7 Lessons Romney’s Loss Should Remind Business Leaders

It is true that there has been several issues this past week I could blog on today : Petraeus – Broadwell scandal and the ensuing conspiracy theories, Israel’s assassination of Ahmed Jabari, Sinofsky’s resignation from Microsoft, the demise of Lam Adesina and Olusola Saraki (both former Nigerian political godfathers), Boko Haram’s readiness for dialogue, Nigerian Communications Commission’s banning of promotions and lotteries by telecoms operators; but none itches me more than the lessons we can all be reminded of, especially business leaders, from Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama in last week’s US presidential elections.

The whole episodes of the campaign trail, debates, elections and the management of all these three become some opera from which one could learn some vital lessons. Neglecting, or violating, these lessons by Mitt’s campaign organization was worrisome knowing that Romney himself is a numbers guy, an all round business figure. Having started and worked in/on several ventures, you would expect the candidate and the campaign to be uncompromising in employing ‘best practices’ in campaign setup, mobilization and management. So, comparing Mitt’s ways with Obama’s – a previous community organizer with not much reported business management acumen, though you cannot doubt his leadership skills – strategies, these lessons become imperative:

1. Never Underestimate Your Competitor

It was evident that the campaign and the Republican party machinery believed there was no way Obama’s campaign could survive the Americans’ decision. No incumbent president has won re-election on such high unemployment numbers, none on such high deficit position, and none with supposed socialist tendencies. While still doubting the polls, and ignoring Obama’s campaign’s real strengths (rhetoric and oratory not intended) of ground work, door-to-door explanation of policies, moderate views and arithmetic, they plunged into the election. The exit polls confirmed much of what the ‘real’ polls have been saying and not what Fox news was feeding the GOP.

2. Have Character

One of the major failings of Mitt’s campaign was being unprincipled, and using his words ‘Americans noticed that’. He was seen to be flip-flopping around ideas and principles with no much guidepost. You either have character, or like Robert Greene (the author of the 48 Laws of Power) might advise, pretend to have one commendable trait identifiable with you or your team. In a business environment where the management is seen to constantly shift the goal posts with respect to policies and commitments, you do not only see distrust from stakeholders but very stunted growth potential. Employees, suppliers and customers only shrug when such enterprises release notices, they know the notices hold no water. It should baffle you how such businesses still write any reasonable figure against their goodwill on their balance sheets…….in truth, there is none.

3. Never Concede Market Share

It is true that businesses do well with a well defined niche, but businesses cannot and should not give up on market share. That’s why it seemed very absurd for Mitt to outrightly give up on 47% of all Americans at that fundraising event. Such comment was/is preposterous for a campaign depending on people’s thumb print. Even Guinness and other brewery houses never left some areas that are supposed to be ‘sacred’ and beer free…..they care not only for sales but market share. It is on this same note that the governor of Louisiana (Bobby Jindal) spanked Romney at yesterday’s conference of Republican governors: “We have got to stop dividing the American voters,” he said. “We need to go after 100% of the votes, not 53%.”

4. Plan for Contingencies

We can never stress this lesson enough. Planning for contingencies – business continuity and disaster recovery – is essential for business success. You cannot be too over confident on your product(s), processes and infrastructure. In fact, you cannot be too confident of your bottom line projections, that’s why it’s called projection. Romney campaign was largely depending on its much reported Project Orca to counter Obama’s ground work, only that it’s best use would have been on the election day. The application was to be used to monitor voters and report on the yet-to-vote ones, then volunteers would rush in to encourage the voter to go out and cast her ballot for you know who. But the application and “back end database servers’ were not really stress tested for the job until the election day. Alas! The application went kaput and there was nothing anybody could do. Same goes for Romney’s unpreparedness for a concession speech. He, and the campaign have been over confident that he would only need a victory speech. For me, that’s too cocky.

5. Listen Broadly

Decision makers know that it pays to listen wide before making their choices. This affords them the chance of reviewing the pros and cons of all available options. Without doubt, business leaders that are giving their ears to only those telling them stuffs they wish to hear are killing the enterprise in their trust. Romney and his campaign were only concerned with Fox news and the likes with respect to polls and their analyses. Karl Rove and his cohorts were feeding the GOPers what they wanted to see, and in fairness to Karl, he believed in his model till the end…..Obama must lose Ohio! Believing the models and analysis of Donald Trump, Adelson Sheldon and Fox news while ignoring that of Nate Silver & Co was a huge undoing. Listening only to the super conservatives and the Tea ‘partiers’ to the exclusion of the moderates in the party did a great harm to the campaign. Business leaders are expected to be sponges to absorb ideas from all angles, then squeeze out the waste after careful considerations. Among those other voices maybe that tiny, shrilling voice on whose insight the enterprise may ride to greatness.

6. Respect Customers’ Choices

It’s always to any business benefit to receive feedback from its customers with respect to their needs. The onus is then on the enterprise to deliver solutions for people’s needs and cash in therefrom. It is true that the Republican party (especially the conservatives and the tea party stalwarts) might have values they were offering the American masses, but they should not have scoffed at those being chanted by average Americans. Obama’s campaign played this lesson very well by appealing to the concerns of a wide range of demographics – middle class, veterans, women (health and abortion rights), college students (loans and grants), homosexuals (even though many do not approve), seniors (health insurance and medicare) etc. Mitt’s campaign was only fixated on its own offering, and so are many businesses with their product ranges. Well, customers know how to respond…….ignore!

7. Your External Environment Matters

It is a routine in all business schools when talking about strategy….PESTEL analysis. PESTEL analysis stands for “Political, Economic, Social, and Technological, Environmental and Legal analysis”. It is a part of the external analysis when conducting a strategic analysis or doing market research and gives a certain overview of the different macro environmental factors that the company has to take into consideration. The Romney campaign felt the only issues concerning Americans (yes, it should be) are jobs and economy, and so cared less when he went abroad and literally insult the sensibilities of Great Britain (at the start of London 2012 Olympics), the people of Palestine, and America’s number one creditor, China. Those states and many others stylishly amplified the fact that they cannot work with such person on foreign policy issues. Yes, those countries would not vote in the elections, but Americans noticed being rubbed in the mud by their aspiring Commander-in-Chief. Give your external environment some consideration and you may ride on that to greatness.

The whole campaign and the electioneering process gave a good platform for us to learn, or be reminded of those lessons to better manage our lives and enterprises. For that, thanks Mitt!

Share other lessons you might have gleaned from the campaign process and your other insights by dropping your comments below. 

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