What is Management Myopia?
Myopia is known as near-sightedness, an ability to see near objects clearly while distant objects appear blurry. It is a common complication that afflicts nearly 22% of the population.
Management Myopia is the failure of management teams to see beyond short-term events. While statistics are not available for how many managers suffer with this disease, the gravestones of historic market leaders that are no longer in business suggest that the proportion is very high. That is why every leader should take steps to correct their organizational near-sightedness.
There is a dangerous myopia which grips many managers and often leads to doom for their business. It is caused by an absolute singular focus on incrementally improving business results while being completely oblivious to the shifts in the marketplace.
I once flew with an airline executive responsible for designing the services provided to the most loyal and lucrative customers. When I asked this executive if he had experienced the premium services of of others such as Singapore airlines, Emirates, Etihad or Qatar, four of the most capable airline service companies, his surprising answer was “no”. This airline was proposing to win against their competition by enhancing their services, yet without a clue as to what the best in the world were doing.
A while back, my friends were working with one of the large American auto makers found in Detroit. They had a ritual which they followed every time they went to visit their client. The car rental agency had to furnish them with a car made by that manufacturer. In fact, no one could park any other make of cars in the lots nearest to the management buildings.
If your company produces great autos, and you subsidize your employees purchase of those vehicles, won’t you expect them to be filling your parking lot with your cars? On their own volition? And if you found your employee lot being filled with competitor cars wouldn’t you be receiving a powerful message about your competitiveness? Perhaps the most important market sensory signals are outlawed by companies that then ignore the market reality, all in the name of preserving employee loyalty to their own product.
This blindness to market realities is not just limited to old school industries. For a long time Microsoft prohibited its employees from using Apple products. The Zune lost to iPod because the labs which compared their products were the only teams that saw the significant differences. If Steve Ballmer, then Chairman of Microsoft, had seen many employees using iPods or iPhones instead of the equivalent Microsoft products, might he not have thought differently about the state of the competition and what it takes to compete?
It’s understandable why companies institute the myopic management policies. After all, the old saying that you have to eat your own cooking, is a powerful mantra. What message are you sending to potential customers if your own employees are not using your products? But compelling your employees to use your own products is not the best way to achieve loyalty. Producing the best choice is.
Two difficulties emanate from this intentional market blindness. First you find yourself trying to explain why your product is better without knowing what the other products can do. The customer can become smarter about choices. The second consequence is disastrous as your sales people who may actually want a competing product for themselves, must peddle something they know to be inferior. That rot pervades the smart people in the business, the ones who have choices, and they inevitably leave. The people left behind are blind and not even looking for the truth.
I am a big advocate for allowing employees the choice of a competitor’s product. Your employees have a powerful motivation to want to select and use products made by their own company. When those loyal employees switch to your competitor’s product, it’s a powerful market message that your managers will not get otherwise. It’s one way to open management eyes to the reality of competition and reduce the potential for management myopia.
What do you think?