Bill Scheessele

OPINION

What can a 65-year-old Christmas movie teach about 'purpose?'

Plenty if you want to focus on serving your customer

With the election now past and the political signs mostly gone, holiday decorations seemed to appear almost overnight. The avalanche of political ads has been replaced with advertising for Thanksgiving and other religious celebrations. We all wait in eager anticipation for the celebrations to begin.

However, with this celebratory mood comes the realization that as a country we still have huge challenges ahead of us. Given our current circumstances, it merits revisiting a column we wrote back in 2009 with updated commentary to reflect the here and now. We have the opportunity to fix our predicament, which didn’t happen the first time around three years ago.

There’s been much controversy in the government community about how the fiscal cliff will impact the government contractors.

On one hand, there are logical arguments in favor of trimming the federal budget, tackling our huge deficit, investing more in social programs vs. “unneeded” defense spending and making lowest cost the criteria in procurement.

On the other side of the coin are reasonable assertions against sequestration kicking in and forcing massive layoffs. And, there are understandable concerns that the new low price and technically acceptable procurement criteria will allow the delivery of substandard services and products vs. the previous best value position.

A resolution to this ongoing debate may be found in an unlikely lesson from the 1947 Hollywood film, Miracle on 34th Street. The movie is iconic and is viewable every year around this time.

The storyline centers around a last minute Santa Claus replacement for Macy’s department store located on 34th Street in Manhattan. The stand-in goes by the name of Kris Kringle.

Among his idiosyncrasies is his habit of ignoring his employer’s instructions to steer parents to the toys and other goods that Macy’s wants to sell. Instead, Kris tells shoppers to go to Macy’s competitors to get better deals on the items that children have on their holiday wish lists for Santa.

He has shoppers’ best interests in mind, which appears to be counter to his employer’s revenue objectives. While outraged by his actions at first, Macy’s management quickly discovers that Kris’ helping customers in this radical manner results in a marvelous marketing phenomenon, heaping tons of positive publicity and customer goodwill for the store. This all happens during a very crucial time of the year for making a profit in retail.

So what does all of this have to do with government contracting and our current situation?

The lesson to be learned from this parable and Kris’ character has everything to do with purpose. From what we’ve learned from thirty year’s business experience, the ultimate purpose for business development is to help customers in getting their needs met, (i.e., helping them discover the right solutions to deal with their challenges and solve their problems).

Kringle even took his purpose to a higher level by suggesting solutions not provided by his own organization. Is this just a Pollyanna example of fictional fantasy? On the contrary, it’s good business.

This is an example of a position that engenders trust and solidifies a partnership relationship. If a client needs a solution to a problem that your company doesn’t offer, or if you discover that an opportunity being pursued by your company is a forced fit and not a good match for your firm’s capabilities, doesn’t it make more sense to suggest an alternative if you know it is one that can help your customer?

So what do Kris Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street and your purpose in business development have to do with the current debate? It’s all about purpose, but with a capital “P” … a collective Purpose for the good of all.

As contractors, our Purpose is to help our government customers handle their challenges, solve their problems and help them in their job of administering government, (i.e., protecting, serving and defending our country … and ourselves). We the people are government’s ultimate customer. If we keep this higher Purpose in mind, being self-serving takes on a whole new meaning.

Let’s not forget that our elected officials are often called public servants. This description makes their Purpose equally meaningful for them, as for government administrators and government contractors. Public servants have the significant calling or Purpose to serve the country and citizens in the best manner possible. This calling includes thoughtful collaboration, cooperation and, when needed, compromise … the higher Purpose of making government work in the public’s best interest.

When you consider Purpose in this context, if we collaborate we can negate much of the gridlock that we’ve all suffered through recently. If you consider the collective Purpose for public servants, government administrators and contractors in this industry, thoughtful cooperation can lead to compromise and breakthroughs that benefit everyone in the long-term.

There is no better time of year to recall this lesson from the Miracle on 34th Street. Let’s reflect upon our individual and collective Purpose in whatever our position might be in the government arena. We may find that we are not really at odds with one another. Rather, our shared Purpose is what joins us together and in the long run benefits us all.

 

About the Author

Bill Scheessele is CEO of MBDi, a business development professional services firm. He leads a team of government contracting business growth experts. Learn more about MBDi and their revenue growth resources at http://www.mbdi.com.

Reader Comments

Thu, Dec 6, 2012 Chuck Wash Metro Area

A dilemma (a situation with unsatisfactory choices) is the essence of what Kris caused with his “purpose”. I agree with the story as a metaphor for today’s environment with a couple of exceptions: 1) the notion the BD is an altruistic endeavor in my experience is not so, and 2) the coming together of all for a common purpose is laudable, albeit not feasible, is in my opinion the right thing to do. Truth is our stockholders demand for value growth holds more sway. Change comes at great cost to someone. Change produces winners and losers; therein lays the challenge. I have been in the business since the early 60’s and have seen change upon change with nothing really changing. There was a time corporations did business with the government because it was the right thing to do; if fear today it is done to support a far different agenda. Having said that, the fact remains, if we do not come together / do nothing, this current trend will run its natural course like any business cycle. It seems to me, the real question is do we have the strength of conviction to endure the results / impacts (winners and losers)? Sadly this question cannot be answered by we, the people who prosecute business opportunity; this is a boardroom question. Bill, I like your thoughts and hope your message reaches the people who can make changes happen, both in the government and industry. Like the “cliff” we will see what happens!

Wed, Nov 28, 2012

While not disagreeing with your point, there is an equal case to be made that long-term incumbents can get complacent, stop innovating and lose their focus on value (which includes cost). I'm certainly not a fan of LPTA or vendors who win LPTA and then change order their way to run rates above the previous incumbent. It is very disappoint to see our folks low-balled by the incoming vendor and decrease their standard of living. Bill makes a fair point and he might agree that a focus on purpose might lead and incumbent to pass some savings back to the customer. Cheers.

Wed, Nov 28, 2012 Mike F. Chantilly, VA

Bill, you hit the proverbial nail on the head. In these times of budgetary restrictions and realignments, it's easy to lose sight of the ultimate good we are seeking in collaborative BD approaches on behalf of our government clients. I recently considered whether or not government contracting is still worth the effort considering the return on investment of time and effort compared to the commercial sector. As a small business owner, the government contracting market has gotten very tight with bill rates decreasing by approximately 30% over the past couple of years on contracts I've seen. As the pendulum swings for cost savings, it's important to keep in mind that often one gets what one pays for. A Humvee is fine until you approach an IED, then you'll be wanting the more expensive up-armored Humvee, critical for saving lives and enabling mission accomplishment. My concern is that the government as a whole has taken an approach to cut each program's budget by X% versus performing the cost-benefits analysis required in an effective portfolio management approach, which allows the corporate sector to kill off "dog" programs while paying adequately to staff "star" and "cash cow" programs. One highly trained individual at a rate of X may be able to routinely guide the government decision makers to make decisions saving millions of dollars or perform the equivalent of 5 contractors being paid 1/2 the SME's salary. Personally, I've gone back and certified in various specialty areas to better understand my customers' needs and continue to keep my eye on the ball, employing various strategies to broadcast capability and specialty areas to the government via white papers, etc. So far it's been preliminarily 50% successful, but I've gained insight into the process that's invaluable moving forward. As they say, "Chance favors the prepared mind." Happy Holidays to all!

Wed, Nov 28, 2012

I have to agree with the above comments. Sometimes it appears that the government changes to potentially save a few dollars and all that heppens is more dollars and inefficiencies. There definitely is something to be said for keeping motivated staff who are performing and mission focused verses what happens when you don't, inefficiency and the wrong staff in the chairs.

Fri, Nov 16, 2012

As a tax payer, I would agree it is in the best interest of the government to shop around, especially for new solutions, products, and/or mission systems as a whole. However, when it comes to supporting existing legacy systems and mission operations that a particular contractor has years experience, even decades of supporting and the government decides to shop around for the lowest cost…is it really in their best interest and/or in the interest of national defense for a few million, possible a few thousand? When previous support and performance is not a factor, and it becomes all about saving a few bucks or the perceived notion they are saving a few bucks…all the really end up with is a system left in shambles, and disruptions to the mission and it users. They ultimately end up losing all their dedicated personnel with all the experience and history, because the new contractor either can’t afford to pick them up or existing personnel or unable/unwilling to live there current employer do to salary, benefits, pensions, etc. When you start factoring in the disruptions, risk to mission, cost to recomplete, and retrain, re-cert, re-clear or grant clearances/compartments to all the new contractor staff, and mitigating all the risks and problems there after…it doesn’t add up or make sense. In the end they get what they paid for… a reduced, under paid, inexperienced, non-mission orientated contract staff.

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