The Three Silent Killers That Could Destroy Your Business Tomorrow
A version of this article appeared at Inc.com
I don’t know which twisted individual it was who first discovered that if you put a frog in lukewarm water, then turn the heat up one degree at a time, the poor frog will quietly boil to death (or even if it’s true), but it provides a sharp mental picture of how many businesses die.
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of walking over the metaphorical ruins of many businesses – previously vibrant, profitable, and growing – which simply expired over time without anyone seeming to know precisely why, or how, it happened.
While every business’s story is different, I have noticed three recurring, silent killers that can lure a founder/owner or business leader first into numb complacency, then, just like a frog in slowly boiling water, into eventual demise:
Marshall Goldsmith said it all in the title of his excellent book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” – even the most successful executive (especially the most successful executive) doesn’t necessarily have the precise skills today for the challenges of tomorrow.
When was the last time you had a massive change of mind about a fundamental way in which you do business? When was the last time a coach or a mentor so challenged you about your management and leadership skills that you lost sleep? When did you last scrap a much-loved process, or system, or meeting, or process because its time had passed? When was the last occasion when someone told you you were flat-out wrong about something important – and they were right?
If the answer to any of these is ‘So long ago I can’t remember‘, then chances are you’re resting on the laurels of past success. Can you hear the water simmer?
Business is hard. As my mother used to tell me, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” Problem is, success often leads us to forget this fact, and, convinced we’ve found the ‘magic formula’, we start to operate on autopilot.
Then, before you know it, an 800-lb gorilla wanders out of left field and all our best-laid plans disappear instantly.
Business is hard, and that means as successful business owners, we need to not just work hard, but to think hard – about everything. Many of the business owners I’ve met who had their long-nurtured, successful businesses disappear from under their noses did so simply because they didn’t think hard enough, or long enough about what, and where, and by whom their business could be threatened.
If you can hear the water reach a low boil as you read this, try using the PESTLE framework to re-ignite your ‘hard thinking’.
Of all the silent killers, this is the hardest to watch: A business leader reaches a level of success that attracts more and more opportunity for them, to the extent that their activity levels become so high, that instead of doing one thing well, they’re now doing multiple things poorly.
It’s particularly painful to watch for two reasons: First, it happens from the best of motives – Joanne is an incredibly effective leader, so she gets asked to do many things (speak at conferences, sit on boards, champion projects), and her sense of wanting to give back means it’s hard for her to refuse; secondly, it’s hard for the individual concerned to see what happens next – her level of performance drops as she simply cannot be fully present, fully involved, fully focused on all she now has on her plate.
And so, inevitably, the water begins to simmer, then boil, as Joanne loses her edge, drops the ball, misses important facts…
Woody Allen said 95% of success is showing up. What he meant, of course (which is apparent if you know anything of his career), is showing up in every sense of the word – physically, yes, but also mentally and emotionally.
If you’ve become habitually late for meetings (or habitually have to leave early); if you never have time to read the background data on an important decision; if you constantly find yourself telling people to ‘get to the point’, then you’re not showing up. Not in any sense that matters.
Can you feel the water boiling?