [him] the three things they’d like a prospect to conclude about their company and to consider what it would take to accomplish this….  They immediately grasped the difference between key messages (what they would say about themselves) and [helping the prospect] reach the desired conclusions about the company.  For example, if you want your prospect to conclude that you’re creative, saying so isn’t going to cut it…

We try to get folks to focus story-telling in presentations, for getting a client to “let me tell him/her a story” is the foundation for gaining credibility. The “moral(s)” of the story are the conclusions we want the client to convince him/herself of.  Because…

The fact is, when you tell them you’re good, the audience (more often than not) is likely to conclude that you’re not as good as you think you are.

What do you hate about Web 2.0?

I always like Hugh at gapingvoid, but hating on Web 2.0 poseurs is one of his strongest riffs.  His top ten is here.

My faves are #4 and #9, but if I’m honest with myself I’m getting a resentment about #8 as well.  I’ll know that I’m in need of an intervention if I start watching other PM blogs’ Technorati authority and rankings…

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