“Some people can think no deeper than a fact.” — Voltaire (pseudonym of Francois Marie Arouet), 18th century French philosopher and dramatist
Many successful companies were started by passionate zealots with a strong technical expertise matched only by their powerful vision and intense drive to succeed. This energy and excitement attracted like-minded people (team members, customers, partners, investors, etc.) and fuelled their early growth. But because these companies weren’t well-balanced, their management systems and processes were often weak. So at some point in their development, either the financial struggle or the desire of the original owners to “cash out” triggers a sale, merger, or hiring of new senior managers.
Then the “professional managers” take over. Slowly the spirit and vitality is squeezed out of the company. The sense of making a difference and being part of a cause is replaced with goals, objectives, and “the bottomline.” Communications that once reported exciting news of new customers, fledgling products developed on a shoe string, new market frontiers opening, and outstanding service delivered in extraordinarily tough circumstances is now filled with dry reports on progress to sales and profit goals, committee activities, strategies, budgeting, and business planning.
It’s uninspiring and lifeless. It turns people into their roles, systems, and processes. They become number crunchers, order processors, product producers, sales pushers, researchers, technical problem solvers, managers, and budgeters. Their heart and soul are lost. They went from being part of a cause that provided a paycheck to collecting a paycheck without a cause.
But many people aren’t taking it any more. We’ve run into dozens of people in the last few years who’ve taken early retirement, gone back to school, started their own business, or turned down a bigger job assignment. They took a financial loss in order to make a deeper gain. Their personal net worth has been dramatically boosted by how they feel about the person staring back at them each morning in the bathroom mirror.
Many of these once exciting companies start as living, breathing (sometimes close to uncontrolled) organisms who, like a mysterious life form in a Star Trek episode, feed and grow on human energy (which they multiply and return). Much of that entrepreneurial energy comes from market and financial successes. Just the belief in that eventual success may be enough. But once the Technomanagers take over, that once living organism becomes a lifeless machine that feeds strictly on money. There is a vague sense that people and energy somehow help to create the money. But everybody is too busy looking for more money, to pour into the increasingly demanding machine, to bother checking out that fuzzy notion.
The intangible sense of spirit is even more critical in people-dependent service businesses. The maturing and growing training and consulting field is a good example. Within this fast evolving industry, many high performing start-up firms have been acquired or merged by larger Technomanaged (focused on management systems and technology) companies. As those spirited, organic firms become company machines, their founding spirit and best people slowly disappear. During periods of high growth these problems are papered over with money. Once the growth slows down, many of these Technomanaged companies, with their hollowed out souls, become mere shells of their former selves.