In this article, I have to ask your indulgence a little bit. As a political scientist by education, I always tend to look at the political winds that blow across the electoral landscape as an abundance of teachable moments. The famous 1948 Chicago Tribune headline “Dewey Defeats Truman” should have taught all journalists to wait for the facts and not go too far afield when anticipating results. Likewise – and much more recently – Donald Trump didn’t have a prayer at defeating former First Lady, US Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, until he did it. There are always lessons to be learned, so what did we learn from the elections this month and how can we carry those lessons into our daily business?
First the politics. Pundits called the 2021 elections a precursor to next November’s congressional midterms. That election will be crucial to the future direction the country takes with control of both Houses of Congress up for grabs. So, let’s just consider a couple of the noteworthy results from earlier this month and what we can learn from them.
The Republican gubernatorial candidate in Virginia, political newcomer and successful businessman Glenn Youngkin, beat former governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, in a major upset in the Old Dominion state. From a national political perspective, that race was the pinnacle of the 2021 electoral season as the media coverage of it confirms. The losing side in that battle saw a popular former president as well as the current president campaign for their candidate along with the sitting vice president and a plethora of other politicos. Despite the firepower the Democrats brought in, Republicans captured not only the governor’s mansion, but the House of Delegates and the State Senate as well, completing an unlikely trifecta and turning Virginia red.
As newsworthy as the Virginia election results proved to be, perhaps the better lessons were taught a little further up the east coast, in New Jersey. In the big story, incumbent democrat New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy – thought to be a shoo-in for re-election in the deep blue Garden State – hung on for a nail-biting 2-point victory over Jack Ciattarelli, a former state assemblyman who’s been out of politics for the last three years. At press time, Ciattarelli still has not conceded the election.
A 19-year-old, first-time candidate named Nicholas Seppy easily defeated Terre Alabarda, an incumbent school board member in Egg Harbor Township in New Jersey. The fascinating back story in his unlikely victory underscores the dangers of complacency. Seppy, who served as the student representative to the school board during the 2019-2020 school year, was aghast at the board’s decision to limit most of the students to either on-line only or hybrid learning models. He believed that decision effectively ruined his senior year in high school and he vowed to do something. Terre Alabarda wasn’t concerned since Nick was just a kid, but she paid dearly for the complacency.
There was yet another race in New Jersey that presents more lessons to the high and mighty, and that was the race for state senate representing the 3rd New Jersey legislative district. The largest geographic district in the state has been represented by Senate President Steve Sweeney for the past decade and, as the longest serving senate president in state history, he was not going to be defeated. But, nobody told that to truck driver Edward Durr, who initially reported his campaign only spent $153 (since updated to $2,300) to purchase coffee and donuts from Dunkin’ along with some business cards and fliers. To stay on top, you can’t rest on laurels or past achievements. Durr defeated the incumbent by 2,300 votes.
Now that you’ve given me some latitude, allow me to connect the dots back to the Dunkin’ business. What we’ve really learned from these political examples is the importance of listening to what our customers want. Businesses must be ready to pivot as necessary to meet their customers’ changing needs.
Further, businesses cannot afford to become complacent. Every Dunkin’ shop (like every candidate) must always strive to stay ahead of the trends, to recognize the shifts in customer behavior, and to welcome change because inevitably it will be thrust upon it. The opening of Dunkin’s first “all-digital store” (where people don’t take the orders, they only make them) illustrates how the brand recognized the need to evolve because of the labor shortage and changes to urban business districts, both brought on by the pandemic. The result is a viable business model that continues to meet the needs of its customers, but allows for fewer staff in a contactless environment.
As the losers in the recent elections no doubt learned, ignoring the wishes, frustrations and concerns of voters is never a good political strategy. Conversely, being in sync with those voters – or customers – is a surefire recipe for success.