Managing Market Movement

You have to go through Step-B before reaching Step-C … or Step-Z.

Try telling that to a start-up CEO and you’ll earn some nasty looks.

One of the greatest errors of leaders, political or business, is to move too fast. Many militarists believe Hitler could have ruled Europe had he taken his time and not rushed to open fronts everywhere at once. Great products have vanished because CEOs aggressively tried to push it into every segment simultaneously. Make too many changes while delivering too little value and you’ll have too few customers.

This topic gurgled forth because J.C. Penny, a company born over 100 years ago and thus slightly older than my jokes, ditched their CEO. His overhaul spiraled the once legendary retailer nearly into ruin and its share price was cut in third. Nothing nice has been said about CEO Ron Johnson’s re-rigging, but a common complaint was that he attempted a blitzkrieg and changed everything overnight. One analyst opined “He tried to do too much too soon. He had a lot of very radical and bold ideas, and he tried to execute them all simultaneously.”

penny-windows-8People (and hence markets) tend not to be revolutionary. Even new products and technologies with obvious benefits meet suspicion, investigation, trials, slow roll-outs and finally mass acceptance (virtual machines on commodity servers looked weird when first conceptualized, but now the world runs on them). Marketing must often lead buyers through multiple steps before making a sale, and lead markets through chained-discoveries before achieving wide-spread interest. Marketers must also lead product development in delivering solutions to satisfy one segment (one battle front) before opening the next.

Which brings Windows 8 into question. The newest Microsoft Windows OS tries to move an entire market (the installed PC base) too far, too fast, with too many changes and has met with derision more bitter than any lodged at J.C. Penny CEOs. In all too typical a style, Microsoft abandoned existing user interface elements (start buttons, hierarchical menus, etc.) and tossed a revolutionarily limited user experience in peoples’ laps. Microsoft did not ease folks through the changes nor offer them a way to maintain their old computing habits while exploring new possibilities (much like they did not do with Office and the hateful “ribbon” paradigm). Microsoft did too much too soon and lobbed at their customers a lot of very radical and bold ideas, trying to execute them all simultaneously.

Sound familiar?

The management lesson herein is to manage movement. Rushing anything produces poor results. Customers always have options, just as J.C. Penny’s had the option of canning their CEO. Take markets and customers step-wise through discovery, leading them to one level gratification after another. Hit them with too much and they will hit back.


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