Rx for a Healthy Company

Dec. 21, 2004
Watch out for common, but deadly, diseases

Some well-meaning but tunnel-visioned chief executives tend to treat every company sneeze with radiation therapy, every scrape with amputation, and every nervous twitch with reconstructive surgery. Every new CEO who takes on a company, ailing or not, wants to prescribe his or her personal kind of medicine. As a result, many of these companies die prematurely. Practicing voodoo medicine will never be a good substitute for fiscal fitness. And fiscal fitness does not come from applying bandages to broken limbs. It is the result of good regimen, a sensible diet, and plenty of heart-stimulating, aerobic exercise--not for the company but for the company's top management. Most sick companies will recover nicely with simple tender loving care. I recommend heart-to-heart inspiration . . . mouth-to-ear communication . . . eyeball-to-eyeball participation . . . strategically applied mind-to-mind motivation . . . and, in a few special instances, some foot-to-butt applications. There are at least six sinister diseases that, if ignored, will usually kill off a company: Hyper-assidity: A disorder of the lower bowel usually caused by mule-like insistence on producing products you want to sell instead of products your customers want to buy. Rum-addict fever: A disorienting fatigue, usually transmitted from barfly managements to vulnerable employees. Tricky-nosis: A dizziness caused by overindulgence in exaggerations and distortions when communicating with employees. Posterior thrombosis: A massive growth caused by too much pressure on the seat of the pants from sitting behind desks, and too little exercise on the balls of the feet from failing to call on your customers regularly. Close-trophobia: A fear of small places that most commonly affects vital organs like the brain, the eyes, the ears, and the heart. Rumor-tism: An ear infection usually picked up in restrooms or from water coolers. Companies have life cycles, just like people, products, and chief executives. Whether a company dies aborning or lives in perpetuity is largely dependent on the wisdom and talent of its constantly changing leadership. The average length of a chief executive's tenure is only five or six years. So, one might logically conclude that a company's longevity is "at risk" each time a change is made at the top. There are four distinct phases in every established company's life cycle: (1) birth and development, (2) growth, (3) maturity, and (4) decline. The actual time span for each phase depends on a number of factors, including: Changes and trends in the industry, and management's ability to adapt to them. The ability to know and understand the changing needs and wants of customers. The ability to keep from being blindsided by a new technology. The ability to avoid life-shortening labor/management damage. The ability to attract top-notch talent in its core business. The wisdom to take risk opportunities with better-than-adequate financial resources, well-explored risk analyses, and competent, experienced people. Glorious failures far exceed glorious successes. More companies die from giving birth to ill-conceived brainchildren than from any other cause. Avoid practicing your own brand of medicine. Don't let your desire to leave your personal stamp on a company be the cause of its demise.

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