“Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” is a quote commonly attributed to John Kennedy as he accepted responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. The idea, however, is an old one. Roman historian and politician Tacitus said that, “This is an unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone.”
When things are going well, it’s easy to share credit as a team. When things go sideways, buck-passing and finger-pointing rule the day. Success has many fathers, but for companies, so does failure. The thing about business is that it is always about the people, the process, and systems already in place. And those can fail over time, even at the most successful organizations. Errors, however, can actually help a business move forward – if the problem is identified and fixed. It’s how the owner and management team respond to those mistakes, misses, omissions — or even complacency — that can make all the difference.
InterimExecs surveyed interim leaders from around the world for our 2020 Interim Executives Survey. In addition to asking executives about who’s hiring them and the roles they’re taking on, we asked executives for insights into “The Biggest Mistakes Companies Make.” While their responses varied, clear themes emerged in the areas of leadership, operations, human capital, strategy, financials, and change initiatives. Focusing on these fundamentals is a good starting point for any struggling business.
The only certainty in business is change. But change is accelerating, less predictable, and increasingly, beyond the control of organizations. As technology and unforeseen events continue to drive exponential change, businesses that can’t keep up risk being left behind.
Companies struggling to generate growth and stay relevant amid rapid transformation often look to new leadership. A growing number of companies are also looking to a different kind of leader—one who specializes in change and embraces the challenge of helping companies solve their biggest issues. Enter the interim executive, a new breed of on-demand leadership that brings outside perspective, cutting-edge thinking, veteran experience, and a laser focus on results.
Anxiety is in abundance this Friday the 13th. We write from our mostly empty office building where both cautiousness and outright fear from COVID-19 seem to be in full effect.
Stock markets worldwide have become nonstop rollercoasters, now mostly plummeting downhill. Grocery stores are packed as people stock up on supplies. Panic seems to be at the root of many news articles and communications. As an owner, investor, or member of the management team it can be difficult to navigate the chaos to determine what this means for the future of your company and employees.
As owners and leaders it’s our obligation to step up during crisis – to be a light to those around us. This is at the heart of what we do. InterimExecs RED Team – an elite team of executive change agents — often run straight into the fire, doing what is necessary to listen, diagnose, set plans and execute. The successful leader must be the calm in the midst of the storm – a point of stabilization for the team and a trusted partner for those around them. So how should we react to the events around us?
Our world, our universe is characterized by constant change. Stars are born and die, storms transform the landscape, nations rise and fall, people change over time. In the business world economies grow and collapse, business models evolve, industries transform and even the Top 100 list of leading companies completely changes in a matter of a few years.
But sometimes the speed and scope of change is extremely rapid, its consequences unforeseeable and unpredictable. This makes planning and decision making highly risky because it is so difficult to see what the future holds. “Everybody has a plan,” said championship boxer Mike Tyson, “until they get punched in the face.”
To help explain the often sudden, fluid, rapidly evolving and dynamic forces of change – that “punch in the face” — the U.S. Army War College created the term V.U.C.A. to describe and ultimately deal with highly dynamic, shifting and challenging situations.
We just experienced possibly the largest wave of CEO departures in recent history. Was it due to falling profits? Poor succession planning? Or is there more drama behind the scenes? Think firings, hurt egos, politics, and personal infighting. Author Isabelle Nüssli uncovers one of the big reasons for turmoil at the top ― the fractious relationships between egos at the executive level, particularly between CEO and chairperson. Hence the brilliant title of her new book, Cockfighting: Solving the Mystery of Unconscious Sabotage at the Top of the Corporate Pyramid.
“When you read the news, usually the reason [given for the CEO leaving] was strategy misalignment or different leadership style or different chemistry, etc. But the story that is not put out to the public is that there was a relational conflict, which apparently is the case most of the time,” says Nüssli.
No organization is immune to challenges, not if it has any ambition. But how do we as owners and leaders put our strategy hat on to see down the road, or attempt to see, to predict where markets will go, how customers will act and react? To play the great game of chess in the real world – which is strategy.
Sometimes that is easier said than done. The eloquent Mike Tyson put it so well when he said, “everybody has a plan until I punch them in the mouth.” We would do well to remember how limited our brilliant strategies in fact are, how fragile in the face of ambiguity, uncertainty and future black swan events.
Just look to history to see how companies have been blindsided with the punch they never saw coming. Kodak invented the first digital camera in 1975, but put launch on hold in fear of cannibalizing their film business. We all know the story from there….Kodak who? Or take Blockbuster – which failed to pivot when Netflix showed up. And then Borders and Barnes & Noble, crushed under the Amazon onslaught. And the examples of business strategy gone wrong go on…
How many owners or executive teams are truly confident that their organization is operating at it’s best? How many have a true action plan for the future? And how many of those can actually execute on the plan?
Donald Sull, a lecturer at MIT and an expert on strategy execution surveyed hundreds of companies on how strategy is executed and found that many lack agility or have difficulties adapting to market circumstances. In a HBR article he reported that most organizations either “react so slowly that they can’t seize fleeting opportunities or mitigate emerging threats or react quickly but lose sight of company strategy”.
These fears are echoed by executives across companies and industries.
Non-Profit, Vision Share, is the consortium of eye banks that banded together in 1998 to get corneas ready for transplant, into the hands of surgeons around the globe. With 18 eye banks, the consortium provides a space to share best practices, help advance innovation and technology, and pool resources to reach surgeons fast.
After having a full-time CEO on board for two years, the board determined they were not getting the results they were looking for.
Companies that have sought out true interims will tell you that during initial conversations, the executive interviewed the company as much as the company interviewed the executive. Having jumped into everything from manufacturing to healthcare, to AI, interims are choosy about the assignments they take on. They are not shy about a challenge, but want to have major impact. The best interim execs have a finely honed internal screening check-list to decide what’s best to parachute into.
Cleve Adams is no stranger to high growth situations, having built a SaaS cyber security software company from pre-revenue to a $1B IPO in three years. As an interim exec and four-time VC-backed CEO, Cleve says there are four vital components to evaluating a company.
2017 offered daily excitement. The markets continued an unrelenting upward streak. While some debate the strength of underlying fundamentals, valuations public and private rose all year long.
In our business at InterimExecs, demand for interim management continued strongly while gaining momentum in the US. We had fun matching inspiring companies and executives together that were focused on growth, transformation, or taking on big initiatives and goals (see some of our favorite moments of 2017 here: www.interimexecs.com/2017-review).
Thanks to Peter Diamandis and the Abundance360 team, I now know 2018 will prove to be even better in all respects.
First-year Change Agent members have access to the Interim Institute’s 4 hour audio program on the Fundamentals of Interim Management, and a one-hour strategy session to help jumpstart their interim career.
*$200 additional charge for Accelerator Program only applies for first-year members. After the first year, membership renews at $485/year.