Your Creativity vs the Corporate Life Cycle – Part 3

(See also Part 1 and Part 2 of this series)

Stage Four – The company is in a long term decline

The only reason a creative person should be joining a company in a long term decline is if he or she is being hired to turn the situation around. It is a noble goal, but a successful conclusion is unlikely for the following six reasons.

1. The company is in a decline because management is unable to deal with change.
2. Management and the Board of Directors are afraid of anything they don’t understand.
3. Management has probably made some major mistakes which they are not willing to discuss with you.
4. They are in a constant state of indecision and rarely follow through on decisions made or promises made.
5. They will want you to make things better without changing any of the corporate customs, upsetting secret agreements, and you must absolutely not upset anyone anywhere in the process of getting things squared around.
6. The finally and most damning point, they probably pay more attention to rumors than they do to actual pro-survival activities.

There are more reasons and some of you can rattle them off without notes, but I think these cover the primary obstacles that a creative person will face in a declining company.

In most companies, a creative person will stand out and may become the butt of envious comments from those who feel threatened. In this company, you as a creative person will post a threat to management just by being there because if you do your job, all of their mistakes will eventually be uncovered. The only people who welcome your presence will not be in a position to support you when rumors start flying.

Here is one scenario: You are hired as top management and the Board show great signs of relief that you are on board to save them from their past follies.

After meeting with enough key employees to get a sense of the emergencies that must be addressed immediately, you call a meeting of the employees and you outline a sensible set of steps to give them workable targets for improving conditions in the next 90 days. The employees are enthusiastic and you start getting positive feedback from customers in a relatively short time.

About the third week, one of the Board Members sidles into your office and hesitantly suggests that you are moving too fast. This is when you realize that you missed something in the job

The "moving too fast" comment may be accompanied by a request that this
kind of action should have been discussed by the Board before you made
any changes.

When you point out that you ran the program by the Board in an earlier meeting and everyone was in favor, you will get the first sense that your actions have run afoul of some unspoken agreement which you were not privy to. You will probably win the day because you have the facts, but you are already on the slippery slope to dismissal.

If you are optimistic enough to think you can revive this moribund organization, you will probably shrug off the fearful nuances that are being suggested and you will continue to make headway and bring in more business and watch staff morale rise week by week.

Somewhere in all of this activity, you will probably catch someone in a lie or step on somebody’s toes. You may be totally unaware of it and continue on your path of reviving the organization.

You have lit a fuse that will travel all through the rumor network and it will finally come back as an indictment that "people don’t like your management style." When you ask who are these "people", you will be unable to get an answer because it is "confidential".

If you have been operating with your cards on the table, you can make the point that you are totally willing to address any problem, but you will find that the "people" who don’t like your management style will never be named.

If you continue to push expansion and clear up backlogs, you will also uncover mistakes that have been made by top management and this will be seen as a threat no matter how tactfully you present it.

You may decide to stick it out for the benefit of the staff who are working to keep things going and for the customers, but eventually you will depart for healthier environments. Those who hired you will heave a sigh of relief. So will you.

Am I saying that you shouldn’t accept the challenge of turning a company around? Of course not! I have personally been involved in more than one of these situations and they are a great challenge and I made a lot of friends in the process. But I have to admit, in every one of these declining companies, there was a basic misunderstanding of the economics of the business on the part of top management and this was a formidable barrier to reviving the company.

In two companies I worked for, the owners seemed to think that checks in the checkbook equaled money in the bank. In others, the vital actions required to generate operating funds were ignored in favor of micro-managing staff.

If you can find the basic organizational flaw that put the company in a long term decline and you are in a position to do something about that flaw, you have a chance to turn the company around. Otherwise, Don Quixote, you are in for a wonderful time tilting at windmills.

In most cases, a creative person will find more satisfying challenges in a startup company or one in Stage Two than a company at Stage Three of Four.

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0 Responses to Your Creativity vs the Corporate Life Cycle – Part 3

  1. Oy! This is an exact description of my current job. Scary.

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