Subscribe to Inc. magazine
LEAD

3 Common Mistakes Leaders Need to Fix

So your company isn't growing fast enough and you can't figure out why? You're likely in denial about one of these three things.
Advertisement

Ever felt your business was stuck, but couldn't put your finger on why?

Ever hit a rough patch where nothing seems to flow, and everything you try seems only to drive your organization further into a rut?

When a business (or a division, department, project, group or team) hits a period of extended malaise, chances are the issue is hiding in plain sight. Most often, the senior management is in denial.

Here are the three things that senior executives find most difficult to 'fess up to:

1. The hire you shouldn't have made.

It could be a family member you felt pressured to appoint or a rushed hire who you knew at the time wasn't exactly what you needed--either way, failed or failing hires are universally the top cause of executive myopia.

The reason for this is two-fold. The blow to our ego that comes with admitting a hiring mistake in the first place, and the sheer pain of having to both unmake the hire and go through the hiring process again.

Problem is, a bad hire not only slows down the organization's ability to execute, it drains the enthusiasm and engagement of existing high-performers and erodes your credibility, as others watch while you vacillate.

Do you have a prominent hire you know isn't working out and just won't work out? Take a deep breath and pull off the plaster. The whole organization will thank you.

2. The customer you need to fire.

We love our customers. They pay the bills, after all. But that doesn't mean that we need to (or should) love all our customers. Many of them can be unprofitable to work with, and in general, it's healthy to prune your customer or client list once a year to remove the dead wood and make room for new, profitable clients.

Occasionally however, something happens which is much more difficult to deal with--a genuinely profitable customer becomes so large and demanding that responding to their needs begins to dominate everything else, dictating our daily priorities, even eroding our culture internally. They become a pain, but we need (or want) their business badly enough that we put up with the pain, even while it distorts everything else and demotivates our people.

There's never a pretty end to the "1,000-lb gorilla" customer story. Either you let them continue to ravage your business and burn out your people, or you take the initiative and begin the processes of "planning them out" as customers. In my experience, separating from the embrace of a large, profitable but ultimately unhealthy customer is best done on your terms, not theirs.

3. The core product that isn't.

It's hard to let go of past successes, but as Marshall Goldsmith rightly says, "What got you here won't get you there." And nowhere is this more true than in your product offering.

Some leaders embrace change, but can't let go of the past (yes, both can co-exist). As a result, I see many businesses that have responded well to changes in their industry, introducing new product and service lines as customers' needs evolve, but who are stagnating because they continue to pour resources into products that are no longer core.

When reviewing your product or service offering, it can be tough to let go of those which built the early success of the business. After all, it was around those early products that the myths and legends of the business grew up, and which were central to the identity of the business. Some of your best people may have cut their teeth with those products, and they probably brought in many of your best customers. But if you want to grow, as the great British journalist Arthur Quiller-Couch once said, it may be time to "murder your darlings."

Last updated: Oct 10, 2012

LES MCKEOWN | Columnist

Les McKeown is the President & CEO of Predictable Success, a leading adviser on accelerated business growth. He has started more than 40 companies and was the founding partner of an incubation consulting company.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: