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steve keil business is personal http://www.stevekeil.com Ask "why," and revolutionize our lives Tue, 16 Jul 2013 11:56:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Yahoo! hypocrisy – Dark Ages Return! http://www.stevekeil.com/yahoo-hypocrisy-dark-ages-return/ http://www.stevekeil.com/yahoo-hypocrisy-dark-ages-return/#comments Fri, 01 Mar 2013 07:37:20 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=298 Autocracy at Yahoo – or is that Idiocracy?

I just read this article from Mashable, which got me fired up! It basically says that Yahoo! has cancelled their work-from-home policy, because Marissa and HR believe that “togetherness” (in the cubes) will re-create the bonds of communication and creativity they believe to be lost…
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The hypocrisy:

At the same time, I noticed that Queen Marissa has converted an office next to hers into a private daycare centre, link here! So, where do I begin? Is it in the total hypocrisy: that the CxO suite get’s to make these top-down, autocratic, command-and-control decisions over the serfs, while enjoying special privileges themselves, which help negate those very dictates, by opening a private daycare for their own personal needs? Seriously? Oh yea, *that’s* leadership. Way to show them, HR and Marissa!

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The stupidity:

Or rather, am I more upset at the stupidity of such a move? What’s it really going to accomplish, and does HR and Marissa really believe that this move will help them once more “…become the best place to work?” (quote from the HR statement). Do they really think that working from home was a main reason they’re no longer on of the best places to work? And does HR and Marissa really believe that if you work from home, “speed and quality are often sacrificed…”? Really? Of course, that never happens when you’re forced to be glued into your cube… I hope you can read the sarcasm in my words!
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The damage:

By banning working from home, Yahoo! are adding control policies and spreading distrust, which will only serve to restrict the creativity, sense of (and real) freedom, and decrease motivation. Especially when combining this with the management hypocrisy – that’s like throwing salt in the wounds! This is nothing more than a punishment measure, which says: “we no longer trust you, those that work at home, because you all must be slacking and doing nothing.” Will that instill a sense of motivation, drive, and innovation amongst the returning people? Or will the feel pissed off, reprimanded, and will the best of them start looking for other jobs? Oh yes, the best of them. You see, HR seems to believe that this will drive away the “lazy” employees and slackers. I’ll let you in on a little secret HR: the slackers will ALWAYS find a way to slack in the cubes, or wherever they are. That’s why you shouldn’t hire them in the first place, and why these policies will do nothing to weed them out. They’ll slack forever, hidden behind the cube-barrier, with their mail client open, looking busy.
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Stop the stupidity

So while Marissa will always be flexible in how she works, even enjoying her nanny-in-house and I’m sure having various and numerous offsite meetings-on-the-go, she’s asking her colleagues to reign in their freedom and work under an umbrella of mistrust. How have we become so stupid to think this will increase the engagement of our colleagues? Is this Yahoo’s! best idea for a turnaround strategy? When will we start to understand that a return to autocracy isn’t the best way to promote creativity and innovation? How creative do you feel, when you’re restricted? When flexibility for yourself is removed, while the same freedom’s for your bosses are preserved – even increased? Will the best employees put up with this, or will they find new homes where they feel more appreciated?

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You cannot foster innovation, creativity, and unity by treating your colleagues unequally, restricting freedom, and breeding mistrust.

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First steps for governmental change http://www.stevekeil.com/steps-governmental-change/ http://www.stevekeil.com/steps-governmental-change/#comments Wed, 27 Feb 2013 10:29:58 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=290 Recipe for change – first steps

A good mate of mine, Boyan Benev, just posted this note on his thoughts for how to take the first steps to change. I liked it, so am re-posting it here, along with my own addendum about transparency afterwards!
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Boyan’s post:

Opportunity to for change:

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  • I don’t believe that change will come from protests [only].
  • Real change comes from sequential action – we need a spark but that spark alone can never carry change through to the end.
  • If people really are interested in change [and not pure idealism] there’s a need to put together a series of aims we want to achieve… and then doggedly chase them.
  • These should be realistic, achievable goals rooted in what’s legal, possible and positive for the long-term future of Bulgaria (Steve’s edit: or any other country!)

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Only when we stand up and take responsibility for our discontent can we really expect to see change in any real form. Personally what I want to see is the following:
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Transparency:

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  • The best way to deal with corruption is by removing information barriers.
  • We have the technology and the understanding of how to apply this: let’s remove as many barriers as possible to information on how our country works on a national, regional and institutional level.
  • When EVERYTHING is out in the open and publicly accessible, debate and action on what *is* corruption, and how to deal with it, will be far easier.

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Education:

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  • We need more highly-qualified people in modern fields and disciplines; not just now but in years to come (e.g. Additive Manufacturing, Biotech.)
  • This is a case of lifelong education reform: starting from an early age and learning throughout our lives.
  • We have some great things going on in BG already – let’s build on them over the coming years. (Steve’s edit: we need to find and highlight the areas of success within any country or organization; this is a great way to show people around us that positive change is not only possible, but happening.)

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Regional Development:

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  • Bulgaria is not Sofia – we cannot let the country develop at two speeds. (Steve’s edit: this applies to any country – great disparity amongst any country or organization creates problems. Closing the gap promotes much healthier growth and harmony amongst the community.)
  • The capital will always be ahead, but let’s focus on policies which will encourage regional development (based again, on education reform).

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Bureaucracy:

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  • We need a MUCH leaner government, state and administrative apparatus.
  • So many of the barriers to citizens and business come from a bureaucracy which is in no way modernising at the pace it needs to.
  • Let’s seriously reduce the size of these institutions, improve pay and the quality of the remaining workforce and work towards a model which gives the people what they deserve: the opportunity to build a better life for themselves via either private enterprise or a steady career.

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Action only happens through action – it doesn’t matter whether we fail in the short run!

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Note on Transparency and fairness of salary

Those of you who have heard me speak frequently know that I’m an adamant proponent of transparency – believing that within a workplace, for example, there should be no secrets.

In the sense of Boyan’s post: government and public institutions, transparency for me is a fundamentally important tool to eradicate corruption. I really wonder: most people I meet are upset about corruption: yet unfortunately, endemic corruption has persisted for generations. It seems that many people, when they get into government, simply perpetuate the corruption. Someone recently mentioned to me that “government can’t lead the people, but rather follows the people” – which i found to be a good insight. Government *is* the representation of the masses. Sadly, one of the problems is that we’re so used to corruption as a society, that it seems when people get into a position where they are exposed to the “opportunity” of corruption, they take it – thereby continuing the cycle. We’re stuck in a mentality of accepting corruption as “standard”; believing it’s just the way things have been done, and how things need to be done… It’s once again back to being “stuck” in what I’ve come to call “Inertia Thinking.”

So it seems that to stop this, we need to simultaneously emphasize the point on “well-paid” government employees. PAY A GOOD SALARY for important government positions! Other countries have figured this out (presidents, senators, representatives: they all get a upper-middle-class range of salaries, so hwy not in BG?) If we provide a good salary, this reduces the incentive for taking bribes or participating in corruption in the first place.

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Combined with transparency, this seems a reasonable means to carry forward some basic reform in the system, and a great first step to rooting out the culture of corruption, and the subsequent inefficiency corruption causes.

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End apathy and build responsibility http://www.stevekeil.com/apathy-build-responsibility/ http://www.stevekeil.com/apathy-build-responsibility/#respond Tue, 26 Feb 2013 09:27:23 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=285 Apathy is antithetical to change!

I recently had a conversation with a bright and personable college student here in Sofia, which got me a bit fired up! The conversation went something like this:

Steve to Student:
“My point is that YOU are the future of Bulgaria. Nobody else. So as a group, the young people *MUST* find ways to positively initiate, create, implement, and sustain change! You MUST. You have both a personal and social responsibility to. We ALL do, certainly, but you are our future, and our hope.”

Student to Steve:
“That is true, Steve! But do you know what they all say..those young people who you say ‘MUST’..well, they say ‘I’d better leave Bulgaria, than do something for a change, something in vain’. And this makes me really sad, as I myself am thinking like that at times. We just need to act, not only talk, but since this in not happening, I guess, we are not ready to stand for a change.”

After this brief conversation, I got frustrated. Here is our educated, intelligent youth, our future, who would prefer to run from Bulgaria, rather than see our country develop!

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Good grief, what *has* happened to our sense of personal and social responsibility?
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Rather than try to improve our country, our environment, our homes, our life-styles… rather than believe in ourselves and our friends, colleagues, and neighbors… rather than feel compelled to leave this country better than we found it – if not for ourselves and others, then at least for our future children… we’d rather *abandon it?* Run? Decide it is “someone else’s” responsibility? Whoever that “else” might be? No.

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I refuse to accept such selfishness and dis-interest in making our home a better place to live. That mentality won’t disappear if you run to another country: that very mentality will prevent you from making strong personal change and growth where-ever you go. You can run to another country; but you’ll still complain, you’ll still stop YOURSELF from making as many positive personal changes as you need to make. You’re running from a problem which is within us!

I think it’s time to face the mirror, look deep down inside ourselves and find our sense of responsibility and personal strength, and finally demand more from ourselves, and each other, towards building a better future right HERE!

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YOU CANNOT BUILD A CIVILIZATION BY GIVING A PLATFORM TO IDIOTS AND SILENCING INTELLIGENT PEOPLE (INCLUDING YOURSELVES)!!!!!!!
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Is Bulgaria Ready for Change? http://www.stevekeil.com/bulgaria-ready-change/ http://www.stevekeil.com/bulgaria-ready-change/#comments Tue, 26 Feb 2013 08:32:13 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=270 Are we ready for change?

For those of you not aware of what’s going on in Bulgaria; the month of February 2013 is sparking wide-spread protests against many things – in particular the way that Bulgarian utility companies are operating, as well as endemic corruption.
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Amidst all these protests, I’m wondering one fundamental question: is the average Bulgarian citizen *ready* for change?
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There is a significant difference between protesting against something specific (e.g. like a very high electricity bill which is a large % of your monthly salary), verses protesting for systemic change. Additionally: there is a difference between simply protesting (don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see the people take a stand!) and having an action plan for change!
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BULGARIA-PROTESTS_CS_Monitor
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What needs to happen is reform in the government system from top to bottom: total eradication of the mentality that feeds corruption, complete transparency, massive elimination of waste and red tape, and a focus on government *serving* people: meaning implementing processes that *help* us live and work easier: NOT implementing policies that hinder, confuse, or frustrate us.

System change is also about incorporating a sense of personal and social accountability into ourselves, and in particular the people chosen to run our government, to use our tax dollars wisely. The closest model I can think of is the Swiss model – a government that most Swiss people I talk to seem pretty happy with (at least more so than most other governments)!

Without such systemic change, any new government is just a repeat of the past. If the previous party that just resigned returns to power – or whomever wins again – and conducts a little ‘re-shuffle’ of people, combined with some new ‘populist’ promises to lower utility bills, well… nothing really changes, besides 1 or 2 quick fixes. But the underlying issues remain.
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Are we actually READY for real improvement? Do we, as the MASSES, really understand and embrace the need for systemic reform? Are we not just FED UP with corruption and inefficiency, but ready to ACT for change?
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Pay Your Valued Suppliers – They aren’t Creditors http://www.stevekeil.com/pay-valued-suppliers-creditors/ http://www.stevekeil.com/pay-valued-suppliers-creditors/#comments Tue, 31 Jul 2012 15:13:57 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=164 I recently tweeted about the alarming trend of larger companies delaying payments – longer and longer – to smaller companies (article here: on.wsj.com/N6Zfjb).  It’s something that has been continuing to nag at me: large companies (like those on the S&P) have record cash holdings, yet are increasing the number of days they are taking to pay suppliers (yes, that means you APPL). They are basically using their large size to stiff-arm the smaller suppliers; becoming the school-yard bullies we all despised.

Oh yea, little company – what are you going to DO about it?!? Nothing! We’re the big company, we have the money and deals, and you WILL accept our terms!” The unstated (or often, sadly, stated) implication: there’s a line of suppliers lined up behind you to step in and take your place. Worse, the CFO organization within these large companies often views this “tactic” of delayed payments as “best practice.”

Well, guess what? Your practices suck, and while they may improve your cashflow in the short-run, they are actually damaging your business in the long-run. In fact, I could write an entire post (and probably will!) about the importance of moving to fewer suppliers, and treating them as valued partners…  but here’s the short version:

By bullying your suppliers, and pushing them hard on prices and payment; what you’re really doing is pissing them off, lowering their profit (which is a bad thing, as it means they aren’t able to put their best resources to the task), and incentivising them to deliver lower quality overall. They begrudgingly work with you – and from an attitude like this, you don’t get loyalty, innovation, and amazing customer service. You get the bare minimum.

I recently had two experiences where customers paid me – *ahead* of time. Yes, they paid my invoices faster than the terms in the contract. Imagine that.

The first, a long-time customer I really love, have consistently paid their invoices within a week of receiving them. I sent a note of thanks to their manager, expressing true gratitude for their promptness. She sent me back, in return, the following great statement:

“My motto is: when you have cash in the bank, pay valued partners ASAP!  Glad to be appreciated :)”

Now, in my book, that’s class. Thanks Robin, our hat’s off to you! The second recent occurrence was from a brand new customer. Now, if you’ve had a small or medium sized business yourself, you *know* how important it is to you to get that first invoice paid from a new customer. Our new customer pays straight away (awesome!), and I shoot off a message of heartfelt “Thanks!” With a nod and a wink, Patrick replies the following:

“You’re welcome. We try to pay everything as soon as possible. Its clear we don’t have a working capital manager yet :)”

With a clear dose of sarcasm towards the “Best Practice” of using your suppliers as creditors, Patrick acknowledged the beauty of treating suppliers who do a good job as true partners. Bravo!

So why does this change? We all know it’s wrong, and we avoid the practice as small and mid-sized firms. Why is it, as firms grow, we begin to lose this sense of valuing those external partners we work with? And really, shouldn’t we be doing the opposite? The clear answer is yes, we should.

So if you’re reading this, go and do it. Walk right into your purchasing office, or supplier management department, or whatever it is, and change the policy, starting tomorrow. You’ll find that you spur more loyalty, increased service levels, and greater long term value by doing so. These qualities will easily offset the minor cashflow position.

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The Myth of Big Company Stability http://www.stevekeil.com/the-myth-of-big-company-stability/ http://www.stevekeil.com/the-myth-of-big-company-stability/#comments Fri, 13 Jul 2012 06:48:38 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=130 As someone who works in a small business, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some variant of the following misconcept during job interviews:

  • “I have an offer from ‘X’ Co. They’re a big company, so they’re more stable. Since I have a loan, that’s very important to me!”
  • “Well, I’m looking to join a large company, as I want more stability and security.”

And you know what? It’s not exactly accruate.

  1. First off, small and medium sized business (SMB’s, or SME’s) hire the majority of the world’s work force. That’s an undisputed fact. SME’s are the backbone of the world’s economy. We hire the most people, pay the most taxes, and develop mos tof the innovation in the world today.
  2. Secondly, who says big is more “stable” for an individual employee? Sure, many big companies themselves have lasted for ten’s of years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are stable for the individuals that work there. Large companies routinely sacrifice valuable resources for the benefit of the shareholders.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying that layoff’s don’t occur at small and mid-sized companies: they most certainly do. What I am saying, is that there is often a massive misperception that layoffs occur either less frequently at large companies, or in smaller amounts – just because those companies have existed for many years, and are – well, BIG.

So for some time now, I’ve been thinking to start a running list of layoffs (at least those I hear about in the news) at big companies. I’d welcome anyone’s input regarding links to large company layoff’s which I’ve missed, so that I can add them into the table!

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The Importance of Culture in Business, Part 3 http://www.stevekeil.com/the-importance-of-culture-in-business-part-3/ http://www.stevekeil.com/the-importance-of-culture-in-business-part-3/#comments Wed, 11 Jul 2012 06:55:15 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=119 So we looked around at large companies, and see their slow decline. Their fall from former glory. Two questions come to mind when I think of the rise and fall of the company, as expressed in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of blog posts.

  1. Why do we succumb to this process, time and again? And,
  2. What can be done to prevent, or reverse, this process?

These two questions, to me, have to be asked – and answered – if we ever want to arrest the negative development of the firm. My answers, at the moment, are along the lines of:

  1. Stop inertia thinking, and
  2. Elevate culture to the importance of profit.

Intertia Thinking is what I’m calling the belief and adoption of old, or inherited, limiting beliefs. We tend to do things, and to think things, just because “they’ve always been done this way,” or because they are considered, by the indusry as a whole, as “best practice.” Heck, it’s gotta be the best way, it’s even called “best practice!” Fundamentally, when we adopt these limiting belief systems whole-heartedly, and forget to constantly evaluate these concepts, and examine their relevance for our situation, time, and environment, we accept, implement, and adopt legacy solutions and actions – rather than create and develop new, more relevant, ones!

 

Regarding culture, there’s a lot we can discuss. Suffice it to say, I’m beginnign to believe that once you lose your original focus, your spirit and passion, and instead allow others to impact your business (through either accepting and adopting external Inertia Thinking and limiting belief systems, or directly hiring people who believe in these, into your firm), you stop being able to propel forward with passion, verve, and a sense of purpose towards making the communities around you better off (whether those communities are fellow employees, customers, or your neighbor).

A lot of ideas come to mind when I think of how to expand on these answers, and I think they’re best left for subsequent posts and musings!

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The Importance of Culture in Business, Part 2 http://www.stevekeil.com/the-importance-of-culture-in-business-part-2/ http://www.stevekeil.com/the-importance-of-culture-in-business-part-2/#respond Wed, 11 Jul 2012 06:28:25 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=109 What hapens when a company, which started off as innovative, flexible, and passionate, becomes “professional” as we understand it today? When it grows, and matures, and ulimately puts in place those “structures” and “processes” which seem to be the thing to do?

The same thing that happened, according to Toynbee, to civilizations. They begin to decline.

In the very least, these changes will bring about an inability to positively and creatively react to changes in the competitive environment – as Toynbee would say: to step up and positively respond to challenge and response situations. What helps make civilizations, and companies, great, is the ability to adapt, respond, and overcome challenges with amazing responses – solutions that work, and which improve the former status quo.

I’d argue that once “maturity” happens, a switch from focusing and nurturing creativity and an entrepreneurial attitude – to one of “big company bureaucracy” occurs, and it’s potentially impossible to respond positively to challenges. At thsi point, responses that work actually require massive restructuring, rethinking, and removal of at least some of these bureaucratic beliefs – along with a re-focusing on the customer. Which, until now, had been largely forgettn by the giant corporation. Think IBM – they almost crashed and burned a few times, only to be reborn after some deep soul-searching.

You see, these “best practices” are actually old beliefs, held over from ages past, and they are typically founded on fear. They were put in place during an age when we tried to make humans act like corporate slaves; robots to be subjected to time-and-motion studies and efficieny of movements.

Ultimately, they spark fear, create inneficiencies (the opposite of what we’re told they do), and create silos and barriers within the organization. They mark the beginning of the end of a company, however long that end might take to arrive.

 

Toynbee argued that, depending on the original strength and size of a country, the actual decline can take a very, very long time. Think Rome.  The same notion can be applied to companies – once they apex, it can be a long, and slow, end. Imagine Kodak.

Take a look around at every large company. By and large, as soon as they diminish the importance of culture, they apex and begin to decline. I’d say Google has hit that apex already. It used to be like Microsoft, in the beginning: Google was cool. Now… it’s lost it. Speaking of Microsoft, it’s at a cross-roads. It hit the apex, it’s on a slow decline, and it has to either wake up, shrug off the tyranny of bureaucracy, or continue it’s long slow slip into irrelevance.

What can be done?

 

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The Importance of Culture in Business, Part 1 http://www.stevekeil.com/the-importance-of-culture-in-business/ http://www.stevekeil.com/the-importance-of-culture-in-business/#comments Thu, 05 Jul 2012 14:03:50 +0000 http://www.stevekeil.com/?p=65 I read a great article in Forbes today, and I have to say that it’s totally spot-on! The article discussed a British historian, named Troybee, who wrote prolifically on the rise and fall of civilizations. I hadn’t heard of Toynbee’s work on countries before, but he’s basically saying that:

“… civilization flourishes when it motivates insiders and attracts outsiders with its creative dynamism and culture. The civilization breaks down when its leadership loses this creative capacity and gives way to, or transforms itself into, a dominant minority. When this happens, the driver of the civilization becomes control, not attraction.”

 

The guest author, Philippe Silberzahn, pointed out that it’s not just countries and civilizations that this process happens to, but to it also occurs in businesses. And he’s right. In the beginning, you’ve got the entrepreneurial start-up. The passionate, excited group of people that have come together to change the world – or if not the world, some little piece of if. They want to make an impact, however small. They’ve invented a new product, or developed an innovation which does something better. Together, they work hard and smart to get it out there in the world. As they become increasingly successful, they grow…and grow…and grow.

 

And at some point along the journy, they lose that initial spark of passion, energy, and drive.

I believe that we have a set of limiting beliefs regarding management “best practice”, which we’ve largely inherited from the industrial revolution, and which no longer serves the way people want to work today. At all. These beliefs favor control and process as a company grows, rather than a sense of purpose, empowerment, freedom, and creativity.

You hear it said that as your company “grows up” (gets bigger), you need to “become more professional.” What does that mean? Probably things like:

  • Tto switch to centralized strategic decision making,
  • Create “mature” HR processes,
  • Implement strict finance controls and audit procedures,
  • Build and stress the overall importance of process (to the extent that it surpasses common sense and freedom),
  • Create formal organizational structures (e.g. administration and hierarchy),
  • Centralize and standardize procurement,
  • …and on and on…

It’s just “what you do.” It’s “Best practice…” But what happens next?

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