Monday, January 5, 2015

Reading Your Own Press Releases: A Management Antipattern

To customers, a new company is an unknown. A new company has no reputation. A new company must focus on providing innovative or cost-effective solutions to customer problems, because it's the only story they have to tell. Nothing wrong with that.

Well-established companies have more to say. In addition to presenting their latest product's features, they can tell customers about their previous products, their many years in business, their reputation for quality. Nothing wrong with that either. It's easy for a customer to choose an established company versus an upstart competitor, even without doing a bunch of homework, because the established company is a known quantity.

But sometimes, an established company loses its way. They begin to tell themselves about their reputation for quality, their years in business, and their leadership position. Their executives tell their product teams that they can charge a premium price because they are the "Cadillac brand", regardless of the strength of competitive products. If they say this often enough, it becomes received wisdom within the company. I call this behavior reading your own press releases.

A company that is reading its own press releases is already past its prime. When a company starts reading its own press releases, it stops worrying about solving customer problems, or being better, faster, and stronger than the competition. They may even get away with this for a few years if they really were market leaders. But eventually, they find themselves sidelined by their hungrier competitors, and their position of advantage evaporates.

I've worked for two companies who had this problem. One is now a division of a conglomerate, who fixed the problem by replacing complacent managers. The other annoyed its partners so much with slow product delivery that the partners made the company irrelevant. Last I checked, this second company was still in business, but they shed three quarters of their staff in a paroxysm of downsizing, and never recovered their former greatness.

I bet you can see some obvious examples in the news of large technology companies who have been reading their own press releases. Where are their new products? Missing in action or underwhelming critics and customers. When your division manager starts talking this way, tell them to wake up and smell the innovation.

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