“Strategic direction is more important today. It's about providing a framework for managers to navigate through the fog of complex chokes. No company can avoid this."

– C.K. Prahalad –

PoS Mar 2018 | Anticipation – A Special Skill of The Astute Strategist

A very important quality of the strategic mind is the ability to foresee a sequence of events one’s actions or strategies can trigger. Their consequences may be quite unacceptable yet wholly avoidable, if we could just anticipate how things might turn out. Here’s an instance.

A homeless man in McDonald’s
A gentleman had brought a homeless man to a McDonald’s restaurant and bought him a meal. The poor man had barely started eating when the Restaurant Manager asked him to leave. He had called the police in the meantime. The policewoman did her job. She saw the poor man and his host out, the latter for loudly objecting to the unfair treatment.

It was not clear whether other diners had objected or the Manager felt they might. Another customer had in the meantime recorded the episode on his mobile phone. Soon after he posted it on LinkedIn, perhaps on Facebook too.

Protecting the business, or…. 
The Manager’s action was perfectly legal of course. The rights of admission were the management’s. It is reasonable to assume the Manager was acting in the interest of the business. Annoyed regular customers could shun the outlet.

Moral considerations aside, he probably did the right thing for the business. Or, did he?

It is fair to expect the restaurant could lose a few customers – some who were present and others who might hear about the unwanted guest. Now that a video has been uploaded would many more in the town find the Manager’s action unfair, unethical, and discriminatory? Would a larger number feel offended and take their custom elsewhere, at least for a time? Would the pushback affect more than just this outlet of McDonald’s franchisee?

Would the higher management of the franchisee find the damage costly if not morally repugnant? Is it possible the Manager could be fired, or at least severely reprimanded?

Wait, there is more! 
How would McDonald see it if the groundswell of adverse public opinion and bad press dented the firm’s brand?

• Would the McDonald Board demand visible action to protect the Company’s brand?
• Could they sack the franchisee to distance themselves from the unsavoury episode?
• Would the franchisee fire the Manager? 

If the Manager could foresee these possibilities maybe he would have ushered the homeless man to an unobtrusive place, a corner of the kitchen or store, to sit and eat in peace. It is clear he did not anticipate larger and more distant consequences. Admittedly, I may have exaggerated the fallouts. But they are within the realm of possibility.

United Airlines (US) has experienced several similar incidents and come a cropper.

United breaks guitars 
Dave Carroll, a singer, had checked in a Taylor guitar on a United flight. When he found it broken at the destination, he lodged a complaint. The Airline refused to acknowledge fault and took no responsibility. In retaliation Dave wrote and recorded a song ‘United you broke my Taylor guitar’ and posted it on YouTube. They woke up when it had gathered a million views (18 million now) but it was too late.

Dragged off the plane! 
United did worse in April 2017. The Gate Manager in O’Hare International Airport, Chicago summoned security officials to forcibly evict a passenger, leading to bleeding injuries in the process. The firestorm of protests led to a precipitous drop in the Company’s share price, severe criticism in the US Congress, and a badly bruised reputation. Oscar Munoz, the CEO, lost the chance to be promoted Chairman for mishandling the case.

In each of the two instances concerned managers of United Airlines, including senior officials and the CEO, failed to foresee the effects of their actions. They did not realise how the immediate game could spawn other games in which unconnected players would take decisive part. The Manager in McDonald’s too probably failed to anticipate the chain of events his action could trigger.

The Strategist’s Mind 
A strategist examines his options in the light of those other players may have, in order to make the best choice under the circumstance. An astute strategist goes much further. He looks for games beyond the immediate one, and strategies of future players, to determine whether and how to play the game at hand. This is anticipatory thinking at its best.