The UK’s Snap Election Reminds Us That Proposing a Change Forces People to Ask New Questions About You
In retrospect, it turns out that Theresa May, the British prime minister, took a terrible risk by calling a snap election on the back of a 24-point Conservative Party lead over Labour in the polls. She had hoped to increase her power in Parliament from a slim majority of 330 seats — a mere four seats above a majority — to something in the range of 380 seats. Instead, her party dropped 12 seats and will now be forming a painful minority government at a time of great political turmoil due to Brexit. Is the lesson: Don’t take risks? No, the lesson is to take a customer-centric perspective on risk to avoid exposing yourself to risks that you didn’t contemplate.
When it comes to taking a risk with customers — whether they are website users, shareholders, movie patrons, or voters — you have to think about the question they’ll ask themselves as a result of the change you are proposing. It’s probably not the question you wish they’d ask.
For a very simple illustration, consider the example of a website redesign. As is always the case when a site provides “an improved experience,” the user is forced to learn how to use the new thing - an annoying experience. Until a couple of years ago I used CBSSports.com, America’s third-ranked sports site, for my sports news. Then it rolled out yet another site revamp. I am sure that, as the site’s creators were designing it, they asked users whether they liked this or that particular new feature more than the old version, and I am sure they got lots of positive answers. That was the question they wanted users to answer: “Is this site version better than the previous version?” But when the new site appeared, I asked and answered a different question: “Should I learn to navigate the new CBSSports.com, or take the opportunity to learn to navigate market leader ESPN.com?” I chose the latter.
Theresa May thought she was asking the voters: “Do you like my Conservatives better than Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour?” And the answer to that question, in crystal-clear terms, was yes — the Tories still hold a plurality of the seats in Parliament. But lots of voters decided to ask themselves a different question: “Do I trust this politician?” For that question, May did not have an overwhelming advantage. For that question, she was in a highly risky position.
When voters answered their own question rather than May’s, it didn’t reflect Conservatives’ polling lead — because that was a different question. If she had wanted some data on the voters’ actual question, she could have looked out across the Commonwealth to Canada. Similar but much more extreme comeuppances happened in 1990, to former Ontario premier David Peterson, and in 2015, to former Alberta premier Jim Prentice, when they called snap elections to firm up and entrench their majorities.
This happens in business over and over. On January 19, 2000, P&G admitted what had been rumored for the previous couple of months: It was in merger discussions. But the discussions were bigger in scope than what had been rumored. P&G was contemplating a three-way merger that would combine P&G and pharma giants Warner-Lambert and American Home Products to create a huge enterprise that was as much a pharma company as a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company. P&G shareholders were duly unimpressed. The stock dropped 19%, and by January 24 P&G had called the whole thing off. However, this did not stop P&G’s stock from continuing its precipitous drop, or protect the CEO who dreamed up the deal from being sacked less than six months after the announcement of three-way merger talks.
The question P&G thought that it was putting to shareholders was: “Do you like the strategic combination of P&G’s strength in CPG with the pharma strengths of the two merger partners?” The actual question P&G caused shareholders to ask was: “Given that P&G has, without warning, decided to stop being a CPG company after a century and a half, do we trust the company’s leadership?” They answered that question with a definitive: “No, I don’t trust you.” The problem wasn’t that they didn’t like pharma. Getting the pharma play fully off the table didn’t change the answer to the question shareholders decided to ask. P&G’s stock price didn’t improve until after June 2000, when the man they had stopped trusting, CEO Durk Jager, was ushered out the door.
The same thing can happen in an individual’s career, too, if they take on the wrong project. Faye Dunaway burst onto the Hollywood star scene with her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Bonnie in the 1967 hit Bonnie and Clyde. Other major hits followed, and Dunaway won an Oscar in 1977. She could not have been a hotter star when she chose a new kind of role: Joan Crawford, in the 1981 movie Mommie Dearest, a cold, brutal mother who damaged the psyche of her daughter Christina. While that movie is often considered a classic, Dunaway now sees it as a career limiter. She rarely speaks about the film, but she has said, “It turned my career in a direction where people would irretrievably have the wrong impression of me.”
Before she took on the role, Dunaway probably thought that movie patrons would ask the questions: “Do I think that Mommie Dearest was a great movie?” and “Did Faye Dunaway do an excellent job portraying Joan Crawford?” Instead, they asked the question: “Can I ever un-see Faye Dunaway as the horrible Joan Crawford?” And the answer, I would argue, was a definitive no.
Risks are associated with things you can’t control. You can’t control customers — and in particular you can’t control the questions that your proposed changes cause them to ask. But proposing a change, any change, forces customers to ask themselves new questions about you, and the biggest risk therein is assuming that customers will automatically ask the questions you’d like them to ask. You can reduce risk by empathizing with the customer enough to imagine the questions they will ask. And if you don’t like the questions — or the possible answers — you are in grave danger of taking on a risk that is never going to work out for you.
Por: Roger L. Martin
Fonte: HarvardBusinessReview, em 13 de Junho de 2017