Once hailed as the ‘new, new thing’ in the online publishing world, Twitter co-founder Evan William’s company Medium just announced that it’s laying off a third of its staff …wait for it…’in pursuit of its vision’.
What just happened? What happened is that Medium (like so many other vaguely tech-oriented startups) has completely failed in establishing the only vision that counts for any startup, in any industry: To find – as soon as humanly possible – a profitable, sustainable market. Surfing on advertising revenue isn’t that. At some point, there has to be a market for the actual thing you’re producing, in and of itself. Just ask Evan William’s co-Founder at Twitter, Jack Dorsey.
Startups are fun (I know, I’ve been involved in over 40 of them). There’s a lot to be commended in many aspects of startup culture. But from the moment of its inception, there’s only one strategy that counts for a startup: stop being one. Otherwise you die.
(Accelerate out of the start-up phase with a one-day workshop. Learn More.)
As we kick off the new year, it’s a perfect time to be sure your focus is where you want it to be – on growing your business. And while it may seem like you’re doing all of the right things, how can you be sure?
Here’s a quick and easy way to find out.
1. Print out this PDF, which contains the graphic below. 2. Get a colored sharpie – red is good.
3. For each significant action you complete at work, make a dot at the place that best represents that task on the two axes.
4. Look at the sheet after one week. What does it tell you?
Achieving and celebrating success is an important – and hugely enjoyable – part of business.
Whether it’s a quiet drink with a few colleagues to mark a successful product launch, or a black-tie gala award ceremony with prizes, accolades and speeches, there’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve achieved something worth celebrating.
Success also has its dark side. Companies like RIM, Nokia, Zynga, Kodak and MySpace (and many, many others) were once at the very peak of their respective industries, only to fall from grace – and, in some cases, disappear completely.
The reasons why once-high-flying companies crash and burn are, of course, many and varied. But in my own career, first as a serial entrepreneur, then as an advisor to others, I’ve witnessed (and been personally guilty of) an ultimately destructive pattern that often sets in when a business begins to achieve substantial success. It’s a pattern that rots the business from the inside, stalling its growth at best, and at worst, killing it completely.
Here are the painful lessons I’ve learned about how to avoid the curse of success:
1. Don’t believe your own PR.
Successful companies get feted. Media outlets take notice – first local, then regional and eventually, national. Stories get written, founders get interviewed. Plaudits start arriving. Myths and legends are hatched.
And somewhere around the third or fourth award ceremony (or press story, or request to come speak at this event or that), what started as a healthy, justified sense of pride begins to curdle into a seeping sense of rightness – a sense that, yes, we are all that and more. That we do have some secret sauce, unknown to others. That – most dangerously – we can, and will, succeed at just about anything we put our minds to.
Just remember: Unless you are, literally, manufacturing sauce, you don’t have a secret sauce – at least not one that will protect you and your business from failure. Don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.
2. Move the finish line.
Most of the time, business suffers from the fact that there are very few opportunities to spike the ball. Unlike sports, say, we don’t win individual games, let alone tournaments or seasons – it’s just one long, constant slog.
So when we achieve (and celebrate) consistent success, it’s tempting to believe that we’ve reached some sort of a finish line, even if it’s only a temporary one.
My advice (painfully learned)? Don’t let up. Celebrate, and the next day move the finish line forward – as far forward as you can. In business, there’s no room for resting on laurels.
Along with your well-deserved success, you’re going to get a lot of attention. Invitations will arrive to coach people, speak at events, write blog posts, give interviews. It sounds lovely, and frankly, it is. Succumb to it, however, and you’ll set your company’s growth back two or three years.
Be ruthless. Indulge a little – maybe a day a month – in such activities, but prioritize and turn most of them away. You have a business to run.
Oh, and if you’re buying the argument that you doing all the extra-curricular stuff “is good for the business because of the associated PR”? Go back and read the first point above…
4. Find fresh eyes.
During down times, it’s natural to turn to someone else for guidance and help – a mentor, or a consultant, for example. Here’s my experience: it’s even more important to do so when you’re scaling the heights of sustained success.
You wouldn’t try to climb Everest without a sherpa. Find someone to help you navigate the new success environment you’ve deservedly found yourself in.
5. Put in the work.
This is painful to say, but it’s unavoidably true – most businesses I’ve watched fall from grace after initial success have done so because of one simple fact: The business leader stopped putting in the work.
There’s something about not-yet-realized success that makes us work like crazy. Fear of failure (or even just fear of mediocrity) drives us to achieve.
For some leaders (not all), the arrival of success drains that fear, or numbs it somewhat. And that’s okay – I’m all for draining fear – just make sure it doesn’t result in you not putting in the work.
Congratulations on your well-deserved success – and may you follow it up with more.
As business leaders, we’re all constantly on the lookout for new ways to scale our businesses – new books, new ideas, new processes – anything that will give us an edge and bring sustainability as we grow.
Here are three concepts that we at Predictable Success have worked with extensively this year, with substantial impact for both our clients and our own organization.
This first growth concept comes with the added benefit of sounding cool. ‘Tori’ is the plural of ‘torus’…and if you are none the wiser, a torus is essentially the shape of a doughnut. (I guess ‘Dunkin’ Tori’ didn’t have quite the same ring.)
Why do you care? Well, start by picturing your company not as a classic ‘command-and-control’ org chart, with boxes and lines, but as a set of nesting tori (think of the concentric circles at the bullseye of a dartboard):
Torus One is your most senior executive team, and it sits right at the center.
Torus Two is your ‘middle manager’ group – it forms the ‘second ring’.
Torus Three comprises your team leaders, shift leaders and project leaders, etc. It forms the outer ring of the bullseye.
Here’s what we’ve found: Building and communicating strategy in and out of concentric tori is more organic, breeds better quality discussions, unlocks more delegation, and instills greater accountability than communicating up and down a command and control org chart.
Why? We’re still working that out. The feedback we are getting is that folks find it more inclusive, more organic, and less ‘top-down’ than org-chart-based communications.
One of the key aspects of high performance in almost any field of achievement is pace. Think of any great musician, great sportsperson, great performer – even great comedians – and you’ll instantly recognize the degree to which pace and cadence play a vital role in their success.
The role of cadence in business success is equally important, just not as visible. Here are just some of the areas in which we’ve had great success in simply changing cadences up (or down):
Scheduled meetings –
Most structured meeting have a cadence ‘sweet spot’ – daily, weekly, monthly, etc. But often we either never find that sweet spot or, if we do, circumstances change and render the existing cadence clunky.
Internal meeting structure –
As far as internal cadence is concerned, most scheduled meetings have a start time and an end time, and that’s it. We’re achieving great productivity gains in scheduling start and stop times for each major agenda item. (This is part of our highly acclaimed ‘4D Process’, which you can find more about here.)
Pop-ins, and one-shot communications –
There’s a ton of research that shows how costly dealing with ‘one-hit’ interruptions is to our productivity. One study estimates it can consume up to six hours a day.
We’re seeing real productivity gains by instituting scheduled ‘mop-up’ meetings, whereby an Internal Customer Pair set a regular cadence (usually weekly) to ‘mop-up all the previous week’s one-hit-wonders’ in one go, together, leaving interruptions only for genuine emergencies. Hint: you’ll be surprised to discover how few of those there really are! (Find out more about the power of Internal Customer Pairs here.)
Systems and processes are great. Seriously. If you know anything about us here at Predictable Success, you’ll know that the core of our business growth model predicates the use of systems and processes to achieve sustainable scalability.
Used too clinically, however, systems and processes will at the least slow your growth, and at worst, push your business toward Treadmill, and into decline.
Want to ensure that your folks use your systems and processes consistently but flexibly? Consider the use of protocols. What do we mean by protocols? Well, in this context, we define it like this: “A protocol is an overarching guideline for optimal use of a specific system or process.”
So, for example, you may have an accounting system that ensures your accounts receivables (A/R) are updated and a report is run on the last Thursday of the month. But you might benefit from a protocol that prompts the immediate production of the A/R should your cash on hand drop to less than x weeks operation burn rate.
Or you may have a scheduling process that people adhere to if they want to get a meeting with the CEO; but you may well benefit from a protocol that allows each VP a once-per-month ability to access the CEO’s calendar directly for a one-on-one at their request.
Think about your key systems and processes – which of them would benefit from one or more associated protocols?
Culture, employee engagement, ownership and accountability all address the same core issue: “To what degree will my people give their discretionary effort to help push this business forward?” Even your most engaged employees can lose their enthusiasm in the face of fast growth and increased complexity. Discover why and what to do about it in this ebook.
Are you leading a complex business and feel that something’s not as it was or should be?
Perhaps you don’t have the same control you once had. People are dropping the ball more frequently, infighting is occurring and silos are forming. Not only has engagement dipped, it’s just not as fun anymore.
If you’re there, a stage we call Whitewater, then there are a series of very specific steps you need to take to fix that. If you walk through those steps in that order, I guarantee you’ll right the ship faster than any other initiatives you can put in place could.
Why It Can’t Wait
Leading a complex, growing business is like flying a plane with broken landing gear. If only you could land the plane, you could fix the problem. But you can’t. You have to fix it mid-flight. You have to find a way to manage the day-to-day of the business whilst tackling your major complexity issues.
Unfortunately many senior leadership teams try to solve the problems through trial and error, busywork or simply focusing on the symptoms rather than the root causes.
Here are the six myths I hear senior leaders tell themselves every day to put off doing the hard work of getting out of Whitewater. 1. We’re going through a major restructure.
And you know what, at the end of it not only will your people be miffed by the new reporting lines, they’ll also start to lose faith in your ability as a senior team to focus on the core of your problem.
Restructures are often part of the solution, but on their own they are insufficient. Also, you’re almost definitely doing it wrong.
2. We’re likely to have some executive turnover in the next few months.
You think that somehow after this round of turnover you’ll be settled? Of course you won’t. Managing the ingress and egress of executive team members is a regularly occurring part of leading a business.
Rather than let new executives dictate to you how to fix your problems, it’s much better to set the plan and mandate that new executives be part of that plan.
3. We’ve just launched a new strategic initiative.
You’re managing a complex business and you’ve introduced a new strategic initiative? What’s the likely net effect of that on your complexity? Of course it’ll only add more. Adding complexity to complexity won’t solve your problems.
4. We just need to realign our people and get them re-engaged.
While team-building events may offer a much-needed motivational shot in the arm, the enthusiasm won’t last. Why? Because the underlying issues that led to friction and strife still remain unaddressed.
5. I want to give my people the chance to work this out on their own.
This is one of the few times when you don’t want to create a leadership vacuum. You need to take this by the horns and wrestle it to the ground.
6. Now’s just not the right time – we’re looking to start next quarter.
This is essentially the same thing as someone repeatedly saying they’ll start their diet tomorrow. The more you say it, the more you know that it just isn’t going to happen.
Look, there is never a good time to tackle the challenges of complexity in your business. That’s why now is PRECISELY the ONLY time to start.
Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving this week or are just in need of a good read, we hope you will enjoy this humorous but powerful business tip from the past.
By Les McKeown, CEO of Predictable Success
I’ve been reliably informed by a friend that I can expect to eat some turducken with him and his family this Thanksgiving. From his reaction to my ‘huh?’, it would appear that I’m the only person in Western civilization not to have heard of this… um… treat.
I’ll wait until I’ve sampled the thing itself before passing judgment on it as food. But as it was being explained to me, I was immediately struck by how closely the basic concept (a chicken stuffed inside a duck, stuffed inside a turkey) matched one of the most common barriers to business growth. It’s one I’d never had a name for previously, but which will now forever be called (by me at least) “The Turducken Construct”.
What It Looks Like.
It occurs most often in service companies, though I’ve seen it in manufacturing businesses, too. What happens is that the original, core business offering gets wrapped up in (or stuffed into) other offerings, sometimes in many layers, with the business eventually losing the uniqueness – the ‘taste’, if you will – that set it apart in the first place.
A highly innovative web design agency bows to client pressure to do site maintenance. Before you know it, it’s offering coding as a service, then hosting, then domain registrations. The uniqueness that was the web design is lost: Turducken.
A lightning-sharp distributor offers warehousing services, then inventory control, then fulfillment services. With each addition, everything gets clunky and less good: Turducken.
A world-class business coach adds some seminars, then workshops, then starts selling products. The coaching clients now rarely have her attention they way they used to: Turducken.
What’s the difference between plotting strategic line extensions and ending up with turducken? Two-and-a-half things: Brilliance + (Focus times 2). First, Brilliance.
Average businesses benefit from line extension (see Microsoft, who usually gets line extension right, eventually). Brilliant businesses – I mean truly brilliant businesses – are weakened by it (see Google, who doesn’t).
Second, Your Focus.
Most businesses do a terrible job of keeping strategic line extensions separate and focused. They almost always end up stuffing them together until they blend into one bland meat-like substitute. Look at most companies in the communications industry like Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile: their product offerings are pure turducken.
In contrast, look at Apple’s ability to keep their three main product areas pretty much separately focused. Even though you can see all three in any of their stores, nobody’s trying to sell you a turducken – if you go in for your iPad, that’s what you’ll come out with.
Second-and-a-Half, Your Customer’s Focus.
If your product or service offering is a bland mash-up of stuff you gradually got sucked in to, what does the customer focus on? What does the customer see of you? Not your once white-hot center of brilliance, you can be sure – increasingly, they’re looking at turducken.
Get back to being brilliant. Kill the turducken.
As you’re no doubt aware, Twitter’s future is at stake. Having put out a ‘please buy me’ sign and had no takers, once golden-boy CEO Jack Dorsey has announced that the company will lay off 9% of its workforce and shutter (or sell off) its once-lauded video platform, Vine.
How did Twitter, one of the foundational pillars of social media, fall so far from grace?
While Facebook – once derided by Twitter users as a frothy upstart – now has over 1bn daily active users, and revenue of over $17bn (compared to Twitter’s 320m users and around $2bn in revenue)?
The Curse Behind Twitter’s Decline
Interestingly, the genesis of Twitter’s demise goes way back to its very earliest days, when it was run by the current CEO, Jack Dorsey, together with his co-Founder, Evan Williams. (The third ‘founder’, Biz Stone, wasn’t active in day-to-day management.),/p>
From that moment on, Twitter has suffered the curse of co-CEOs: competing vision. Put simply, a company cannot survive with competing visions at the top, and Twitter’s entire history has been a succession of competing visions.
First it was Dorsey and Williams (Dorsey ‘won’, and Williams was forced out). Then it was Dorsey and Dick Costolo (William’s replacement). Again, Dorsey ‘won’, with Costolo leaving in mid-2015 and Dorsey being hired back by the board as CEO for the third time.
By now, Twitter surely deserved (and desperately needed) all of Mr. Dorsey’s attention and vision, but incredibly, the board allowed Dorsey to also remain active CEO of Square, his other start-up.
In an amazing act of hubris on Mr. Dorsey’s part, and stupefying denial on the part of the board, the company was relegated to being a ‘side gig’ for its CEO.
The Consequences to Come
The lesson? You can’t spend your energies fighting competing internal visions and hope to survive – just ask RIM and Yahoo shareholders, both of whom saw their companies crippled forever by early competing vision.
And for poor, unloved Twitter – what happens next? Watch for either a mercy sale (someone buys it for next to nothing and turns it into a ‘feature’ of some other product or service), or a quiet transition from product to ‘public service’ a la Netscape/Firefox. It sure ain’t going anywhere else.
Can your whole life as a leader be described in a diagram? Apparently so, says Carey Nieuwhof.
A top-rated leadership podcaster, best-selling author and speaker to church leaders around the world, Carey is extremely knowledgeable about strategies for guiding mission-based organizations.
But after reading Predictable Success, he confides he wasn’t prepared for how perfectly it explains the frustration, hope and organizational life that every leader experiences.
Carey recently interviewed Les McKeown about the shared struggles that businesses and churches face – from the challenges of fast growth to the dangers of rampant bureaucracy.
Listen as they discuss the power that a shared leadership vocabulary can bring, and how teaching it will drain tensions from within your team. And discover the vital lessons everyone can learn from Google, Microsoft, Blackberry and more.
While successfully managing a team, department or division requires talent and know-how, there’s a new level of complexity that arises at the executive team level. Changes in focus and perspective are required that aren’t always easy to achieve.
How can you be sure that each member of your senior team understands this and is on the same page? The checklist below will show you how. Share it with your team today.