Most companies approach significant business decisions through one of two opposing perspectives: ambition or desperation.I’m talking about those decisions that cut to the heart of sacred matters such as structure, offerings, channels, and partnerships. Decisions that carry overt ramifications.
When I talk with senior executives about the potential for substantial change to a business - such as new organizational models, outsourcing, alliance relationship, or M&A - I start with questions that help me to understand their motivation. Sometime the words that come back mask the true impetus for making a change.
Initiatives motivated by ambition tend to involve a broader group of people than those driven by desperation. They tend to rally the troops. The words convey construction.
Desperate times tend to narrow the universe of executives focused on the remedial actions, and they often take the form of secretive undertakings. The vernacular is about dismantlement.
For example, one recent conversation focused on a persistent pattern of competitive losses for a company that believed its offerings were market leading. Senior management wanted to sort through the conflicting rhetoric of the marketing, sales, and offering teams. Why was the company not being selected in competitive evaluations?
Once the facts were laid bare, senior management had some hard decisions to make. They unearthed arbitrary qualification processes, lack of references, substandard features, misaligned channel strategy, archaic pricing models, and under-prepared sales teams.
Did the data tell management that the war was lost and that it was time to exit the market for that particular offering? Or did the data reveal that the market was hot and that excellence in execution would reap great rewards?
It all depends on the perspective, but one thing is clear: being indecisive about the competing extremes would relegate the company to a dumpster fire of under-performance and frustration. No decision was a decision to fail.
If the conclusion revealed that these are desperate times for the offering, management would either decide to exit the business or make substantial structural changes.
If, instead, the leadership decided that there were lessons to be leveraged and that it was time to “double down” on the opportunity, management would settle on a very different course of action. This might include leadership changes, added investment in features, or new sales approaches. Ambition and optimism would underlie the announcement of such changes. Alignment among the team would be essential.
As my good friend Peter Fuda likes to say, “When “good enough” isn’t good enough, it’s time to organize transformation around a burning ambition.” While people tend to follow ambition with much more vigor than desperation, both emotions motivate change.
One last tip: deal with desperation quickly, but deal with ambition collectively.
Peter Allen has many years of operating experience as a top executive and strategic advisor for companies of all shapes and sizes, with focus on technology-enabled business services. He is now a Boston-based Managing Director at Alvarez & Marsal.