Get Out of the Way, Dr. Jekyll

Something that has often puzzled me is when a company of community spends vast time and money to hire great people or vendors and then seeks to change them. What the heck is that about?

Every organization dreams of adding a real winner to the team, a person who will outperform any and all previous records. They put the word out that they’re looking for a killer salesperson, manager, economic developer, vendor (you name it) to take them to new levels of success.

They glean resumes, scour references, and put candidates through the interview wringer in order to discover Mr. or Ms. Glorious. A winner! After a few days or weeks on the job, they discover that Mr. Glorious does things a little differently.

I once met just such a winner. He was known industry-wide for achieving incredible sales and division growth. He was young, brash, aggressive, and allowed nothing to stop him. He showed up at the office around ten, took long and expensive lunches (with clients), played golf almost daily, and soon racked up sales that were three times higher than any other salesperson. The company president loved his sales but hated his style.

The “old man” was a by-the-book traditionalist who made it his mission to reign in Mr. Glorious. He expected employees to be at their desk, working, by eight and to never, ever, leave before five. He was obsessed with getting every minute of work out of every employee. The idea of paying for unproductive time made him crazy.

The office was full of eight-to-five drones who plodded along, as expected, putting in their time, and accomplishing very little. They followed the rules, did what they were told, kept quiet about any disagreements and probably took their frustrations home to their families. You see, the company president was notorious for using his authority and strong personality to mold employees and vendors into nice, neat clones of himself. As a result, few new ideas came out of the company. Not only was the place only mildly productive, it had become boring.

Long story made short, Mr. Glorious soon moved on. His personality and work style were far too different and he wasn’t about to change. But the story didn’t end there. A few years later, the company was purchased by a larger competitor that was buying up smaller companies in a massive acquisition spree. At the helm of the buyout giant was, you guessed it, Mr. Glorious. His company was widely known as the place to work. There were few rules. The employees functioned as a team and they had fun in what was a very unique, yet functional, workplace.

It happens to vendors, too!
If you’re a regular Rants reader, you are aware of my position on brands. You can’t change them by getting a new logo. If your company or community has a bad reputation (brand), a new logo won’t change a thing. You’ll simply become a bad company or community with a new logo.

I once saw a Fortune 500 company hire a respected marketing communications firm and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new logo. The brand team viewed countless concepts. Some were very conservative and others were wildly unique. They wanted to modernize the company image and position it as the cutting edge leader they believed it to be.

After almost a year, a decision was made. The CEO, who had not been part of the process, chose to stay with the same logo the company had used for over a century. The brand manager, under massive pressure to explain what he was thinking when he suggested a new logo, fired the agency.
Today, the company is stuck in a rut, globally viewed as old, slow and vulnerable to takeover. It does great work but a musty cloud of age hangs over its future.

It takes a visionary!
Companies and communities want the excitement and rewards of being at the center of a flurry of success. The problem is that their leadership is often unwilling to do the things required to create that success. Leaders must be willing to take risks and break with tradition in order to create the kind of success and excitement they desire.

Wildly successful organizations are almost always led by a top executive who has a vision and courage to make bold moves. He or she is often seen as a bit odd, maybe even nutty. My experience however, is that this type of undisciplined visionary will make amazing things happen. They are willing to be different, refusing to follow the crowd.

Here are just a few business visionaries who became famous for their risk taking tendencies and courage. Each grew massive empires and created countless jobs:

Henry Ford (Ford Motors)
Sam Walton (Wal-Mart)
Oprah Winfrey (Harpo)
Bill Gates (Microsoft)
Steve Jobs (Apple)
Meg Whitman (eBay)
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)
Jeff Bezos (Amazon)

They were not afraid to be different. They were notoriously odd. Their friends, colleagues and the business community labeled them as dreamers. They were privately and publicly scoffed. But, they didn’t stop. They sought partners and employees who were also different.

Are you such a visionary? Are you willing to be different? When are you going to get started?

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