Friday, December 9, 2016

A Disconvenient Truth

As I was thrilled to learn of a new (to most of us) centuries old turn of phrase (courtesy of the crack communications team at Hublot) I am going to do my best to get disconvenient back into standard use ; )

Yesterday's post triggered a slew of communication coming in from around the world.  Comments ranged from "how could you write something so mean?" to "Hah!"  But what was really interesting, funny or depressing (depending on how you view it) was the number of people who forwarded similarly jacked up communication from other luxury watch brands that had been printed elsewhere.  For those unfamiliar, jacked up is a colloquial term used here in the US.  Per the Urban Dictionary -

1. not working properly or as intended.
2. having used a large quantity of speed, cocaine, or other amphetamine.
3. cut or lacerated by means of a make-shift knife or blade. see SKIV
4. In generally poor or injured condition.

by mainframe October 31, 2003 
One reader suggested putting together a weekly series about this phenomenon, but if I am honest, getting a cheap laugh was not the intention of yesterday's post.  The hope was to shake some sense into the decision makers out there who continue to do exactly the same things, spending ever increasing amounts of money on services that continue to deliver the same poor results.  All the while somehow expecting different outcomes.
Now for those of you out there anxious for me to get to the point, here it is:
What is it about the Swiss watch industry that attracts a type of thinking so steadfast and stubborn?  I am going to stick to the collective approach to communication here because trying to delve into all of the other areas (slumping sales, poor control of distribution, massive layoffs) would take far too long and I have a class to teach this morning and I suspect you all have lives to lead. 

Is it fair to expect everyone to speak and communicate clearly and coherently in every language?  Of course not.  Is it reasonable to assume that just because someone states on their curriculum vitae that they are fluent in a language that they truly are?  Well, yes.  But then again, if you are the hiring manager, and not a native speaker of that language, how the hell would you know?

Let's compare other industries - fashion, automobiles, electronics.  Most of the industry leaders in these fields are based in countries that do not speak English as a native language.  Yet they manage to put out clear, coherent communication in the majority of languages where their products are marketed.  And in many of these companies there is a native speaker of English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, etc., either directly employed or on retainer.  And that person has essentially one key responsibility - make sure the company does not look foolish when communicating in the language that they are responsible for.  I have seen this for myself when I lived and worked in Japan and Finland.  A lot of time and money was spent not only on translation (this was before the miracle of Google translate), and proofreading, but also on making sure that there was what a colleague of mine called "cultural cohesion".  Did the language being used actually make sense to the native reader of that language?

But admitting that the communication is poorly constructed would be to admit that maybe there was a deficiency.  And that is very counter-intuitive to how many of these brands have chosen to operate.  Ultimately, what is really needed at this point is change.  A change in attitude, a change in perspective, and a change in how things are done.   And change is scary.  Change is painful.

But change does not have to be negative.  And change does not have to mean admitting that you are doing something poorly.  Change should be viewed as an opportunity to realize that there might be a better way to operate and get a better result.  After all, isn't that what should be happening in any industry?  Looking for ways to improve? 

During my tenure as a Starbucks manager we had one phrase that I appreciate now more than ever -
We don't have problems, we have opportunities.  We don't have failures, we have opportunities.

As Michael Lewis (Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game) has said:
"The pain of looking bad is worse than the gain of making the best move.”

There are opportunities out there, the brands that will thrive are the ones who can recognize and take advantage of them.

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