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5 Leadership Biases that Hinder Success in Business

Business Intelligence

There is a natural conflict of interest between companies and customers. It’s natural for any organization to have goals that don’t align perfectly with the goals of their customers. The company wants to turn a profit. The customer wants to pay the lowest price possible. What do you know? Conflict of interest!

Honest evaluation is essential to success in business.

It really is. So it’s important to review your own organization with a bias toward your customers if you expect to make any significant improvements in your customer experience.

It’s NEVER easy.

After all, it’s only human to have biases. We have biases based on where we grew up, what we studied in college, what we believe and why we believe it! Reviewing the experience your customers or employees have is a direct reflection of you as a leader.

That’s what makes the truth so difficult to hear sometimes.

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Biased evaluation begets biased results.

Here are some common biases that stand between business leaders and success:

1. The “It will work if we give it more time” bias

Leading a bold new initiative is daunting. After fighting for support and holding team briefings to get employees aligned and motivated, it’s difficult to admit when the end results are not working.

A recent example was a company who pushed to implement Net Promoter Score (NPS) as a way to track customer loyalty. After the initiative had yielded enough data, they ran some tests and discovered Customer Satisfaction scores were actually a better way to track repeat purchases. This contradicts much conventional wisdom and came as a surprise, but it was the truth. They didn’t stop tracking NPS, but they were able to develop a better strategy because they were being honest.

2. The “Ooooh, Shiny!” Bias

I love a slick new web site, and I’m a sucker for a unique infographic. But as we strive to create visual content that we know can be consumed more quickly and by more people, let’s not forget that the purpose of creating content is to drive action. And if the pretty pixels aren’t delivering useful information to customers or employees, then they’re being created in vain. Product packaging, for example, is often “beautiful but wasteful” and customers are not afraid to label it as such.

Within an organization, nothing is more frustrating than spending loads of time gathering data which is then turned into an eye-popping but flimsy communication piece. And I have to admit, I see this happening all the time with customer journey maps. Many are fun to look at but don’t serve a purpose. Customer experience improvement requires great data. Don’t turn it into something that is pretty but useless.

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3. The “I Hate That Competitor” Bias

Oh those competitors can drive us crazy, can’t they? Especially when they are quicker to innovate, undersell us or do things we simply can’t. But it REALLY burns us up when our customers defect to them. It’s especially tough when leadership is enlightened and the employees give 110%, and yet a soulless company cuts into our share of their market.

But it happens. Here’s why – if you’re not paying attention to what the marketplace is offering and what’s working OUTSIDE your own company, you don’t really know what you don’t know. This happens with staffing, too. If a competitor is poaching your talent, it’s time to take a hard look at why the grass looks green enough to hop the fence.

4. The “Remember the Good Old Days” Bias

It’s difficult to let go of the success of the past. If your organization’s executives are clinging to the days of “We pioneered the industry” or “Customers will never demand ways to manage their accounts via mobile or communicate exclusively online” then it’s time to rock the boat. Many industry leaders have vanished from the scene after many successful years of clinging to a strategy that kept them ahead of the competition …until it didn’t.

Don’t assume the experience that keeps customers loyal today will have the same effect on them tomorrow. If you want your company to have a future, you must consider now what will suit your customers’ needs in that future. Improvement means looking ahead – always.

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5. The “My Passion Drives Everything” Bias

I love to work with companies experiencing growing pains. They remind me of that precious stage puppies go through where their paws are too big for their bodies. They romp around and try to figure out how to get around while growing too fast on the outside. But it’s also the most dangerous time for the founders of a company. Passion is what got the company started, and it can be blinding. It’s important to hang onto that passion, but make sure it’s channeled into creating a strong, rewarding company culture and serving your customers, not your ego.

You can overcome these biases by doing two things:

Stick to the facts and get a truly outside perspective.

Don’t talk yourself and your team into continuing a project if it’s not working. Stick to the facts and take action on them, even if that action is simply to move on.

Getting an outside perspective is often the most difficult. Your best friend who reviews your new mobile site is a good sounding board, but she’s biased by believing in you. Your agency can certainly provide insights into what’s wrong with your marketing, but they also want you to sign that new contract. There’s that conflict of interest again.

The best outside perspectives come from outside.

Those anecdotes customers share with your front-line staff can lead to actionable insight, but that feedback needs to be communicated through your organization to people who will make a difference. Watching customer behavior is another way to get an outside-in view.

Biases are deep-seeded in all of us. Don’t let yours get in the way of progress.

Photo credits: Ben Husmann, idogcow, Lisa L Wiedmeier via Creative Commons license

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