Product shelf life, product life cycle, your face no longer fits, the order book is empty and the warehouse is full. Nobody did anything wrong, did they?
You have that wonderful moment when all the sales are moving in your direction, the trend is up, the “like for like” sales are breaking new records. Everybody wants your widgets. Even when production costs go down and you push the retail price up, you are told by grey haired hippy gurus that you are a “Love Brand” and that you can do no wrong. Competitors emulate you and still you grow market share. Its hard to keep up with production, press and celebrating your success. This is not a flash in the pan, neither are you a one hit wonder. Your latest album goes platinum, thats three in a row. Your third F1 Constructers Championship is in the bag. The Cat walks of London, Paris and New York await your Spring Collection. More time is spent with clever tax consultants than R&D teams. Travel, travel, travel sets the agenda and how to be in two places at once, plagues the weekly scheduling.
What can possibly go wrong?
The list of potential flaws, world events, poor decision making, laziness, lack of R&D, investment fickleness, blind belief in yesterdays vision, boardroom clutter, best practice now becomes poor practice is endless. Every possible crime that can be committed has been smashed by the gods of time and reality. The mantra of “no body could see it coming” is laughable. The truth is we blind sided ourselves and stopped looking. I know this is much more hurtful, but to agree that the boogey man come out of no where is to offer comfort to poor leaders.
One minute you are a bottle of Coca Cola - the next minute Jamie Oliver lifts the wizards cloak and everyone sees you are just a bottle of sugary water with a 7p extra tax.
One minute you are the local store who rents out a wide range of VHS and DVDs. The next minute you are the local store that rents out only a range of VHS and DVDs. But everyone wants to download or stream. Now you are an empty shop. One minute you are top of your game with Tie Racks everywhere. Then you are not.
You invented short hand and some geek invented dictaphones.
You are Philip Morris and some scientist decides you are killing your customers.
You are Alton Towers and now the only thing that is a tower is the debt around your shoulders.
This is the plague of people in power, like day follows night. Everything goes so well that Tom Peters writes a book about you, before you know it mighty academic lecturers are PowerPointing the obvious wonder of your business model. But if you listen hard enough you will already hear the onward march of new legislation, fashion change, technology barriers being broken as they weave interminably towards your customer base. First there is the plateau, the lack of sales growth, then the growth in costs, then the PR machine trips up, the parties get less, the panic sets in and whoosh a new CEO, new Board, new Shareholders and all of a sudden another king has been found naked in the market place with only his new invisible cloak for modesty.
Its not the inevitable end to every successful business, some get knocked over by the bus, sold, merged and suffocated when the entrepreneurs are replaced by administrators. And its not inevitable, some can fight back;
Lucozade the 1970’s darling of every sick child in the UK, goes to bed one night as a doctors preferred tonic to wake up flawed, cellophane wrapped and exposed as “a sugary drink”. However, the wonder of Lucozade is the way they have repositioned themselves as the UK favourite Sports Drink. It is now used by all healthy sports people because its a ……. “sugary drink”. Gone is the cellophane, gone is the single flavour and it is reborn sponsoring sports events everywhere.
However, this tale is not about something as far removed as products and services, Lucozade and Blockbuster Video. This tale is about you. Its about your value, your positioning (not position) its about your ability to influence, to drive, to lead, to take a team with you to achieve your vision. One minute you can be Marketing Director, CEO, FD, Team Leader, Technical Director and one day you wake up and you are not. No one is quite sure what you are but Ex is usually at the front of your title. I have mentored and supported so many people in this position and the mantra is he same;
“I don’t know where this has come from”
“Its a complete shock, I know my team will walk out when they hear about it”
“They need me, I won this company the first contract in Scotland 11 years ago”
“I can’t believe the board have let the CEO got away with this”
“Wait till the shareholders find out”
Sadly we are all part of life’s “value cycle”, its not just products that the market tires of or find themselves unfashionable. I would boldly suggest there are warning signs we all choose to ignore;
When we join a company we bring energy, vitality, fresh eyes and passion. As life progresses we age and our energy drains, our eyes are in need of glasses and there are many other draws on our passions not least partners, children and grandchildren. What to look for in an organisation that is considering your exit;
- You used to be the person that was blind copied into the confidential emails, now you are the subject of the confidential emails.
- You used to convene and lead the meetings on the board priorities, now you attend and contribute to these meetings
- Your insights were sought, now you are considered to only have a view of yesteryear
- When the bottom line got tough you led the solutioneering, now you walk past rooms and see others crouched over hoards of flip charts
- You were asked to produce a first draft of the executive team's bonus, now you rarely make the final draft sheet for the exec bonus’s
- Your view was often sought at weekends and evenings, now you spend your weekends admiring the views
- You led the succession planning sessions because you knew the bright young things better than most, now you can’t name the bright young things, now you don’t even recognise their names on the annual promotion list
- Once a quarter you calculated what your options were worth, now you are not sure where “that” piece of paper is.
- Twice year you would look to convince IT you needed a faster/bigger laptop, now you visit the online clothes store to buy waistbands that give you that extra inch of comfort after lunch
- You lived, eat and slept the business, but to be honest there are other things in your life which seem worthy of your focus
So what do you do? Fight or flight? I have seen all combinations; the survivor who can’t tell you any of their core values because they sold them to the company long ago, soulless and lonely they cling on to power and position. Or there are those who took flight as soon as the bell tolled for their seat at the board. Now they live a life less revered in a subcontractor. I have seen long standing execs gain guru status, adored for their mind, their moral compass and sense of past vs journey. But they are few. I have seen others who successfully chose on their terms to move sideways, extending their skill, but also giving them a space for life outside work. Clearly financial security and stability can enhance choice and freedom to act and these components are critical to being able to move around the board game of life.
With the support of a mentor it is easier to pick your route, gauge the moment and get the timing right and look for a win win. What has been you experience, are you clinging on, sailing by or happy at the allotment. Your tale will help everyone navigate the messier part of career management.