I went to see Blondie this week, and about 3 songs in Debbie Harry said the words that send a chill through most concert-goers’ hearts: “We’ve got a new album out, and we’re going to do some songs from it”. It’s not surprising that after 35 years the band don’t just want to play “Atomic” and “Heart of Glass” all the time, but that’s what the audience want. It set me thinking that it demonstrates one of the fundamental work dilemmas – as managers we want our employees to be creative, innovative and adaptable, yet in many cases our customers are quite happy with the existing product and don’t want change.
So what’s the solution? It seems to me that there are three approaches
Firstly, there is the Scott Walker approach. He famously walked away from being one of the biggest stars of the 60s and now produces music that satisfies him creatively but which provokes some extreme reactions. Essentially it’s about abandoning the mass market and instead do something where the employees are fully satisfied. Lots of customers may be lost but those that remain are loyal and “buy into” the exclusivity.
Secondly, there is the Dexys Midnight Runners approach. They still perform their old songs but in a different style to their heyday (here’s their biggest hit) and market carefully (their last tour was billed very explicitly and repeatedly as “performing their new album, followed by some old hits”). This is a much more evolutionary approach – it keeps the employees creatively satisfied but also keeps the customers happy.
Finally, there’s the Squeeze approach. This is to reform periodically to play the Greatest Hits, and then with the income generated the two main songwriters are able to develop their own music (often separately). In this case, it’s about protecting the core brand while diversifying into (hopefully profitable) other markets.
What it all means of course is that the way that we run and manage the people in our organisations depends very much on what our business strategy is. From an HR perspective, it shows why it’s essential that we know and understand business objectives while from the management side it demonstrates why involving your staff is integral to business success.
Oh, and the new Blondie songs? They’re ok, but I wish they’d played “Sunday Girl“