The bane of some enterprises – startups included – has been their inability to challenge the incumbent management / founding team’s method of working – or sometimes its vision altogether. They had toyed with a great idea and did go quite a distance with it. Somewhere along the way, they had realized they were going down the wrong road. They stop and look around for sign posts. They saw none, no passer-by to enquire. So what do they do?
A normal traveler would just retrace his steps until he locates a sign post or finds some local guy to guide him. But in enterprise adventures, there’s this big difference – of sunk costs. Covering each mile comes with substantial cash burn and losing your way can be costly too. It gets complicated if the team had some early skeptics whose words went unheeded.
That’s exactly when the team needs fresh, unbiased perspective. If the mistake needs to be owned up, it had better be. Have it reviewed by an outsider and get his opinion. Naturally, it’s easier to take a fresh perspective when you really are new and when the assumptions you are questioning are not your own. We’re all more comfortable challenging someone else’s thinking than stepping back and critically assessing our own ideas and behaviors. That’s what Ed Whitacre did when he needed to shake up GM’s management team post crisis — because the incumbents couldn’t get enough distance to challenge the way things had previously been done.
But why wait for your company to get in trouble and for the board of directors to shake up the management team? The turning of the calendar year is a good time for every manager to take stock and think about what you would do if you were starting fresh. So here’s a thought-exercise you can do: First, take a deep breath and fire yourself. That’s right — take yourself out of your job so that you’ll get some distance from it.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll end up re-hiring you.