The consequences of working from a Burning Platform …
Let’s make it clear for a start – working with a Burning Platform as a starting point can work, and throughout history, this approach has produced many great results. Just think of Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech to the British Parliament on June 4, 1940.
When we have chosen to refrain from using a Burning Platform as our starting point to create motivation in the person or persons we want to influence, it is because it does not support long-term sustainable results and healthy profit.
… with customers
When you use a Burning Platform as your starting point – focusing on the customers’ Problems and Pains in your sales work – you can make the customer buy from you here and now – in particular, when the platform literally is burning. The negative consequence, however, is that the feeling you create in your customers, when you interact with them this way, will be associated with you and your company brand.
Typically, the Burning Platform approach will only work a few times with the same customer before the customer starts thinking: “How come I keep having Problems? I thought I was paying you to make my Problems and Pains go away.” And then they will start – consciously or unconsciously – to avoid you and your company and look for a new supplier and another solution.
Working from a Burning Platform is therefore not the best strategy, if you want long-term customer relationships and satisfied customers – what we call Positive Activists.
… with dogs
In the 1960’s, psychologist Martin Seligman used this strategy to create helplessness in a well-known experiment with dogs, called “Learned helplessness.” In this experiment, he brought a dog into a compartment with two boxes separated by a barrier a few inches high. He then gave the dog an electrical shock through the metal floor of the box it was placed in. The only way the dog could escape the pain was to jump over the barrier to the other box, after which the shock was applied again. The observation, Martin Seligman made, was that after a few times the dog gave up. It just laid apathetically in the box and put up with the pain.
… in strategic and change management
So, if you want proactive and energetic employees who can maintain a sustainable performance – also when change is needed – the Burning Platform is not the best approach either. When you use a Burning Platform, Problems or Pain as a starting point for change management, you run the risk of your organization wasting its efforts on the wrong activities, in the sense that you may be solving some of your problems, but it is not certain that you will set the right direction for your business at all.
And then there is the ethical aspect …
Finally, there is a bigger and – for most of us – deeper question that arises, if you choose to use a Burning Platform, Problems or Pain as your starting point to create performance and results …
Is it ethically justifiable to scare people and this way force them to do what you want?
We don’t think so.
In fact, this is the most important reason, why we have chosen to start in a different place when we work with organizations, employees, and customers. Our world is a world defined by a Burning Desire.