If you're like me, you enjoy nothing more than big summer movies -- like Jurassic World. I settled into the cool of the cinema last Saturday, ready to escape the heat and all thoughts of productivity. The setting for Jurassic World is a theme park that's struggling financially. This familiar business reality drives most of the action. It drove out almost too much of the fantasy for me. How many of these antediluvian dos and don'ts do you see at your work?
1. Pet projects.
Pet projects, like velociraptor training exercises, have a way of biting you back. When you set up a pet project as a CEO, make sure you are not evading making the project accountable to the business balance sheet. Experimentation is important, but major pet projects can put the business at risk. Is there a way to satisfy your curiosity within normal business operations?
For an employee like Owen, Chris Pratt's character in Jurassic World, when you take on a pet project, you risk losing visibility for being vital to the organization's core business. When pet projects fail, it's the manager who takes the hit and often, of course, the pets. In Jurassic World, like in the real world, the project performed great thanks to Owen's hard work. The pets still got eaten.
2. Untouchable top performers.
You know the type -- the "priceless" team member who can outperform any other employee in the same role by a factor of 10, played to the hilt by BD Wong as Dr. Henry Wu in Jurassic World. There are people like the fictional Dr. Wu who can create "wow" for your company. The question is, at what cost? For "untouchable" top performers, if you're getting more than a fair return on what you're paying them, are you accounting for the ways you and your team are filling in that gap? By creating untouchable islands of influence around key performers, you can be opening yourself to the old adage "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Top performers need to be on track with the organization's values and held to those standards clearly, even more so because of their power and influence.
In the movie, Wu creates the unbelievable -- with unimaginable consequences. That's pretty much the situation in the real world, too. If you're asking for unbelievable outcomes and thinking you're getting them, get ready for the unimaginable consequences. The fix for this situation is pretty simple -- ask more questions, particularly around the emotional, physical, and psychological costs you're paying.
3. Asking too many questions isn't cool.
Jurassic World team members assume the entrepreneur, Masrani, knows everything and maybe doesn't care about the problems the frontline is facing. Meanwhile, Masrani assumes his people share his values and he doesn't question or micromanage. What results is communication paralysis. That's just the opportunity unscrupulous self-promoters needed to hatch their own reptilian agendas. As an audience member, you're left thinking, If only they'd asked a couple questions... none of this had to happen. That's not unlike what people said about the oil spill on BP's watch, the Enron scandal, or even, less scandalously, the Netflix Qwikster debacle.
Since when is asking an awkward question or two uncool? I know -- since always. It doesn't look "smart" to need to check an assumption -- but it's sheer brilliance in a fast-moving business, when there is no possible way you can know everything.
In this movie, no one questions Masrani because everyone assumes the smart, rich dude has it all right. Which of course, like most entrepreneurs, he does not. Are you finding a way for problems to be surfaced rapidly at your company?
4. The money doesn't matter.
One of the most memorable Jurassic World scenes for me, almost up there with the sea monster mosasaurus swallowing the evil people-plucking pterandon, comes early in the movie. (Minor spoiler alert coming in the next section.) Park director Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is trying to explain the park's financial challenges to Masrani. He is busy enjoying himself by learning to fly a helicopter. He is not focused on the park, nor on the person in front of him. She explains park revenue is dependent on ever more awesome thrills. He interrupts to explain money doesn't matter. He wants to know if she sees happiness in the eyes of the (captive if not actually caged) animals.
For Masrani, happiness matters most, and no one can argue with that perspective. Yet for the business -- the enterprise he has engaged people to manage -- money is the only way he's given them to keep score. Happiness is not on their balance sheet, even if, with some creativity, it could have been at least on a scorecard. Masrani acts surprised later in the film when he finds money is motivating some of his people and not altruism, science, curiosity, or compassion. He has encouraged hiring for culture fit, and not so much for core values. His people, like your people, can't read his mind. There aren't two sets of books at your business either. Make sure the values that really matter to you are embedded in the business rules of your firm. That way, your theme park will always be playing your song.