For some people, a work rut is just a matter of boredom. They need a new project to work on, perhaps, or maybe a vacation. But an executive slump is different. That's when the consistent patterns of your daily work life make you a complacent executive. You start believing the company is doing just fine, and you drop your guard. Don't think that's a problem? Picture the guy in a horror movie who's laughing contentedly with his friends...right before the monster grabs him from behind and devours him.
In today's extremely competitive economy, no CEO can afford to be anything but vigilant. You might think everything's going swimmingly at the moment, but new technology is always on the horizon, threatening your roadmap. Key employees suddenly accept other offers and leave important positions empty. Customers are continuously being wooed by your competitors. When you're vigilant, you're prepared to address these concerns as they arise--but when you fall into a daily rut, you're not paying attention to the big picture.
So how you can combat the complacency?
1. Change your scenery. When you get into the habit of regular staff meetings or financial reviews in the same rooms with the same people, multiple times a week, it's easy to focus on carrying out the daily agenda at hand and nothing else. We never step away from the meeting room table and talk about what's working and what's not.
One way for a CEO to help prevent this kind of big-picture blindness is to simply get out of the office more often. And I'm talking every three months or so--not just once a year, the way some people schedule off-sites. When you change up the physical location, and make the agenda more open and the environment more comfortable, people can speak the truth about the business--and, more importantly, you can hear what they're saying.
2. Don't just work with your team. If, every single day, you talk to the same colleagues, have the same kinds of conversations, and do the same things together, you're going to start feeling like it's Groundhog Day. You need to break up the routine and do things with all your employees, outside the office, that don't revolve around work.
Have a company picnic, for example. Do a company-wide afternoon at a baseball game. Or take one Friday a month and work with a local charity, together as a company. These kinds of activities help strengthen the bonds your employees have--which really does make for better teamwork and collaboration. But more importantly, they give a CEO or senior exec an opportunity to make new relationships in the company, and to see the same people in a new light.
3. Get some fresh opinions. When a CEO starts thinking all is right with the world, odds are she's missing some important insight or opportunities. That's why it's critical for you to get out and talk to people not just inside but outside your company, people with a stake in your future success--like your customers and investors. Every time I go see a customer, I come away with a million ideas. I mean, I am literally brimming over with stories to tell the troops back home about what we're not doing right, or things that we should be more be customer feedback is positive.
Even if business really is going well for the moment, turn the tables. Ask your employees, customers, or other stakeholders: If you were starting a new business tomorrow, how would you compete with our company? How would you out-serve and steal my customers away? We did an exercise like this once at Jobvite, and it got everyone's creative juices flowing. Getting insight from people who aren't mired down in your day-to-day routine can really help generate some game-changing, out-of-the-box ideas.
4. Live a balanced life. The world at large tends to put chief executives on a pedestal symbolically, but the reality is that it's just a job, like any other job. And when you're feeling like that job is getting stale, or you're just doing the same thing every day, you need to get some perspective. Find a hobby. Spend more time with your family. Donate your time to charities. Whatever you do, work to balance your life across a broad range of activities.
And remember, too: Part of achieving this broad perspective, and getting out of that dangerous executive rut, is giving yourself the freedom not to be the boss sometimes. Years ago, I played drums in a rock band--in fact, I used to be quite good, but I let it go for a while because I got busy and life got in the way. Well, I recently started up again. I'm in a band with two other folks, a guitarist and a bass player. And sometimes, they'll turn to me and ask, "What should we play next?" Truth be told, I don't always want to make the decisions. I don't always want to be in charge. So I like to tell them, "I don't know, I'm just the drummer!" And I follow their lead.