The average employee probably knows long before management that his or her company is on a downward slope, and losing its entrepreneurial and innovative edge. Unenlightened and hidebound management, slipping standards, penny pinching accompanied by pound foolishness, high turnover, and mistreatment of customers are often readily apparent to the rank and file.
Still, there are some common signs that companies are on the wrong course. Signs I’ve always felt were bellwethers of trouble include the following:
- Management takes expensive trips and confabs: Perhaps it’s a feel-good escape mechanism from having to do the real work of competing in the market.
- Top executives go on speaking tours to trumpet the success of their management styles: I remember how one CEO was a visible presence at every IT industry conference, talking incessantly about how his company dis-intermediated this and that market with its world-changing new business model. The company flamed out and went under in the meantime.
- There are memos aplenty about cutting back on office supplies and styrofoam cup usage in the employee kitchen: A lot of time and energy gets spent rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, instead of everyone pulling together to avoid the iceberg.
In his latest book, Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition, legendary tech entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki provided a checklist called the GBTA, or Guy’s Bozo Aptitude Test, to rate a company’s slide down the slippery slope. Here’s a sampling of some leading indicators:
- The two most popular words in your company are “‘partner’ and ’strategic’”
- Your CEO’s “admin has an admin”
- Your company “hired a retired professional athlete as a motivational speaker”
- Your company “hired a retired politician as a motivational speaker”
- Your CEO’s chair is “more expensive than your first car”
- Your company has “created a ‘company values’ poster”
- The phrases “‘leveraging our competencies’ and ‘maximizing our shareholder value’ show up in official documents in the same paragraph”
- Your company hires “big-name consulting firm that brings in 25-year-old MBAs with one year of experience to rethink your corporate strategy”
Knowing when your company needs to refresh its entrepreneurial values is smart business, because slipping into a bureaucratic mindset — without checks on executive hubris — leads to calcification and decline. And who wants to work in an environment like that? Knowing there is a problem is the first step toward addressing the problem.