Compelled to Act

An article in the Journal of Economic Psychology details a study of soccer goalkeepers and their behavior during penalty kicks.  After an expert review of 286 penalty kicks in professional soccer, judges deemed that the optimal strategy is for goalkeepers to stay put in the center of the goal and react to the kick.  Keepers almost always, however, jump to the right or left just before the kick.  Why do keepers earning millions ignore the optimal strategy, particularly when it is something as simple as ”stand and react?”  A second study with 32 professional keepers revealed a compulsion to act because it feels worse when a goal is scored following inaction (staying in the center) than following action (jumping).

I draw comparisons to the companies I see in my consulting practice.  When faced with poor customer service, low satisfaction scores, and decreasing employee morale, companies feel compelled to act quickly and often believe delivering a superior customer experience as the solution.  They begin making investments to enhance the customer experience, which is good.  Similar to goalkeepers, today’s business leaders would rather take swift action toward solving a problem than wait with what some might perceive as “analysis paralysis.”

But many jump too quickly in the wrong direction.  For example, they may prematurely tie performance management and compensation to customer loyalty measures before employees fully understand how they can influence those measures.  This often leads to frustration, or to false positives as employees learn to “game the system.”  Alternatively, companies may invest in areas of the customer experience that will not have as much impact as other areas that customers deem more important.  Today there are many cost effective ways to quickly assess both the customer experience and a company’s competency in managing the customer experience.  Pausing to gather that valuable information will help business leaders target their investments appropriately and prevent them from leaping too quickly the wrong way.

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