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2012 Leading in the Face of the End of the World
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The End is Nigh

For some time now, every morning, you’ve been walking down the same block to your office. He’s there every day. The man with the sandwich board proclaiming “the end is nigh”. You never give him a second glance, you figure he’s entitled to his point of view. Then one day, as you are passing by, he leans closer to you, looks you right in the eye and says “Next year is 2012 – the year the world ends.” All of a sudden you take note and you start to wonder if predictions made centuries ago could actually come true.

Could 2012 actually mark the end of the world?

After a brief moment, you regain your senses. However, you realize something right there and then. If this were the last year of the earth, what would you do with your time to ensure you felt like you had truly accomplished something? As a leader in your organization, you start to think of all the things you have talked about over the years, with your senior team and your employees, but haven’t made much progress on. You start to feel concerned that you have not put your time to good use and that, had you acted sooner, your organization could be in a much more advantageous position.

You make a decision on the spot. You will take this moment of enlightenment to heart, and lead as though this is your last chance. The clock is ticking, and it is all or nothing. It is time to truly put fear aside, and make the changes you know must be made – swiftly and unapologetically. This is your one shot, and you must use this artificial deadline to rally your organization, and its leaders at all levels, to stop talking, and start acting.

Your organization has already spent too much time being:
  • Too scared – to look further into the future
  • Too scared – to make real decisions
  • Too scared – to deal with people issues
  • Too scared – to close the numerous operational gaps

You turn to the man with the sign, thank him, and empty the change from your pocket into his cap. You see the potential for your organization, and you know this initial kick can help revitalize you for the long term. You know the world will not come to an end in 2012, but you also know that if you don’t make some real changes to your organization this year, your organization’s end may not be too far off.

Here are 10 ideas on how to lead your organization as though 2012 was truly the end of the world.

1. Fire the Deadwood

Strive to have the best team possible by the end of 2012.

Now is the time to effectively deal with your underperformers. Too many organizations have a cohort of employees who they know are not the right fit, do not have the right attitude and, certainly, do not achieve the right level of performance. You owe it to your high performers to deal with these employees. They are the worst time hogs for your management teams, they decrease the overall level of motivation and, ultimately, they lower the bar of achievement organization wide. Failing to deal with them will likely result in the departure of your best employees, if not now, eventually. As quickly as possible, you must objectively rate your talent across the organization, identify the underperformers, and take the necessary steps. Sure, the severance costs may be high, but the improved efficiency of your remaining staff, and the addition of higher caliber talent to backfill the vacated positions, will recoup the costs in no time. For too long, excuses have dominated the conversation, and now it is time to act.

2. Kill the Lousy Products

Focus your energy on what your organization does best.

Sacred cows make the best hamburgers. If your product offerings are too bloated, the diversification may be hampering your organization’s ability to focus, and spend time and effort on your best products. Every year, your senior team undoubtedly reviews the sales performance of each and every product and service you offer. Without fail, the low performers are vigorously defended by the executives that sponsor them, even though the sales figures are unacceptable year after year. It is time to change this. Great organizations are able to focus on a few key products and services, and understand the underperformers are taking away from the potential success of the organization overall. By cutting the underperforming products or services, you accomplish two things. First, all of the baggage and ill will associated with them dragging the company down goes away. Secondly, this new capacity can be redirected to higher performing products, or, if warranted, to the development and delivery of new products and services that can reinvigorate your organization and its bottom line.

3. Unleash your Wicked Strategy

Make a profound change in how your organization fits in your industry.

Market conditions were not ideal, the risk of failure was paralyzing. Now, with the uncertainly of existence as an option, perhaps it is time to crack open that bold new strategic plan. You know - the one that is aspirational, that can truly rally the employee base, and rocks your competition back onto their heels. If ever there was a time to do what you know is right, despite the perceived odds, now is that time. The iterative nature of your current strategy is likely causing some stagnation, and may potentially lead to the flight of your best employees and customers alike. It is time to rekindle the fire within your organization. If you think back to when the company was formed, it was likely built on this sort of passion and excitement. It likely destabilized your industry to some extent. Why not try that approach again? Organizations that have a profound impact on their industry create their own future, attract the right kind of talent and investors, and are more likely to succeed in a sea of the slow and steady. While the level of risk and uncertainly skyrockets, if successful, the results can be spectacular.

4. Be Candid and Transparent.

Cut through the politics, half-truths and outright lies.

There is little or no point hiding ideas and information from your employee population. What could possibly be worth hiding or spinning, when the biggest reality on the table is the likely end of the world? Therefore, it is a great time to say what truly needs to be said. Whether it deals with talent issues, product issues, culture issues or customer issues, why not truly confront your reality, and make sure everyone in the organization has a clear, unbiased view of the situation. Think of how refreshing that would be. Think of how much faster the organization could move, if less time was spent filtering information, and more time was spent on making better decisions and solving problems. Great organizations rely on the speedy flow of information throughout the company. Therefore, encourage this behavior at all levels. While the information that bubbles to the surface may not be pretty, it is factual, and can help the organization make better decisions and, ultimately, be more successful.

5. Promote the “Real” Superstars

It’s time for a change of the guard – and your potential to succeed.

With the potential of only months left in our existence, do you really have time to only promote your most tenured employees? Why not identify your true superstars, and give them the opportunity to have a profound impact on the organization? These people, the ones who truly outperform in every aspect of what they do, and who are able to see the future in a way that other long-entrenched employees may not, are certainly worth giving the spotlight to. Be clear on your true high performers and do not confuse loyalty and tenure with potential. Great organizations create thriving meritocracies that allow top talent to rise into positions of influence, as long as they continue to deliver. This constant flow of great people to points of impact within the organization ensures a greater level of success and long-term health.

6. Reward Performance

Understand the difference between outcomes and outputs.

Fair certainly does not mean equal. With the finish line on the horizon, there is a great opportunity to disproportionately reward those who truly demonstrate consistent, above average performance. These people have likely been given the extra work left behind by their underperforming peers, have worked tirelessly to achieve unreachable goals (and have succeeded), and have maintained a positive, collaborative mindset throughout. Now is the time to differentiate, for their benefit. Ensure they know their dedication has not gone unnoticed, and that their performance is what has allowed the company to enjoy the success it has come to know. Great organizations understand that differentiation in the amount of recognition and reward employees receive will help build a culture that is engaged, and is willing to invest their discretionary effort accordingly.

7. Be the Leader you Dream Of

In these uncertain times, the world needs more leaders.

The business book industry is a multibillion dollar industry. There is no shortage of books espousing the traits of great leaders. Now is the time to put the book down and actually do as it says. Don’t be bashful, becoming a leader is a messy process. As long as your actions and results are credible and authentic, your followers will continue to support you. Therefore, call a Town Hall, or a team meeting, to energize and reassure your people, whether you are in tough times or not. Let them know your sole purpose, going forward, is to provide them with “winning conditions”. Take time to personalize your approach to each and every employee you come in contact with, and inspire them to become the best employee possible. When they do, be sure to recognize them, and then encourage them to become leaders in their own right. Regardless of the times, there is and always will be a shortage of great leaders. You can make great things happen if you truly understand what leadership means, and then transfer this understanding to those around you.

8. Shutter Your R&D Process

Embrace your customers as co-developers.

Long lead times and trial runs are just not an option, given the predictions for 2012. Therefore, something profound must happen within your organization with respect to how products and services go to market. For starters, there must be a willingness to launch a new product or service, in as timely a manner as possible, knowing that it is not quite done. This must be accompanied by a desire to have consumers or end users provide feedback on how to improve it. This way, your organization can accomplish two things – in the first place, you can take pride in knowing that your products will get first mover advantage, and you will be directing consumers to your organization, and away from your competitors. Secondly, you can develop deeper relationships with a far more broadly based group of consumers whom you can continue to use to refine your products and services. Research and development departments are significantly less effective than they were just a few short years ago. Great organizations understand that consumer demands are greatly outpacing the traditional ability to meet them. Therefore, with a compressed timeframe, relinquish part of the control to those who you are trying to connect with in the first place.

9. Find the Right Balance

Your organization must treat their employees like people.

With the perspective of only a few months lying ahead of us, it is important to keep your employees engaged for as long as possible. As technology has become pervasive, there has been a revolt from a large portion of the workforce within many organizations towards a better work-life balance. Regardless of the amount of time one has in the work week, there must be an appropriate balance between work responsibilities and one’s personal time. If the balance tips too far towards work, productivity decreases, creativity declines, and fatigue sets in. Great organizations understand that there must be a healthy blend between work and life activities, allowing employees to function effectively in both aspects of their lives. Gone are the days of preset work hours, and expected endless stretches of overtime. The key is to focus on the achievements of your employees. As long as they meet their objectives, on time, at the expected level of quality, there should be no expectation of when or where the work gets done.

10. Take the Day Off

Your job is what you do, not who you are.

If the predictions ring true, and sometime between December 20 and 23, 2012 the world comes to an end, take the day off. And let your employees take the day off as well. There is no sense preparing a report for a day that will never be. Nor is there any point having your employees by your side when your family is vastly more important. The key here is to understand that having a strong sense of who you are will give meaning to what you do and how you do it. Authentic leaders connect with their people at a far more personal level and understand the value of these connections and experiences. They also understand that by honing a skill, hobby or general interest outside of work, you can apply the passion, dedication, challenge, and support to everything you do inside the workplace. By stressing this point to your employees, your organization can reap the benefits of a far more cohesive and collectively inspired culture, through which you can face any challenge or obstacle.
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