Impediments to Success

I was skiing recently with Brian Rabon, President of The Braintrust Consulting Group.  Brian offers leadership training and coaching through the Center for Agile Leadership (CAL), and through that experience and his own participation in a large number of executive leadership training offerings he's had the opportunity to get to know a lot of executives at organizations of all shapes and sizes.

Brian and I were skiing at the gigantic Park City - Canyons ski area.  While riding the Quicksilver Gondola that links Canyons to Park City Mountain Resort we discussed our observations of impediments to success.  Here's a summary:

  1. Lack of trust.  When leaders don't trust others in the organization they put inordinate demands on them and require hours of non-productive efforts in the form of reports and meetings
  2. Inability to translate strategy to tactics.  Leaders spend their time and energy thinking of strategic goals for the company. Failure to create a clear connection between the work done by most in the company to the strategic goals means a significant portion of the company's resources will not contribute to realizing those goals.
  3. Failure to measure the right things.  This follows closely #2.  If the day-to-day activities are not explicitly tied to achieving the company's goals, and corresponding outcomes of those activities are not measured with respect to their contribution to achieving the goals, leaders have no means by which to assess progress and provide corresponding encouragement or correction.
  4. Inability to shift from doing things the way they were done in the past to a new way required to achieve even better results.  In many companies, getting to the $20-30MM annual sales level required a set of skills, knowledge, practices and tools that will not be sufficient (or efficient) to get the company to $50-75MM annual sales.  Leaders who achieve the early milestones fail to recognize the point at which a shift needs to occur with people, processes, tools, and measurements to allow the company to get to the next level.
A fellow skier was along with us for the ride on the gondola and sat quietly listening to our conversation.  At the end of the ride, as we were getting off the gondola, he spoke up and told us he enjoyed our conversation.  He identified himself as a forensic accountant who had seen many companies fail to achieve positive outcomes for their investors.  His job was to come in after an undesirable outcome and evaluate a range of contributing factors.  He said he agreed with our observations.

Just read this HBR article that relates to point #4 above.  One point made in the article is that:
"in order for a startup to successfully grow, it must be an institution that transcends any one individual. Founders who recognize this bring in partners whose skills complement their own. Together, the leadership team can build out the scaffolds to transition the venture from an organization that revolves around the founder to one that revolves around an independent company brand. We use the term “scaffolds” because the structures and processes that facilitate the scaling must be readily dismantled and rearranged. Otherwise, they are ill-suited to accommodating the firm’s rapidly changing needs."

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