company lost its heart

Summer Reading Series  Installment 1 of 4

In the midst of that morning’s operations review meeting, Frank started wondering just how the company had lost its heart. As he looked around the meeting room he saw nothing but stern faces, apprehensive expressions, and a few stifled yawns. The humorous quips he had added to the conversation a few minutes ago to lighten things up fell as flat as a day-old glass of Coke. Everyone was so serious. They solemnly reviewed yet more numbers and looked at more charts and graphs.

Frank knew that management issues were critical to success. Facts, processes, systems, data — all were vital to efficient operations. But how did the company become so unbalanced? When did efficiency crowd out effectiveness? How had the management vampire been able to sneak into the organization and suck the energy out of everyone, leaving these lifeless corpses behind?

Frank knew a bit of his company’s history. He knew that the original founder, Roy Fitzsimmons (who was now retired), had deep technical expertise and extensive professional training in their industry. He knew that Roy was passionate about the company’s pioneering technology. He had an exciting and powerful vision with an intense drive to blaze new pathways.

This energy and excitement had attracted like-minded team members, customers, partners, and investors, and had fueled their rapid early growth. Over the next few days, Frank made a point of seeking out the company veterans to ask them about the culture and focus of the early days. He also reviewed some archival material on their first products, strategies, financial statements, correspondence, and the like. He learned that the company grew strongly on the strength of its technology.

It was an exciting, fun place to work. But it struggled financially. Management systems and processes were weak or nonexistent. So costs were high. Error rates and rework were also high and Frank heard lots of “heroic recovery” stories of fixing up customer problems.

As Roy neared retirement, he decided to hire a “professional manager” as president and CEO while he stepped back into the role of chair. The new president imposed much-needed organization and order on the growing company.

But, Frank knew, you can take any good idea too far. While the pendulum had been way over on the leadership side of the equation, the new president swung it sharply to the management side. Slowly the spirit and vitality was squeezed out of the company. The soft, intangible feelings of making a difference and being part of a meaningful cause were driven out by the drive to achieve hard results — goals, objectives, and the bottom line.

Communications and meetings that were once full of exciting reports about new customers, innovative products developed on a shoe string, new market frontiers opening, and outstanding service delivered in extraordinarily tough circumstances were now filled with dry reports on progress to sales and profit goals, committee activities, strategies, budgeting, and business planning.

It became uninspiring and lifeless. The management imbalance dehumanized people and turned them into their roles. Expressions like “business is business” and “it’s not personal, it’s business” were heard more regularly. People become number crunchers, orders processors, product producers, sales pushers, researchers, technical problem solvers, managers, and budgeters.

Their heart and soul were hung up in the closet with their coats on the way in to work each morning. People went from being part of a cause that provided a paycheck to collecting a paycheck without a cause.

Next: Installment Two: Snowballs, stones and stories
Click to download the entire 4 part series as a PDF

Adapted from The Leader’s Digest, by Jim Clemmer.