Take this Job and Shove It . . .

“I’ve seen a lot of good folk die
Who had a lot of bills to pay
I’d give the shirt right off of my back
If I had the nerve to say .. Take this job and shove it ….”

— Johnny Paycheck

Have you ever felt this way about your job? Have you ever dragged your body out of bed on a cold, dark morning and the most positive thing you can grumble to yourself is, “This day is one day closer to the day I will never have to go to this job again”?

If so, welcome to the club. You are an official member of the largest unofficial club in America – The “Next Check Club” where card-carrying members stay at their jobs primarily to get their next check. The club even has its own secret password so members can recognize each other. You know a fellow club member when you ask a friend, “How’s work?” and the response is, “Well, it’s a job!”

Is this what you had in mind for a career when you got out of school? I doubt it.

Did you think that when you put forth all that effort to prepare yourself for a career and personal advancement that you would end up working in a corporate culture that, at best, could be described as a stagnant pond? In a company where management acts like a mafia group that collaborates among themselves; a management interested only in maintaining their own power structure?

Or maybe you were not expecting to work in a business where management comes across as all-loving and caring on the surface, but they act as though they couldn’t care less about you and your fellow employees? Do you feel frustrated to work  in a company where management acts as though the only solution to any problem is to downsize or outsource while skirting honest communication with employees? Do you sometimes find yourself just going through the motions at work and trying to keep a low profile for fear that you will be the next one to be outsourced?

Have you found yourself trapped in a corporate culture that could best be described as a hornet’s nest? Where all the rules, procedures and corporate dictates are subject to the whim of management at any given moment?

Do you feel that management is not interested in your ideas and if you offer them, they seem threatened and insulted? Have you come to recognize that your job security does not really depend upon your talent and effort, but on the Peter Principle where top managers rise to the level of their incompetence and treat you the same way?

Worst of all, do you feel totally depressed because family responsibilities, the pay you are receiving and the state of the economy has you trapped in your job like a terrorist caged in Guantanamo? (Who knows, maybe water-boarding is a trifle better than the treatment you’re getting!)

Some might read this blog and suggest it is all made up – no job environment could ever be this bad – but I bet many of you are nodding your heads “yes” in recognition of the truth. Fact is, the corporate culture I describe here is more the norm than the exception . . . and you know it!

Raise Your Hand if You Would Like Something Better

If you have not already given up and given in – surrendered your future and happiness to a group of bureaucratic, incompetent, insincere and insecure managers — you should make a solemn promise to yourself to do something about it—before it is too late.

  • If you could find a situation where you, your effort and your talent are recognized, appreciated and rewarded, would you raise your hand?
  • If you could find a place where communication was open, consistent and honest, would you raise your hand?
  • If you could find a place where your interests, the interests of management and the company were all in parallel – where no one wins unless everyone wins – would you raise your hand?
  • If you could find a place where risk-taking, innovation, creativity and interaction with management is sought and encouraged, would you raise your hand?
  • If you could find a place where you feel that you make a difference and the difference you make is encouraged and rewarded, would you raise your hand?
  • If you could find a place where you are rewarded for the value you add to the organization – rather than to whose butt you kiss – would you raise your hand?

And the Moral of the Story …

I know it may seem like these are just Fantasyland or fairytale dreams, but there have been in the past, are now and could be in the future, corporate cultures that operate in a way that would make you want to raise your hand to join. Certainly these cultures are the exception rather than the rule of corporate life, but it is worth the effort to seek them out. It might seem like a risk to join a company with this type of culture – especially if it were a new one – but be honest with yourself and recognize that it is even more of a risk to remain trapped in your current situation.

The key is to be open-minded, observant and have the nerve to raise your hand when the call is made. Will you be one of those who has the courage to break out of the trap of the business world as others want it to be and seek a situation where you have the power to make the future what you want it to be?

The Strongest Inhibitor of Innovation is Contentment

How Savvy Business Managers Avoid Being Relegated to the Herd

If you accept the way it is done, because it has always been done that way, then all you will ever be able to do is what has already been done. Form followed seeks to repeat what has been done; while innovation followed seeks to find what could be done. Innovation is the way to lead the herd, not be part of it.

Examine any successful company that has fallen behind or failed. Most often you will discover that failure came, not because they stopped doing what they had been doing, but precisely because they were content to keep doing what they had been doing. In a word, they failed to innovate.

In business innovation is the only way for leaders and companies to respond to the evolution of how things should be done. In nature, all living species must learn to evolve and adopt or become extinct. So too in business, the failure to innovate, to evolve and adapt, is a death knell.

If failure to innovate is seen as the curse of ongoing business success, why, then, don’t all business leaders make innovation a fundamental plank in their business culture? Simple. Many managers claim to understand the importance of innovation, but in reality, they desperately fear it since innovation means to do what has not been done. The truth is, one cannot be innovative without being out there and alone; the extent of the aloneness depends on the extent of the innovation. The more innovative the act, the more completely alone one is.

That’s why most managers find it is easier and certainly safer to do what they have always done or worse,  joining the herd and following what others are doing. Recognizing and embracing innovation is a risk, but not nearly so much as rejecting it. As Will Rogers said, “You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”

Kodak Offers Valuable Lessons

It has become a cliché now, but Kodak is the classic example of a company that Kodakwas penalized with a loss of relevance for its failure to successfully innovate. The company was, for decades, the very icon of photographic imagery, the epitome of corporate branding: Kodak was photography. However, when the innovation of digital photos began to take hold, Kodak obstinately clung to its core business of film photography. The result was that Kodak became an afterthought and a follower, not a leader.

The irony is that Kodak was actually one of the first innovators in the development of digital photography and even today the company holds many of the most important patents in the field. Kodak’s failure came not from the inability to innovate, but from a failure to follow through on that creative promise and firmly implement its innovations. As John Maynard Keynes noted, “The difficulty lies not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.” The management of Kodak was content with what they had done and this mentality prevented them from using the innovations that their own company had developed as a way to do more than they had done. As a result, Kodak ceased to lead the herd and became subsumed by it.

Companies reject innovation for the very reason they should embrace it. Innovation means being different and most managers fear being different. Instead, like a pack of shrill eunuchs, they seek the perceived comfort and security of the “peer group,” rather than embracing the risk and challenge of being out front. They are, in essence, in love with the past and fearful of the future; and with that attitude they forfeit the future to others, because the future belongs to those who get there first.

A More Contemporary Example

Recently, I was witness to just this type of diminutive mind-set regarding innovation. A large investment group – with some investments in insurance – asked me to help them explore how they might play a larger role in the insurance industry. These were well-intended, smart people, but the discussions were frustrating, both for the group and me.

Before making their initial investments in the insurance industry, they completed a thorough and detailed due diligence into how the industry operated and its products. Now that they had jumped in and purchased a couple of insurance companies, they wanted to learn how to increase the growth of the companies and play a larger role in the industry. This is where we ran into problems.

This group was literally looking for me to tell them how their companies could do better by doing more of what the competition was doing. Believe it or not, their idea of innovation was to research the best-selling products of other companies and copy them. It was like speaking to the dead when I suggested they should look for what the other companies are not doing, and do that.

When the idea of developing and offering different and innovative products was brought up, the reaction was traditional. To the tune of “everyone does it this way,” I heard – “That won’t work.” “How do you know it will work?” “Why aren’t other companies doing this?”

This group had made large investments in these companies and they were seeking to mitigate their risk by learning what other companies were doing and doing the same. What this group did not realize was that the biggest risk they were taking was the risk of not being different. One does not lead by following, but by innovating.

And the Moral of the Story is …

There are a myriad excuses – especially in difficult economic times – that can be offered as reasons for a failure to have an innovative mind-set: innovation is long term, it is expensive, its results are uncertain, it takes focus off what is already being done successfully and it may require the cost and complexity of changing existing systems. Exactly!

The fallacy in this thinking is that innovation will come, whether we want it or not. The French were content to hide behind their Maginot Line, thinking they were safe from German invasion. They were safe from the way things had been, but due to innovation, they were vulnerable to the way things had become; and paid a dear price for that mentality. The true discomfiture that comes with a failure to seek innovation is not that one will be left behind, but that one will be left out.

Those with an innovative mind-set operate in the present but live for the future. They incessantly challenge themselves and their companies to seek out what has not been done and ask why it can’t be done. Better yet, they relentlessly search for the way to do what has not been done. For them, their contentment is their discontent with what has not been done.

The Greatest Threat to Personal and Business Success—is Success

Successful Leaders Fail When They Stop Doing the Things that Made Them Successful in the First Place

Some months back, the media has besieged us with countless stories about the imperfect personal lives of two of the best known sports stars in the country – Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Aside from the titillating (no pun intended) aspect of their personal failures, they have something else in common. Once they achieved success, they moved away from their core values.

Tiger Woods admitted publicly that when reached the status and success he had worked so hard to attain, that he fell into an attitude of perverted entitlement that moved him away from the values that had helped him become successful. While Roethlisberger didn’t publicly admitted to his problems, many of his current and former teammates in Pittsburgh have talked of how he changed after winning his first Super Bowl.

Roethlisberger’s teammates point to a young rookie who came to the Steelers fully dedicated to doing what needed to be done to achieve success. He was first to practice and last to leave. He exhibited the qualities of a leader and quickly became one, while still being “one of the guys” for his teammates. But they also point out that he began to change once he became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Soon he was last to practice and first to leave. He became aloof from the team and instead of being one of the guys, thought he was the only one. He acted as though he was entitled to be treated differently from the rest of the team. According to comments by teammates he began to be derisively referred to as a “bar-hopping pied piper.”

I have written on the subject of maintaining success – once it has been achieved – but the latest examples of Woods and Roethlisberger justify a refresher. Those of us who seek success in life or career can learn from these examples.

It is not just the high-profile celebrity that can exhibit self-destructive tendencies once success has been achieved; while not so visible, such attitudes can – and often do – afflict business leaders and companies. We work so hard to achieve success that we sometimes forget that it takes even more focus and commitment to maintain success achieved.

The key to maintaining success is being alert to losing success. Success has its own way of weakening the very behavior that achieved it. Any organization or anyone who achieves success must be willing to ignore the success achieved. Only by doing so is success maintained over time.

It’s a fact that more people rise from failure than survive success. That’s because it is more difficult to survive success than failure. Success is a rare commodity that few are prepared to deal with. When you are successful, you step out from the crowd and accomplish what many talk about but few do. That is well and good, but when you do succeed – you have to deal with the consequences of success. This is where both Woods and Roethlisberger failed and where those of us who are lucky to achieve success must be always vigilant.

What Went Wrong?

Why is it that so many business leaders and successful companies manage to fail the test of long-term success so consistently? Some say changed markets are to blame. Others point to increased competition, technology advances, reduced productivity, product obsolescence, even government interference as the source of the corporate tailspin. But, these are superficial excuses that highlight only the symptoms of the real illness.

After eliminating the suicidal acts of greed, blatant fraud and inbred incompetence from the list of culprits, there is a simple explanation for the failure of successful individuals and companies. Successful leaders and companies start to fail when they stop doing the things that made them successful in the first place.

Successful businesses and the executives who run them become comfortable, lazy, complacent and less tolerant of risk and innovation. Many fall prey to the illness of entitlement. They lose the very culture that produced their initial success: Doing the right thing at the right time, and doing it first, fast and often.

Fortunately, there are some simple and obvious clues that will help us identify if we and our company may be in danger of risking loss of the success we worked so hard to achieve.

Some of these signs may be when:

  • We find we are too busy to take the time to do the little things we took the time to do in the past.
  • We begin to define our success predicated on what we have done rather than what we could do.
  • We begin to feel that getting better is not as important as keeping what we have.
  • We discover our actions formerly threatened competitors but now the actions of competitors threaten us.
  • We become more concerned with what we get for ourselves than what we can give to others.
  • We begin to view process and procedure as more important than performance and progress.

And the Moral of the Story …

Never lose sight of this one thought – If you are not making history – you are history!

Those who maintain a pattern of continued success have a common trait – they see success as something to build on – not rest on. For them success becomes a nagging voice in the back of their mind that reminds them of how difficult it was to achieve and how much will be lost unless they continue to do the things that allowed them to come out one top, again and again.

They have a mind-set to continue to make history. They recognize the responsibility they have to build on the success achieved. They know their methods have allowed them to make history in the past and that gives them the opportunity to make history in the future.

If, as you achieve success, you adopt this philosophy, then you will accomplish what many who have achieved success fail to do. You will create the opportunity to maintain and even grow your success by never forgetting to do what you did to achieve success. Hopefully, Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger will be able to learn from taking success for granted and be more successful because of it, but one thing is certain – we can!