Sunday, February 8, 2009

Your Company has Cancer, now what?

Now is the time to KISS.

No matter where you turn it seems that every week, ok every day, there is another report of companies shedding jobs while CEOs, CFOs, and other leadership in the public and private sectors are giving up their posts. These are turbulent times, no doubt. Chances are, you or somebody you know, has been affected by the current macroeconomic environment. Many smaller companies don’t even report their reduction in force, layoffs, or whatever euphemism one wishes to use. Contractors and vendors are reduced or eliminated entirely. And if that were not enough, many projects are on ice or have been canceled all together. There isn’t necessarily even a distinction between high value and low value projects. We are in a state of shock.

It seems to me there is a parallel to be drawn between being diagnosed with a fatal disease and what is going on inside of companies today. For those of us who have been touched by a terminal illness directly or indirectly you understand that when it happens you are ill prepared. Of course illness and disease happens but we go about living our lives in a state of denial, thinking that those things apply mostly to others. We don’t like to talk about them. So, it is no surprise that we are ill prepared when we get the routine physical that reveals bad stuff, or when a family member surprises us with “news”.

As I sat next to my mother-in-law in the last stages of her fatal brain cancer, I found myself wondering what was worth talking about. My next trip (that she could not go on)? How great the weather was outside(that she could not see from her hospice bed)? Etc. We mostly enjoyed the silence and held hands, the one hand of hers that still had life in it.

Our institutions fail to prepare us in a meaningful way to deal with things of death and dying. Not really their fault. Many of us would not be receptive to messages of death and dying (let alone training) if we heard it until we had the full context and reality. It is of sorts, a forced reality. With my mother-in-law brain cancer experience, our tight knit family prepared each other (in real time) through iterative dialogue with each other. It was far from perfect but most of us actively engaged in the conversation and I think it made for better quality time and coping along the journey.

The business environment is far from being a tight knit family but the challenges remain the same. Poor preparation, inadequate knowledge, and a dying process that progresses in spite of your deliberation, indifference, and denial. Leadership eventually grips reality (sometime too late) and prescribes medications and treatment. Like a patient with a terminal disease these company prescribed treatments and medications may or may not have an effect in the short term and certainly may not stimulate a dying patient to life. There may also be dangerous side effects to current programs, initiatives, personnel, partners, customers, etc.

Leadership in companies should tread carefully in this environment and seek out or be receptive to outside counsel on matters of death and company survival. As it turns out the people inside the company are sometime best at digging their own grave, consoling each other along a grisly downward descent. They often resort to covering their own butts and are reluctant to be the voice of reason that may be unpopular with the majority or CEO. After all it isn’t a time to make yourself a target. This is a problem and can create suboptimal results.

In my next post I’ll introduce the KISS principal for turbulent times. In short it is Kill, Ice, Sell, Support. More on that later.

If you are part of a leadership team facing difficult decisions and need a external impartial sounding board, shoot me an email. My coffee of choice is a double-tall mocha, ½ the chocolate, no whip.

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