Let me start by saying that the company name doesn’t matter and it’s not my job to go naming and shaming failing businesses to prove my IQ (it’s low in case you are wondering).
This company has cool products, has been around for more than five years, has a young millennial workforce with plenty of smart people, and I know a few people that work there.
In a relatively short space of time, there has been management walk-outs, mass sackings and a collapse in share price that makes the failure of Enron during the tech bubble look like a tiny dot in corporate history.
I adore this company because they were once the definition of what was possible and they stood for something that was more than a brand.
Then they lost their way.
It didn’t happen overnight and took a few years to reach the disastrous end they are facing. There were two things that killed this company’s potential and it had nothing to do with their financials, products, marketshare, or competition oddly enough.
Leaders to bosses
The last twelve months has flushed the good leaders down the toilet and replaced them with another form of being in charge that can only be reminiscent of slave labor times retold through TV shows like Game of Thrones.
Leaders left the company. The leaders that were left transformed (often without realizing) into bosses.
These bosses turned against each other and played a game of trying to highlight each other’s failures. As the game was played, the customers were forgotten about and that’s where the company’s profits began vanishing into the darkness of a horror film.
Bosses chose their career aspirations and ego’s over doing anything that was remotely supportive to the people they were meant to be leading. These bosses would focus all their energy on enforcing their power over the workers and making them remember what they could do to them.
To the surprise of these bosses, people began choosing to leave the company and go elsewhere and that killed the size of the workforce. The band-aid solution was to attempt to hire quickly by putting up lots of job ads and promising things that didn’t exist to attract new victims to the lion’s bloodbath den.
As quick as people joined, they left.
Those who escaped became the superheroes who were empowered to rescue their colleagues and even the new hires. The shareholders had no idea what was going on because the subtle shift from leadership to boss types was disguised as an attempt to save the company from bankruptcy. There seemed as though there was no choice.
A poor culture
It will come as no surprise that with the change in leadership style came a lack of focus on the company culture.
The hidden weapon of the original company was the accidental creation of a culture that human beings wanted to work in — long before culture within companies was even cool.
The simplest way to describe the change in culture was that it went from “we” to “me.” The focus had become about taking whatever you could get, for as long as you could get away with it, and then leaving in a blaze of glory. There was no attempt to collaborate or work in a way that would solve the woes of the company.
Culture was ignored and the people in the company outside of the leadership were blamed for the performance. These people were given labels such as lazy, unskilled and ‘lacking sales ability’ to disguise what had transpired.
As people turned against each other, the customer’s voice became more and more lost in the crowd. Selfish cries of attention drowned out the hope that a customer would have an experience or receive something that they so desperately needed in their life.
The people serving the customers stopped caring and that was the saddest part.
The customer focus many companies have can be destroyed when the people that decide what the customer signs up to are distracted through the pain of a toxic work culture.
Once the employees turned, the customers turned and then suppliers and, finally, partners started doing the same thing. Over and over the company tried to save itself and now it hangs on by a thread.
It will either go bankrupt or be acquired by rats who make their way into the nest to break apart and extract whatever value that might be left in the form of IP, people, and physical assets.
The share price only tells us part of the story of a company. What is not measured is the effectiveness of leaders and the culture of a company. There are tools to measure both of these areas, but they do not hold the same weight as the traditional metrics used by traders, stock-pickers and investors.
Imagine a business world where these two hidden areas became fully transparent and good companies like the one described in this article could be saved. Good companies do not have to die a horrible death, but if the invisible forces of poor leadership and toxic culture are allowed to continue, this is the inevitable outcome.
What can we do about it?
Walk away from bosses who are not leaders and use your career as a vote towards a company that understands and promotes a good culture.