A few years ago, I was in a meeting with the executive team of a 100-million dollar company. They had just lost their biggest client, a significant contributor to their profit. This 100-million dollar company was deemed no longer relevant, and their customer decided to hedge their bets on a smaller, more nimble start-up.
The “irrelevant” feedback was hard to hear, but the CEO was adamant that they would change. It’s high stakes, she said, we have to find a new client. But we are strong. We can find the next moonshot that will bring customers.
In that same meeting, I watched a VP undercut and de-value another VP’s idea. They subtly vied for dominance and were quick to push each other down. It was a competitive environment, and behind the scenes, there were lots of petty behaviours; their every day cutting, insulting language eroded at the very fabric of the company’s undefined culture.
This ego-driven behaviour filtered down to the teams, and in a planning session, I watched three people argue relentlessly about one user story. Not one person listened to what was said; there was lots of talking, and nobody wanted to back down. The meeting ended when a key stakeholder walked out in frustration.
All this sounds pretty intense, doesn’t it?
The saddest part is that this is normalized behaviour in business. In many companies, this behaviour is accepted as “politics,” and to work in this type of environment takes tremendous effort and energy.
Today, I look back on this 100-million dollar company and wonder: how are they even successful? If leadership cannot work together and understand what it means to build harmony or be open to each other’s ideas, how can they build collaborative systems that help them stand out and attract potential customers?
Do they understand that you cannot innovate while tearing each other apart? How can a company fight for a place in the market when they are too busy fighting each other?
Having an Open-Hearted Mindset
It’s not a lack of good ideas that prevent innovation; the air is full of good ideas. It’s the bad behaviours that people embody that undermine the ability for teams to create the next big moonshot.
Realizing this is the difference between building an “Ok Company” and a “Fantastic Company.”
Having an open-hearted mindset means understanding how to accept change and unlearn old behaviours. Leaders have to reflect on mistakes and learn from them. They have to be open and curious about new ideas.
It’s through curiosity that an idea tumbles around like a snowball until it gathers both momentum and size. Eventually, the snowball is so big that it becomes unstoppable. This unstoppable force can’t happen if you step on the snowball before it’s fully formed.
For the snowball to start, all teams need to believe that they are part of a system that channels the flow of new ideas to reality. And, this system can only exist if people feel safe.
The daily behaviours that existed at the 100-million dollar company did not foster a safe environment. At the time of writing, this company is still searching for their next moonshot, and their employee and leadership reviews on both Indeed and Glassdoor read like a dramatic novel.
When I told this story to a friend, he commented that the leadership team was using moonshots in the same way that people gamble. With each new moonshot or pitch, leadership hopes to win customers. It’s the equivalent to someone adding $500 to a gambling machine while saying, “if I win today, I can pay rent.”
In the end, I’m always left to wonder: how do companies like this stay in business? What would happen if this company embraced an open-hearted mindset? It would likely take them to a new level of prosperity.