One of the better books I have reread recently is Game Changer authored by A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan. In the spirit of full disclosure, A.G. was my CEO at Procter & Gamble so I am definitely biased toward his point-of-view. The book is a great read and A.G. shares real examples of the principle at work in P&G.
The book is all about creating a game plan for sustainable growth and profit. On this read, I decided to look at the counsel from the economic development perspective of creating sustainable economic growth and prosperity for communities. I know A.G. didn’t author the book with that in mind, but I believe the principles can definitely be reapplied.
3 Key Lessons
Customer-centric innovation is essential. It is absolutely critical to understand your customer deeply at both the rational and emotional level. In the world of economic development this translates to understanding the needs and decision making processes of companies doing business in your community or that you hope to attract to your community. While A.G. was leading P&G, he focused the Company on a single, simple mantra – “the consumer is boss”. This had a powerful impact on the behavior of P&G. Imagine the impact an economic development organization would have if it operationalized the mantra – “the employer is boss”. It would affect work processes, priority choices and ultimately result in increased company loyalty to the community. Employers created jobs and sustained prosperity. Putting employers at the center when strategic decisions are made helps keep that in clear perspective.
Who is Your Who? It is important to see the trees in the forest. Describing your target in demographic terms isn’t sufficient. You need to get to know the Companies doing business in your community. Not simply their P&L, but also their culture. You need to know what really matters to them beyond the standard default of profit improvement. When you have that understanding, you will begin to uncover insights into how your community can partner with the Company on a deeper level. This helps turn your location into a meaningful competitive advantage and thereby indispensible (or at least much harder to duplicate) in the long-term success of their business.
Curiosity and accountability are enabling behaviors for success. Leaders of economic development organizations need to be proactive learners. These leaders need to embrace change as a way of achieving breakthrough results. The tendency will be to interpret accountability as the number of jobs created in any given year. But, it is actually much more than that. Both customer satisfaction and the quality of a community’s growth also matter. Saying no to a bad deal that generates near-term jobs but compromises the long-term attractiveness of a community should be considered a good choice and rewarded. The Ford Foundation has created a multi-dimensional, holistic definition of wealth creation that illustrates the point and is worth a review.
My guess is the typical reaction to the idea of making the mantra “the employer is boss” from most economic development professionals will be that it is the current standard operating process. But, I would encourage those readers to challenge that paradigm. I could have said the same thing when A.G. introduced the concept of “consumer is boss” at P&G. But the more we peeled back the layers of that onion, the more we realized that the consumer had moved out of the bull’s-eye of our operational choices. It didn’t take a revolutionary shift to get the organization to refocus on the consumer, but it did take work. However, it ended up being the difference between missing versus hitting the target. I am convinced the same thing will occur if we peel the onion back in economic development. The closer we move the employer to the center of our decision making, the better partnerships we will create and our communities will experience more sustainable wealth creation.
What are Your Thoughts?
Do we have the employer at the center when making decisions in economic development? As a profession, do we really understand the culture of companies doing business in our communities? Do we take that into consideration when working to try and find ways to retain or expand the jobs they support? What are some examples where a deep understanding of a company led to success? Conversely, can you share an example of a situation where not understanding the company’s driving need resulted in a lost deal?
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