Sunday, September 14, 2014

Don’t blame me… Blame the Cat

For years I professed that success in business is easy and that failure takes work.  Now after almost two decades of this mantra I see the subtle wrinkles.  Success is easy when one has focus, vision and determination.  Without which, darkness ensues and the frustrations of continuous failure stimulate the production of more lackluster plan; in its best case lackluster organizational results, in its worse torturous organizational failure.

Several news releases of this week solidified the revisions to my beliefs. This week amidst market indecisiveness Radio Shack stock was downgraded to a sell with the projected one year stock price of $0.00.  How does an organization go from a high of $80 per share in 2000 to a projected stock price of $0.00 within the next twelve months?  Although there is probably a multitude of contributing factors; the end result is a history of spiraling stock price.  Once the cornerstone of home electronics has given way to the likes of Amazon, eBay and Wal-Mart, was it the pricing, location or simply not being in tune with customer needs.  

However, I truly believe that the desire of executive leadership was never mandated to crash the enterprise in some kind of retail kamikaze explosion.   What I do believe, and I am only an outsider with no knowledge of the organization, is that at some point the organization lost their vision; their identity.  Like a ship in the storm, the loss of identity made it drift where ever economics would have it.

So many organizations have their vision statement framed in each conference room, etched on their pens and as cute pop-ups on their intra-net.  However, if not part of every breath taken by every staff member, the vision is simply cute words on a wall.  The vision of an organization must be a living breathing part of the organization; it must be emblazoned in every heart and mind of each team member.    It gives meaning and purpose to each task, but most importantly it is the acoustic resonance for each decision.   Decisions made without the resonances of the visions statement could as well be made in the dead of space.

The power of corporate decision making is tantamount to each breath of the organization. Until recently I never appreciated the depth of corporate decision making running the spectrum from decidophobia to self serving ego driven gains.   Decidophobia is only enhanced when decisions are circumscribed with prizes and punishments. 

Making decisions on behalf of someone is easy, because the decision maker has no ‘skin in the game’.  A spectator at a football game can easily say to swap out a player.  Likewise a shareholder can easily make recommendations for corporate change.  However, until the decision maker has boots on the ground and are in the trenches they have no ‘skin in the game’.   Such was the lunacy of stakeholders producing a 300 page treatise on what is wrong with Oliver Garden and how it is losing market share.  Some of the suggested changes outlined were, salting pasta water to cutting back on the number and size of breadsticks.  With no boots on the ground and no vision statement to lean into, salty water may be the only perceived saving grace – maybe not.

Decision makers must have ‘skin in the game’ and boots on the ground to make sound directional decisions.  According to John Maxwell in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, leaders need to sacrifice self for the better of the organization; to do that strengthens the leader and the decision.   Decisions where leaders sacrifice personal gain for the betterment of the organization sends a message to the entire organization, but more importantly focuses the decisions on longer term goals of the organization.

In Emerging Markets Rule:  Growth Strategies of the New Global Giants, authors Mauro Guillen and Esteban Garcia-Canal researched how emerging market multi-national organizations are outperforming their US counterparts and some of the contributing factors.   After considerable research Guillen et al. identified three main traits that emerging multinational organizations share which are also those attributes US organizations struggle with.  Emerging market multi-nationals are quick to execute, exploit corners of the market and acquire smart.

Guillen et al. have basically clarified the perennial debate about which is more important in an organization, strategy or execution.  It is execution.  Without execution the only thing that changes is time, which impacts the market, and those who are willing to executive on decisions.  The take away here is indecision is a decision. Indecision is the decision to take a timeout, while the market and its participants continue to play.  Recently I have been privileged enough to witness the results of decidophobia, in a few instances, and it is truly amazing.  As the fly on the wall, one can easily observe what is not being seen by those within the organization. From the most seemingly innocuous sense of losing multi-million dollar contracts on the need for ‘more data’ before making a decision, to moral decimation as the teams endure continued chaos while leadership action that never arrives.

Without the foundation of a vision and the desire to reach one’s goals by navigating the economic landscape by making and executing on decisions, Chessur of Alice in Wonderland is correct –“If you don’t know where you want to go, any road will do”.