What can a 65-year-old Christmas movie teach about 'purpose?'
Plenty if you want to focus on serving your customer
- By Bill Scheessele
- Nov 14, 2012
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.