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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published November 11, 2012

The 3 Things Business Leaders Get in Denial About 

 A version of this article first appeared at Inc.com. Ever felt your business was stuck, but couldn’t put your finger on why? Ever hit a rough patch where nothing seems to flow, and everything you try seems only to drive your organization further into a rut? When a business (or a division, department, project, group or team) hits a period of extended malaise, chances are the issue is hiding in plain sight – most often, something about which one or more of the senior team is in denial. Here are the three things which senior executives find most difficult to ‘fess up to: 1. The hire you shouldn’t have made. It could be a family member you wanted to do a favor for (or felt pressured to appoint); an impressive individual who charmed you over dinner but for whom there wasn’t really a job to begin with, or simply a rushed hire who you knew at the time wasn’t exactly what you needed – either way, failed or failing hires are universally the #1 cause of executive myopia. The reason for this is two-fold: The blow to our ego that comes with admitting a hiring mistake in the first place, and the sheer pain of having to both unmake the hire and go through the hiring process again. Problem is, a bad hire not only slows down the organization’s ability to execute, it drains the enthusiasm and engagement of existing high-performers and erodes your credibility, as others watch while you vacillate. Do you have a prominent hire you know isn’t working out – and won’t? Take a deep breath and pull off the plaster – the whole organization will thank you. 2. The customer you need to fire. We love our customers – they pay the bills, after all – but that doesn’t mean that we need to (or should) love all our customers. Many of them can be unprofitable to work with, and in general, it’s healthy to prune your customer or client list once a year to remove the dead wood and make room for new, profitable clients. Occasionally however, something happens which is much more difficult to deal with: a genuinely profitable customer becomes so large and demanding that responding to their needs begins to dominate everything else, dictating our daily priorities, even eroding our culture internally. They become a pain to deal with, but we need (or want) their business badly enough that we put up with the pain, even while it distorts everything else and demotivates our people. There’s never a pretty end to the ‘1,000-lb gorilla’ customer story. Either you let them continue to ravage your business and burn out your people until they eventually decide to move on, or you take the initiative and begin the processes of ‘planning them out’ as customers. In my experience, separating from the embrace of a large, profitable but ultimately unhealthy customer is best done on your terms, not theirs. 3. The core product that isn’t. It’s hard to let go of past successes, but as Marshall Goldsmith rightly says, ‘What got you here won’t get you there’ – and nowhere is this more true than in your product offering. Some leaders cope well with embracing change, but not so well with letting go of the past (yes, both can co-exist). As a result, I see many businesses that have responded well to changes in their industry, introducing new product and service lines as customers’ needs evolve, but who are stagnating because they continue to pour resources into products that are no longer core. When reviewing your product or service offering, it can be tough to let go of those which built the early success of the business – after all, it was around those early products that the myths and legends of the business grew up, and which were central to the identity of the business. Some of your best people may have cut their teeth with those products, and they probably brought in many of your best customers – but if you want to grow, as the great British journalist Arthur Quiller-Couch once said, it may be time to ‘murder your darlings’.

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    1. Hi Andy,
      Thank you for your question. Our recommendations would be to:
      1. Make sure that you don’t burn any bridges.
      2. Be clear to yourself on the reason why you want to stop working with them.
      3. Find a couple of other companies who offer the product or service you’ve been providing.
      4. Share with the customer why you feel now is the right time you part ways and recommend one of the other companies you think would be able to help them in the future.
      5. Above all else, make sure your discussions are mature/professional.
      Hope this is helpful to you!
      Best wishes,
      Sarah
      Sarah Berger, Community Manager, Predictable Success

      Reply

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