This is the post that inspired our film, Back to Basics. Check it out at http://www.backtobasicsthefilm.com
I originally wrote this entry about 8 months ago. It was inspired through a visit that I made to a very large public company in the restaurant community. I left the name of the organization off the post, so as not to make anyone feel bad. But truth be told, I left their facilities feeling very sad. I hope you enjoy the post below:
Journal Entry – August, 2011
I am so fortunate to have been provided the opportunity to serve as CEO at MonkeyMedia Software.
It’s my job to provide direction for the company, to help steer it to a hopeful but uncertain victory.
I get to meet great leaders and the people they serve. In each case, in companies both large and small, there are fantastic people trying so hard to please their customers, their managers and their owners. Everyone is working hard.
As I travel to boardrooms, I am amazed at the cultural differences that differ from company to company.
Many of these companies have been hit hard during these recessionary times. Yes, the food business has suffered in recent times.
I find it so interesting, that when a business is in decline, and cost cutting continues to be one of the main initiatives, the fear that is cultivated for the surviving members of the team is overbearing. Devastating, scary and quite frightening really. Emotions run high, work is piled on, and projects are under-resourced. Hiring freezes paralyze them; is anything getting done?
You can walk down the hallowed halls of these buildings, that were once filled with entrepreneurial spirit, the culture of growth and a true belief system. As the years have passed, Wall Street has stepped in. Although we should also feel grateful to Wall Street for providing us with financial vehicles for growth, I feel that at the same time, it is appropriate for us to be angry with them for killing the entrepreneurial spirit while focused on shareholder value.
After all, during these last 6 or 7 decades of growth our ancestors had to believe, right? Otherwise, how did they get up in the morning and go to work? Their passion was alive! Where else do you get the fuel from if not from believing? Wasn’t it hard times for them too? Hasn’t it always been hard?
For me, it is sad to see the “ghosts in the walls.” The words and images of a growing culture. One that had direction, hope and prospects for the “sky is the limit”.
As I walk down some of these halls, the once vibrant philosophical management style, has now turned over 3 times in recent years. You can sense that the mission statement so proudly displayed on the walls during the building years, are now just empty words in this time of decline. Nobody even reads the words. They are just invisible and part of the background noise. The words are not relevant, not being lived. The management teams in their ivory towers have stopped walking the talk. They have simply focused on share price, with no sense of any real higher purpose. It’s not their fault really because they too are just trying to feed their families. They are people too. Victims of Wall Street as well. They are forced to abandon suffering markets and focus on new growth opportunities overseas. Shouldn’t they fix their challenges at home first? Don’t they have a responsibility to their adoring brand fans? Their employees and franchisees? The people who have mortgaged their homes and depend on the success of these businesses? Where is their moral compass?
I feel as if the words I am reading on the walls, were written by past leaders who are now just “Ghosts in the Walls.” Just ghosts. Not the haunted kind; just the forgotten kind.
Well, I can tell you, there are companies that are trying hard to fix themselves. Leadership with new blood. Even so the battle is uphill as the future remains so uncertain. But hasn’t it always been uncertain? Isn’t that just the way it is? After all, nothing good can last just as nothing bad can last. It is forever changing.
One thing that worries me. We are forgetting all the good people who came before us in these workplaces. The people who experienced the early years. The entrepreneurial years. The exciting years.
And so, now that times are tougher, we sometimes remain disrespectful to our ancestors. The ghosts in the wall, as I see it. These people of the past made great contributions. They were relevant in their time. They worked hard, just like you and I. Their stories were bought by Wall Street who used their brand equity to grow bigger. But at what expense?
So why is it that instead of setting market trends, we don’t have the guts? We accept that the economy is bad and that there is nothing we can do about it. So, we show up to work, hoping it will change on its own, or even worse, we think new leadership will know what to do. We watch as they run for the hills and open new stores in emerging markets because Wall Street demands it. We follow them because we believe they know what to do.
Well guess what? They don’t know what to do! When a business is sick, it is sick. To bring it back to health, you have to change it; and quickly.
Well, it’s tough for anyone to fix broken companies, with broken promises. Distrust runs high.
I urge you to listen to the voices of the ghosts in the walls. That’s where the answers are. The ones that were there before you.
Our company ancestors have seen it all. They too rode the wild roller coaster of business. So, honor them. Tomorrow when you go to work, try and connect to your company ancestors. Ask THEM the hard questions.
I promise you they will tell you the answers. Just look on your walls. Read the old signs, the aging clippings and the wins and milestones that were celebrated over the years. Also, make sure you refer to the failures, there is alot to learn there. Reconnect with the culture, the passion, the spirit. The early days. Go back to the basics. It always works.
Now is the time for change. To get smarter, more committed, retrenched. How else do we manoever through the mired complexities?
As my friend Tom Feltenstein often says, change is good, you go first!
Only the entrepreneurial companies will survive. Just look at our great brands that are succeeding today. Behind each of them, is a great entrepreneurial leader. For them, there never was a “recession”. For them, it’s just a time of change, just like any other day at work. They don’t focus on share price. Just on their passion and beliefs.
They listen to and consult the ghosts in their walls.
Thanks for stopping by today.