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Successful Companies and Organizations Are Close to Their Customers

Bureaucracies stifle innovation. It doesn’t matter if the organization is an association, a government agency, publicly traded company, or a local mom-and-pop store.

This truism even applies to McDonald’s.

McDonald’s has always been the benchmark for standardization, uniformity in product and service deliverability, and consistency in pricing. With increased competition and changing customer tastes, even McDonald’s is now looking for ways to get closer to their customers.

This week The Wall Street Journal reported that McDonald's will eliminate layers of management and bureaucracy to streamline decision-making. This includes creating four zones— Northeast, South, Central, and West—to help organize the company around local consumer tastes and preferences.

According to the company, they want to be more sophisticated in how they use local intelligence to address specific consumer needs.

Smart move on their part.

Local control is important regardless of the type of organization.

It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the management of restaurants, schools, stores, cable companies, governments, or any organization that serves the public, individuals and institutions closest to the customer/diners/students/voters/etc. are the most knowledgeable and best suited to make decisions about customer needs and wants.

Yes, technology can allow organizations and management to get closer to their customers. It can help organizations tailor offerings and pricing to local tastes. It cannot replace input from line workers who are often outside the decision-making loop, yet possess some of the most attuned knowledge about their customers.

Burger King is experiencing significant growth by listening to franchisors who know best how to serve their customers.

Get local, decentralize decision-making, and grow.

It’s working for Burger King, Kraft, and potentially McDonald’s. It could also work for you.

 

No Research Is Better Than Bad Market Research

For the past few days, news gossip site FTV Live has chronicled survey research being conducted by Cox owned WFTV in Orlando. From the screenshots posted in the stories, it appears WFTV is testing potential anchor changes with area viewers using an online survey with embedded video.

Potential leaks are always a possibility with online survey work since respondents can take screenshots of the questions or take a picture of the screen with a smart phone or tablet. That’s why you should test multiple topics or try to balance the questions to mask the sponsor or goals of the research.

Not only does it help protect your business strategies, it also improves the quality of the research.

For example, if I’m a loyal viewer of a competing station’s news programming and it is rather apparent that the sponsor of the research is WFTV, knowing the likely sponsor could impact how respond to the questions being posed in the survey.

FTV remarks that “Cox won't change the paint color in the men's room at the station without fully researching it first and having a focus group weigh in.”

First, let me say that Cox is a good and well respected operator among the current media companies left standing.

However, if the screenshots are any indication of the research being conducted, they should just save the time, money, and effort.

Without going into all of the issues I see in these questions, let me just say that trusting your gut and your experience is far better than basing a decision on bad research.

Not so long ago, I spent a few years working for another media company that is often accused of relying a little too heavily on research. I’ve seen work whose sole purpose is to offer cover, support, or opposition for a predetermined business decision that had already been put in place. If the decision (i.e. a new anchor pairing) flops, managers can then use the “it tested well” argument to deflect any criticism they may face down the road.

This creates the corporate researcher’s paradox. Do it right and have the results potentially conflict with management wishes, or go along to get along and live to see another day.

The latter course of action is better for career advancement, and the former is better for our profession. 

I know it’s difficult and counterintuitive, but if you are good researcher and the wrong tools or questions are going to end up being used, recommend against the research. Cite budget issues or the opportunity to deploy the funds elsewhere for things like promotion.

Do what you can to avoid taking the hit down the road if the project goals go south.

Corporate researchers in rapidly changing industries like broadcast media have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable battling more demands amid shrinking resources.

I feel your pain.

So please do what you can to stop a bad research project or call a consultant in to fight the battle for you if you can’t stop it on your own.

Our industry is facing enough issues right now. So please be honest with the limitations of what can or can’t be done using market research.

Your future career and our industry may depend on it.

Avoid Ivy League Schools. Think Oil League…

In years past, it was assumed that a graduate with an Ivy League degree was assured a lucrative job and a promising future where they would easily payoff any accrued student loans in short order.

Those days are past. Ivy League grads face a tough and uncertain job market, just like their state school peers.

If I had a child headed off to college and looking for a lucrative career, I would steer them toward the Oil or Mining schools instead of the Ivy League.

Shale operators are having a lot of trouble finding workers, particularly engineers and geologists, according to a workforce survey by the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Most of the respondents in the poll cited a need for more schools to offer four-year degree programs in petroleum technology and engineering.

So what schools are in the Oil League? (One hint, they are nowhere near Harvard.) Here are few noted schools offering petroleum engineering degrees and as you can see, most are in the west.

US Petroleum Engineering Programs

School

City

State

University of Texas at Austin

Austin

Texas

Texas A&M

College Station

Texas

Colorado School of Mines

Golden

Colorado

Stanford University

Stanford

California

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Socorro

New Mexico

University of Southern California

Los Angeles

California

University of Oklahoma

Norman

Oklahoma

Texas Tech

Lubbock

Texas

University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Lafayette

Louisiana

University of Alaska

Fairbanks

Alaska

While the arms race among universities focuses on the addition of new programs in Law, Nursing, and Pharmacy, they might have more success by adding new petroleum related programs.

Instead of starting or expanding programs focused on alternative energy sources and environmental sciences, there are a lot of opportunities in fracking, geology, and other area of natural gas and oil drilling for young graduates.

Operators in the oil and gas industry are continually trying to fill positions in engineering and construction which represent a golden opportunity for young graduates looking for a promising career in a difficult employment market and for administrators looking for new degree programs.