After a few decades of watching companies rise and fall, I've observed when any one of seven concepts pop up inside a company, it almost always mean that the company is on the fast track to failure. They don't always have these exact wordings, but the gist is there:

1. "If you don't come in on Saturday, don't bother coming in on Sunday."

This oft-quoted sentence epitomizes the attitude, all too common inside high-tech firms, that work/life balance means making work into your life.

How bad can it get? I once worked in a company where one manager bragged about the number of divorces on his team as a positive measure of productivity. What eventually happened to that company? Epic failure.

Numerous studies have shown that consistently working long hours give you a temporary boost in productivity that almost immediately declines to less than it would be if you were working reasonable hours. Workaholism is a disease, not a viable strategy.

2. "Our salespeople are being paid too much."

With the exception of the CEO, salespeople are the only employees who are paid almost entirely upon the results they produce. If a salesperson regularly develops and closes multi-million dollar deals, she deserves to make seven figures, even if that's more than the CEO is making.

Selling is demanding work that comes with a high risk of failure. If a company stops appreciating its salespeople and starts treating them like freeloaders, the talented ones will quickly leave and the company's revenue will collapse.

3. "We're following Coke's branding strategy."

Any attempt to imitate the past success of an industry giant is doomed to failure. Today's business world is different than when previous companies grew so huge. What worked for them will not work for you.

Another form of this fatal sentence is "We're going to be the next [hugely successful firm]." Back in the day, it was IBM or Microsoft. Today it's Facebook or Google. Delusions of grandeur don't result in workable business plans.

4. "The Board of Directors has named as co-CEOs..."

A company with two CEOs makes about as much sense as an orchestra with two conductors. Not only does it guarantee chaos in the ranks, but no real decisions will be made until one CEO manages to get the other one fired.

Furthermore, any BoD that attempts this stunt consists of idiots, which bodes poorly for a company's survival. The latest example: the incredibly botched attempt to take control of the Market Basket supermarket chain.

5. "Always Be Closing!"

Curse you, Alec Baldwin!

What everyone forgets about the movie Glengarry Glen Ross is that, despite Baldwin's inimitable "A.B.C." pep talk, the only salesperson who comes close to selling anything (the Al Pacino character) is the opposite of pushy.

Companies that encourage overbearing and manipulative sales tactics don't win many customers and have trouble keeping the ones they do win. A.B.C. is a recipe for failure because it usually doesn't work and when it does work, it damages relationships.

6. "Marketing consists of the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

That weighty definition comes directly from the official web page of the American Marketing Association. It sounds all impressive and important until you realize that 1) it describes everything that a company does, and 2) when defined so broadly, it's impossible to measure whatever the marketing group is supposed to be doing.

Companies that swallow these stratospheric definitions of marketing end up with parasitic marketing groups that endlessly discuss and modify a company's market strategy. Customers become confused and revenue goes down the toilet.

What's a better definition? Here's mine: "Marketing helps a company measurably sell more in less time." Get your marketers doing that and revenue growth is almost inevitable.

7. "We need to hire more MBAs."

'Nuff said.

Published on: Oct 15, 2014
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.