Ah, look at all the clever people

blog-post-11-23-15-220x207In just the past two weeks, I’ve heard two different CEOs, one European and one Mexican, ask, “How do I deal with all the clever people who are slowing down my company?”

My first thought was, of course, “all the lonely people,” the refrain from the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” and both CEOs looked at me quizzically as I started to hum the song. My second thought was that it is time to write a blog on this topic. Continue reading

The power of deconstruction: Two stories

blocksIn a recent blog post about how companies can increase their metabolic rate, I noted that one of the main cultural differences between insurgent and incumbent companies is how their leaders solve problems: The leaders of insurgent companies tend to break down a problem into actionable sub-elements, while the leaders of a typical incumbent tend to take a problem and make it so big it becomes unsolvable. The net result is that insurgents operate with a bias to action, while incumbents tend to suffer from a bias to inaction. Continue reading

Stop pushing clouds up a hill

Stop pushing clouds uphillWe recently attended an offsite meeting held by the supply-chain partner of a major European retailer. There is nothing wrong with this company; in fact, its performance is enviable. But amid what its leaders call “the insidious creep of complexity,” they are concerned about the company’s ability to sustain its performance year after year. They posed it as a question: How can a highly successful, rapidly growing company maintain the insurgency?

As we often do in these situations, we asked the company’s leadership team to take a Founder’s Mentality® survey. The issues the company faces are fascinating. On the one hand, its insurgent culture is strong—all leaders knew the company’s insurgent mission, its and the critical capabilities that would lead to success. On the other, the leadership team felt the company was at an inflection point. As the head of one business unit  noted, “I joined this company because it was a rebel,  full of innovation, full of people doing the right thing for our customers. It was a game changer, a group of entrepreneurs breaking the industry rules and trying to transform the world.” He added: “But  as we grow and as we bring in professionals, I worry that we will start to favor ‘control and compliance’ over doing the right thing with speed and purpose. After all, control is boring.” Another key meeting participant put it this way: “Our people are starting to feel those first signs that getting the job done is like pushing clouds uphill.” Continue reading

Chocolates, radishes and the energy vampires

Small garden radishI know … you’re probably thinking I chose the title of this post by throwing a handful of those little word magnets against our fridge. Close, but not quite. Actually, I’m reading Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, and he cites a study on willpower that I think applies to our work on the Founder’s Mentality®, particularly regarding the twin dangers of increased complexity and the rise of the “energy vampire.”  His story supplies the chocolates and radishes. I supply the energy vampire. Continue reading

Getting to “yes” with the founder

Founder's Mentality - Getting to "yes" with a founderOne of the most difficult things for a growing company to get right is how to “professionalize” while preserving the Founder’s MentalitySM. We’ve discussed in earlier blog posts two ways to strike the right balance: First, the founder must bring in the right professionals and work hard to integrate them into the insurgent culture. Second, the “professionalization agenda” must be shaped and driven by the company’s strategy, not pursued as an end in itself.

At a Developing Market 100 meeting in Mumbai recently, we co-created a third way for professionals and founders to get this right: The incoming professionals need to be clear about which type of founder they are dealing with and then figure out how best to channel and complement those skills—not conflict with them. Continue reading

Taking the inevitability out of bureaucracy

Founder's Mentality - Taking the inevitability out of bureaucracyWhen corporate executives talk about creeping bureaucracy they tend to sound like frustrated gardeners battling an infestation of kudzu—cut it back today and it will reappear tomorrow. We recently assembled some of Japan’s most successful corporate leaders in Tokyo for a discussion of the Founder’s Mentality and how companies can maintain it as they grow. All agreed that taming bureaucracy was one of their stiffest challenges.

“When you grow,” said Asahi Group CEO Naoki Izumiya, summing up the group’s common view, “you inevitably become bureaucratic, and it happens for all the familiar reasons while you are still growing.” Continue reading

The bigger we get, the smaller we think

Founder's Mentality - The bigger we get, the smaller we thinkIn meetings with clients over the past few weeks, a common theme has emerged regarding the perils of planning as companies grow. The latest instance was at a meeting in the US in which several founders on a panel were discussing the positives and negatives of being bought by a large corporation. One of them raised an issue I’ll paraphrase this way: “I don’t want this to be quoted back to me when we set this year’s budgets, but one thing has really struck me about joining a corporate parent—I’m being encouraged to think smaller.”

That echoed something I’d heard a few weeks earlier in a conversation with a partner at a private equity firm. “The bigger we get, the more conservative we’ve become,” he said. “It is now viewed as a good thing to hit the very conservative investment thesis formed at the time we did the original deal. As we grow, it is a lot harder to ‘think big’ and take risks to create a 10X deal.”  Continue reading