Monday, August 11, 2008

Flavor of the Month

Originally uploaded by Josh Beeman

Sometime in the 1930's various ice cream companies began advertising campaigns featuring an ice cream flavor of the month. Each month people would look forward to the new flavor of the month that would be featured in their local ice-cream parlor. Baskin Robbins still uses a form of this today.

The thing about the flavor of the month is that it's temporary. It isn't consistent or something you can count on. It can be exciting initially, but there's really no guarantees. It's just what it says it is. It's the flavor, or perhaps better stated, the focus of the month. Once the month is over, the masses will move on to the next flavor.

With many businesses there's a tendency to react to each issue with a flavor of the month strategy. Instead of encouraging consistency in performance, even creativity in how that performance is done too many businesses focus on one emergency (flavor) for a brief period of time then move on to the next... um... flavor.

Exhibits A, B, and C.
In the transportation industry?
Issue: Accidents are up.
Inundate all employees with meetings, e-mails, and more meetings demanding that accidents be reduced by regaining focus on the basics.
Result: Accidents are reduced. But after the meetings and e-mails have died down and the flavor has long been forgotten, there will come a time to ratchet up the rhetoric again.

In the public education system?
Issue: American students consistently grade low in mathematics.
Solution: Inundate the politicians with pleas for more money, demand updated textbooks, and use a carefully crafted PR campaign to get the politicians to give more money.
Result: More money is gained and spent. Testing results seem to improve slightly, but there once the flavor has lost it's luster there will come a time to ratchet up the rhetoric again.

In the retail box-store business?
Issue: Sales are down for the quarter.
Solution: Inundate the public with cleverly crafted marketing campaigns, cut employee hours, and if you are able have one employee perform multiple functions over multiple departments.
Result: Sales go up briefly. But customer service suffers and in the long run, once the flavor of the month has passed, the customers will quit coming back. I think you know what comes next.

The fact is, so many businesses settle for the quick fix. They turn an issue into the flavor of the month. Each employee is expected to do their part for that time period, but once there seems to be no emergency it's back to business as usual. The month is over. It's on to another flavor.

Here's the scoop!
Flavors of the month work well when you want to boost your rocky road ice cream sales, but aren't the best practice when it comes to creating real solutions to real problems. Your employees won't pay any attention to your e-mails and simply wait out the latest barrage of safety meetings. Your teachers won't be motivated to work on new teaching methods because in the end, their school will get more money from the politicians. Your customers won't have any motivation to return because in the end you're selling them the same thing, with less customer service.


Chris McDaniel said...

Why do companies (and whole industries) work so hard NOT to change their cultures in response to these types of "emergencies"?

Instead, so much time and energy is spent flailing wildly about the "issue of the day/week/month", there's no resources left to improve at a basic level.

So continues the cycle, ad nauseum.

Georgina Taylor said...

The corporate system definitely does reward patches more than deep structural changes because the latter is measurable NOW, and will protect the people involved at an individual level at least. More entrepreneurial organizations are often more flexible with such changes because of their smaller size and genuine concern for the company they have vested interest in, which is why the "flavor of the week" initiatives aren't such a concern in that case. Great post, and as always, excellent photo/text combos give your blog a good sense of depth!