P. Fisher, Ph.D.
Different business organizations project different images to
customers, suppliers, consultants or other visitors. A former professor
colleague of mine took great pride in his self-proclaimed ability to
“size up” (or “size down”) any organization within the first two
minutes he set foot on the premises. He was a social psychologist, not
a financial analyst, and he based his conclusions on such things as the
type, style and color of artwork that was exhibited in the environment,
the rapidity and graciousness with which he was greeted, the way
employees interacted with one another, the cleanliness of the public
areas and the tidiness of office areas. He made some valid points and
caused me to sharpen my own observation powers when I visited a company
for one reason or another. Through the years, I have identified six
major nonfinancial elements or clues that tell me a company is on the
verge of, or has started, a decline even thought “the numbers” may not
yet reflect it.
- There is a generalized preoccupation with business
expansion to the exclusion of improving existing operations.
Many companies on a fast growth track overreach their ability. It is
one thing to “touch,” but another thing to “hold.” That is to say, such
firms are so future-oriented that they lose sight and sensitivity to
the market/customer base that needs to be satisfied now. Such companies
don’t keep business. They lose it out the back door as fast as they
bring it to the front door. They are “growth junkies,” seeking
expediency rather than stability, living for a grand tomorrow with
little thought of survival today.
- Risk is avoided at any cost. Some
companies, once they have secured a niche in the marketplace and have
enjoyed some measure of success, simply stop doing what made them
successful in the first place, i.e., taking calculated controlled
risks; experimenting with new ideas, products, services and systems;
and bringing qualified people into the organization. In contrast to
expansion at any cost, there is an avoidance of risk at all costs.
Because the world is not standing still, the secure market/customer
niche can be eroded as quickly as it was formed. Such companies may be
“sparkling comets” during their ascendancy period, but they can burn
out quickly, never to be seen again.
- The company attracts and retains people who are
most concerned with occupational security. Such companies
experience little employment turnover at management levels and do not
attract energetic, creative personnel. The organization becomes the
parent substitute where one gets along fine if one does what one is
told to do, and no one gets in trouble by doing nothing. There is an
emphasis on conformity. New ideas are not sought or appreciated.
Mediocrity becomes the acceptable standard. Imagination is ridiculed. A
high production level is considered to be “rate-busting,” and
innovation is considered to be radical. Usually there is overstaffing.
There is an excuse or delay mentality rather than a get-it-done outlook
and there is little, if any, conflict because there is an absence of
dynamic, constructive tension. The operation premise is that “if I go
along, I’ll get along” and “I won’t make any waves.”
- There is an absence of self-development at senior
management levels. Top management is too busy (or too
uncomfortable) to undertake activities directed toward professional
self-development. They, or their key people, do not go to conferences,
seminars or other activities where there is an active exchange of
ideas. They believe they have paid their dues and are entitled to sit
back and recap the awards. They may delude themselves that they are
staying current by reading consumer and trade press articles and
reports. They do not realize that all trends have countertrends, that
the marketplace is becoming increasingly differentiated, and that there
are a lot of cross-currents and shifting winds that can have an
immediate effect on the company. In some cases, once you have read
about a trend, it is already over. That means it was a fad.
- The company operates in a dull, tired, gray
environment. There is absence of pep and humor in the people
who work in the company. Employees lack bounce in their gait. They wear
frowns or expressionless faces instead of smiles. Their heads are bowed
instead of uplifted, and they seem haggard instead of stimulated. They
tend to procrastinate; be undisciplined in enforcing working hours,
lunch breaks and coffee breaks; engage in social (not business) chit
chat; and spend a long time reading newspapers or doing crossword
puzzles. Telephones are allowed to ring several times before they are
answered; telephones are left unattended; and mail remains unanswered
for days. There is a listless pace except at quitting time. Physical
facilities are scruffy and dirty, the landscaping is unkept, and the
environment is just too lackadaisical.
- The company doesn’t ask, and it doesn’t listen.
When visitors approach the company, they are viewed as necessary evils.
Employees say, “This place would be great if it weren’t for the
customers” or “The suppliers are the enemy.” Visitors are not looked
upon as information resources, they are not asked for their opinions,
and their opinions are not respected if they are volunteered. There may
be “lip service” or “mail service” for obtaining feedback, but it is a
mechanical exercise not an attempt for a constructively critical
analysis. Senior management thinks it knows all the answers, so there
is little, if any, use of outside consultants. Communication doesn’t
flow, it drains. Employees do not get straight answers to reasonable
questions; they get double-talk or “politically straddled” answers.
When one of these corporate maladies is present, usually other
maladies show up soon thereafter.
William P. Fisher, Ph.D. is the Darden Chair in
the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of
Central Florida in Orlando. A former CEO of the National Restaurant
Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association he is the
recipient of numerous awards including the CHRIE Educator of the Year
and the Michael E. Hurst Award for Educational Excellence, and is a
Diplomat of the National Restaurant Association's Educational
Foundation. An author and noted speaker, he serves on corporate boards
in concert with his consulting assignments. A former U.S. Air Force
Officer, he is a graduate of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration.
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