Oct 24, 2013

Casualties Along The Way

Not everyone is going to agree with the changes your business makes, and some may get downright hostile to them.

Every growing company tries and abandons strategies. It’s the nature of growth. No one is born with a crystal ball, and we make decisions based on the best information we have at the time. And some decisions don’t pan out.

Products fail, partnerships fail, business ventures fail. Some failures catch everyone’s attention, and others just disappear.

But every great leader and entrepreneur understands failure is ok. It’s part of the growth curve. Unfortunately some other people don’t see it that way, and may have an axe to grind.

Growth breeds failure

Seth Godin wrote, “If failure is not an option, then neither is success.”

Every growing company I have worked with or studied has a wake of failed projects, misfires and abandoned initiatives. They try stuff with clear intentions and strategies, but if they don’t work out they move on.

DECO Windshield Repair is a two-time Profit 500 company, they have over 150 employees, and are expanding into new markets. But a few years ago they made a big push into Ontario, and it didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons.

Did it hurt? Absolutely. Will they be back? I suspect so, but their growth prospects in Western Canada are substantial right now. They changed their strategy after they gathered more knowledge and insights from the Ontario experience.

Someone will have an axe to grind

A pivot is a change of strategies when you learn you’re on the wrong path.

Eric Ries writes in the Lean Startup, “Seasoned entrepreneurs often speak of the runway that their startup has left … The true measure of runway is how many pivots a startup has left: the number of opportunities it has to make a fundamental change to its business strategy.”

The problem comes up when a pivot starts to haunt you. Each pivot can leave casualties behind. Sometimes employees, partners or customers aren’t happy with the change. Some argue, some leave, and some get malicious.

The few causing a ruckus are the ones I worry about, because they take management attention away from the strategies at hand. A pivot is necessary for growth. But when someone gets online and starts posting complaints, they can become a distraction for the organization. The complaints can be innocuous, but they end up creating fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Every complaint leaves a wound.

Get your communication strategy nailed

The challenge is to manage negative comments.

A complaint can start off small, but snowball out of control. Growing companies face a risk of a pivot deteriorating into a PR crisis. If the naysayers are left unchecked, they can become loud and prominent enough to upset your strategy.

Every complainer has a megaphone with social media, and a brand can’t win a flame war online. The goal is to accept the issue, and demonstrate you’re trying to solve it.

Don’t let the person with an axe to grind turn into a problem. Expect complaints and problems to emerge, and have a strategy for tackling them. Ignoring the comments is not an option. Be proactive and visible that you’re handling the situation, but get the conversation offline quickly.

No business wants to leave casualties in a pivot, but they happen. It’s how you deal with them that matters.

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