In business as in life, bad ideas are ubiquitous. In life, we often get a chance to grow up, be forgiven, and learn from our mistakes, but bad ideas in business can be devastating and unrecoverable. So, when they begin to take root and start damaging morale, blocking innovation, and destroying value, you must recognize the warning signs before it’s too late and take steps to avoid the damage.
You say that you don’t have that many bad ideas; that they come from “others.” Then perhaps you should review some of the following common bad ideas and attitudes that can destroy your business:
1. Delegate upward: What is needed is more support from upper management. This attitude is a not so subtle way of delegating upward. Management is about planning and supporting core systems and processes. It does set priorities and maintains order but what is needed is more leadership at all levels. Leadership is about proactive alignment, vision, establishing ways of getting things done — usually within the direction of upper management — sometimes in spite of that direction.
2. Hold onto the past: Great companies are built to last. Just like in investing “past performance is NOT a predictor of future success.” Companies that aren’t growing and changing are dying, maybe slowly, but dying for sure. This doesn’t mean that all change is good, but regular re-examination of values and strategies is necessary to keep companies alive.
3. Tough love is best: Training, quality management, advertising, research and other optional budget areas should be temporarily suspended in tough times. A company is defined by how it deals with tough situations. Almost anyone can manage the good times, but quickly eliminating the feeding mechanisms show that some company values aren’t held that strongly. In reality, it’s during tough times when “in-reaching” through training and quality programs and out-reaching through advertising and research become most valuable in turning those tough times around.
4. Compromise values: There are exceptions to every rule. So it’s okay if a few high-performing individuals are not held to the same level of scrutiny as the rest of the employees. Company values are not “rules” to live by. The rules are based on those values. Rules can be broken, but that is done within the culture and according to the values of the company. Everyone has their own set of values, and maintaining respect for individuality is important. But, when individual values clash with company values, then individuals may have to be separated from the company to maintain corporate integrity.
5. Throw money at problems: People just need to be “incentivized.” Instead of treating people as animals to be coaxed or manipulated into doing good work, get to know and work with people as individuals, and discover what they value. Build jobs around their core commitments, and pay them for the value they create. Good people are more likely to stick around if you respect their values than because you provided extra cash to get what you want.
Avoid confrontation: Issues with your boss (or peers) should be minimized. Confrontation doesn’t have to be, well, confrontational. Make others aware of your concerns by calmly describing your issues and explaining the consequences of ignoring them. This is a great way of building a reputation for avoiding confrontations. Face it: Other people don’t see the world as you do. Engaging others in a discussion of viewpoints and initiating joint problem solving can be a way of getting others to come up with your ideas as if they were their own. You just might see a little better where their values have shaped their viewpoints too to avoid bad idea No. 4.
7. Rely on the experts: Follow the consultant’s recommendations, or worse, what the current magazine article outlines. The problem here is that most consultants, books, and articles provide solutions that don’t account for any specifics of your situation or your company. Theory is a good place to start but it’s not practical or tactical. You need help getting from where you are to where you need to go, and both are most probably unique to your circumstances. It’s good to ask the experts, just don’t rely solely on their advice.
8. Insert technology: Technology is the solution to streamlining processes, cost-cutting, creating competitive advantage, automating production, avoiding waste, etc. Technology is a means to a end, not the end itself. Streamlining is something that most companies can do much more of, but streamlining won’t help if what you are currently doing isn’t the right thing to be doing. Technology insertion for competitive advantage first requires market research, price benchmarking, and establishing a value proposition that’s good for customers and for the company. Then technology may help deliver that value.
9. Try, Try, Again: If we just try harder, it will work this time. Redoubling your efforts, now that you have learned your lessons is usually a formula for failure. Working harder and expecting a reward can set you up for false expectations. However, sometimes when you’re faced with a “no way” response, the best approach is to take the thing to a higher level to find “the way.” But, usually, this success involves changing the equation. Just trying the same thing isn’t insanity, but it can waste a lot of emotions and resources. When it’s those sunk costs that keep you holding on, trying to reach that return on your investment, ask yourself what you’d do if you didn’t have those sunk costs? If your answer is different, then the difference is an indication of a better approach. Working smarter is a better idea.
10. Return to your roots: Focus on what made us successful in the first place. Like bad idea No. 2, returning to the past isn’t much better than holding onto it. You’ve heard that, “You can’t go home again.” Without reinventing itself every few years a company will commit to a roadmap that leads to a dead end (just ask Blockbuster). The customer has experienced that value and wants something more. Either you provide it or someone else will!
These ten bad ideas (and more) are probably running rampant in your company and must be identified, evaluated, and replaced with better ideas or the eventual consequences will be the destruction of your business. Better ideas come from values, assessments, individuals, empowerment, research, scenario planning, partnerships, and a willingness to change. If what you are doing hasn’t led you to success then change what you are doing — before you destroy something good.
Donn DiNunno is Quality director at EM&I, whose consultants specialize in the areas of strategy, governance and engineering,