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Dealing with company health

Posted: September 29, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 29, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Businesses, like people and products, go through what is called the life cycle. The four stages are birth, growth, maturity and decline.

I want to zero in on the second half of the maturity phase as it relates to companies. It is in this time frame that “health problems” emerge.

At the start of each year many individuals write a list of resolutions. At the top of nearly every one of these lists is something about improving personal health: eat healthier, lose weight, watch less TV, go on more vacations, get more sleep, stop eating “junk food” and to exercise. Research suggests that this is the essence of what most New Years resolutions consist of.

We make these lists because we know what we have been doing to our body isn’t the best for our short term or long term health. Every time we look in the mirror we are aware that we need to address both the causes and the results of our behaviors, if for no other reason than to improve our image and body functionality.

As companies move into middle age, the first noticeable sign something is not right is the extra weight being carried.

Often these “extra pounds” are around the middle. By that I mean, additional layers of management: leads, supervisors and managers. Managers are often hired to supervise managers. This all comes at a cost; additional payroll, and associated payroll expenses such as worker’s comp and taxes. This weight leads to other complications.

The extra baggage is often additional pounds in the middle of the profit and loss statement. I’m referring to expenses such as additional, unproductive and empty office, telephone lines, land, cell and fax, that are paid for but not used, overused or underused; additional paper, printing, mailing costs; utility expenses; travel and entertainment. Just about every expense on a profit and loss statement increases if not carefully managed.

The additional weight impacts how quickly the company can move. More people bring more meetings; additional layers of decision-making and time to process and put into effect decisions made by leadership.

Something else happens in the company, not universal, but selectively: “hardening of the attitudes”. Turf wars begin; communication, once universal, slows down and in some cases, ceases all together.

The company may divide into camps, new hires versus old timers, or factions are created of internal versus external personnel and functions.

While some of this is simply a result of function, as an example, many people working in an office do not understand when sales people arrive late and leave the office early, not knowing the sales person was on the phone speaking with customers and prospects while the office worker was sound asleep it often goes deeper because there could be a perceived loss of entitlement and stature.

Toxins also build up and spread. This isn’t restricted to just people, or attitudes but policies and procedures intended to deal with the few who don’t or won’t or can’t follow organizational policies. All are held to a tight standard instead of dealing directly with those not complying. Once toxins spread, it can be difficult to eliminate them.

To get things done timely and efficiently, more force is used. This is high blood pressure. HBP, if unchecked, will do severe damage in many different ways. When force is used to accomplish things, it is a very bad sign.

The extra weight, hardening of the attitudes, toxic build up, and the need to use force did not suddenly appear overnight; it was added through the years. Addressing these won’t be easy or without pain. The symptoms can be ignored but left unaddressed, are likely to kill your company.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.



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