Tuesday, June 13, 2006

How To Turn Your Company Around

Let's assume that you were able to make your company work pretty well when it just started with you and a couple of mates in a backroom somewhere. Let's also assume that it grew at a reasonable rate up until the point where you had to choose to really go for it and expand. This is the point where you either keep your strength as a company and as a leader, or you turn things around and set off the time-bomb which will eventually blow up in your face. Here's how to set that time-bomb. Everyone loves a loser, after all.

Surround yourself with people who tell you that you're great
This is absolutely vital. Where, during the early years, people could tell you that you were bound to fail and they might be right, now you can't afford to waste time stomaching the possibility that you're not guaranteed to make everything turn out right with every move you make. If possible, get a charismatic Svengali figure to tell you that you're going to make it big, also make sure you have a snake-like figure on your board who will only ever tell you what you want to hear.

Under no circumstances should doubt or reality enter your inner circle. You believe in yourself, make the promises, and your workers will make something akin to them come true.

Convince yourself that everything is great
There are lots of ways to do this, and it's vital if you want to achieve the turnaround of your fortunes. If you believe everything is great that everything you see will be great and your entire existence will seem more worthwhile, which will mean that you will be able to tolerate failure for longer, because you'll barely notice it, not accept it as failure at first, and certainly not have to do anything nasty about it for a long time.

Making positive affirmative statements is a good way to drum things into yourself. Say it every morning: "everything is great, I am great, I'm destined for great things, and people will notice and respect that". Picture the results of these great things.

The fact that you've filled your inner circle with people who agree with these affirmations will make them seem all the more true.

Don't invest in strong leadership
Good leaders cost money. Good leaders can also challenge your authority. They can staunchly refuse to accept impossible requests and can make you less able to see the almost infinite potential that your otherwise unblighted optimism yields.

Instead of a strong leader, you need one of two sorts of leader:
  • The carpet sweeper - no matter what the problem, he'll sweep it under the carpet in the name of short-term succes
  • The non-leader - he's in the same position of power as a leader, but doesn't have the experience, authority or support to make it as a leader. He will busy himself with everything and ultimately throttle everyone's efforts.
Either will do, or maybe try both.

Always trust a snake
So, you've brought the snake into your inner circle. You've put him into a position of power. Your very success depends on him. It's important not to see through him, no matter what happens. You must maintain the suspension of disbelief. Even if you see the snake either fail to commit himself until he's clear what you want to hear, or change what he's saying as he discovers that you don't want to hear it, you must not waiver. Even if you discover that, like an unobserved quantum particle, he appears to be in all states simultaneously, and only, when it's clear, from the particular observer, which particular state he should land in, does he magically appear to be "right behind" that outcome, you should never doubt his ability to make up his own mind.

The snake will also have motivating behaviour, like teasing, insulting, assaulting and otherwise abusing his direct underlings, coupled with stealing any good idea and claiming it as his own.

The snake is an excellent orator and comes with some perfect rhetorical habits which will aid him in getting himself across, moving forward, with a maximum of impact.

Neither bully nor lead your staff
It is important for you to be liked, so you must not bully the staff. In order to avoid any problems coming to a head too soon, you should also become increasingly distant from the people you used to work closely with. If possible use management via rumour - where you hear something that you don't like and then rumour it back to the person you heard it about in such a way that they can't really defend themselves, as it's not an accusation as such. This sort of non-confrontation can be just as soul-destroying as confrontation, but much less messy.

When you do have to step in, try to sugar the pill by being all coy about it and making yourself look as reasonable as possible. Deny all knowledge of anything the snake has ever done, or you may have to confront his identity as the snake.

Company values
Everyone wants to work for a good company. As a result you should gather all the attributes that people want the company to possess and then claim to possess them. Make your staff agree to uphold these values. Then the company will be perfect. Don't worry that any way to get people to agree to abstract values will be excruciatingly false or painless, or that the unspoken company values need to be just that and cannot be conferred.

Company values are mandatory for everyone except the snake.

Have a false blameless culture
It's important, if people are going to like you, for you to appear to be reasonable. If you go round pointing the finger of blame, then you will not. So you must always appear magnanimous in the face of failure. However, you can subtley let the cat out of the bag with the way that you announce your magnanimity surrounding mistakes (caused mainly through other poor leadership decisions). By declaring who you're not going to blame, or charging people with a task that sounds a lot like "clear up the mess YOU made", you'll show people who's boss, and what sort of a boss too.

Blame process rather than people
Jump at any opportunity to shake things up, regardless of the effect. A good process can cover a multitude of sins, regular process change can be increasingly self-justifying. If you can find an opportunity to double output and half costs on a team, then, by induction, you could soon have a team working at huge efficiency, leaving more people free to do the same. Ignore the fact that halving a team 3 times to get a 10 fold increase in output is mathemetically possible according to your flawed hypothesis, but realistically impossible.

Keep the problem solvers away from the problem
We all know that someone with hands-on knowledge of a problem and with the power to solve problems will make a good practical solution. Don't let people do this. Instead, insert a series of stakeholders who don't know their authority or scope or success criteria. By having a huge committee deciding what's necessary and keeping your problem solvers a few people removed from the actual end product, you will soon avoid the success you used to enjoy.

The snake will already have removed any long-term strategy you could possibly have had a hope of maintaining; his agreeing to everything will create a total deadlock in planning where everything is at the same priority level: high priority, needed immediately.

Fiddle while Rome burns
No matter how many low-down people, if they're allowed to speak to you, tell you that your company is going to ruin, don't do anything. Or, better still, tell them that they're making sense and give them some motivation to sort it out. However, the moment your middle manager speaks to you, tell them a potted version of what happened and agree to leave it to them. This manager will then spin the story into something else and effectively block anything that your low-level guy was about to think about doing.

If people challenge you directly about what's missing, agree with them and then explain why it's all so hard. Bear in mind that if you find running a business too hard then perhaps you need someone who knows how to run a business to run yours, or, if you're intent on running yours into the ground, you want that sort of person nowhere near you.

Let your best people go
Your best people won't stand for this forever. If they know what's good for them, they'll leave. Otherwise they'll turn into mush and will stay around getting increasingly useless. For your company's fortunes to turn from gold into dust, you need dusty people. For extra credits in your ruin everything scheme, treat your best people like they're trouble makers or put them onto light duties. For double bonus points, offer some of your most effective people a role which puts them directly at loggerheads with the way the rest of the organisation is being run and watch them act like the bit of grit which sometimes makes a pearl in an oyster, or sometimes turns into pus.

Sack the whingers
Once your good people have left, you can find the people who don't truly believe that you're the amazing leader you've painted yourself to be and told yourself you are and been told by your inner circle that you deserve to be. The whingers don't believe the dream and cannot be a part of it. They will drag everyone else's suspension of disbelief down from the clouds and into the real world - this cannot be allowed to happen. Sack them. If you don't do it now, then it will be harder later.

And you're done
If there's anyone left after this, you will have turned the company around, that's for sure. Good luck with that.


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