Secrets of Success: Calling It Quits

Jonathan Wright, our Leadership Quantified Expert in Business Development, takes a look at a subject near and dear to my heart: knowing when to cut your losses, make something that isn't working stop and move on to new successes. I've written about it before - and you've been great about commenting. Do the same for Jonathan. Even better, do what you need to do - with Jonathan's help.
When I first started writing what is now this post about calling it quits, I had intended it to be a Leadership Quantified Working Paper providing guidance to you on knowing when to pull the plug on a Marketing or Social Media Campaign. (I'll be writing about that too, but first this.) Due to circumstances, I decided to generalize the topic for any situation - professional or personal.

What were those circumstances? I fired an employee.

It turns out that managing staff is very much like managing a business plan - because the steps are surprisingly similar.

Let me summarize the situation - or at least my actions leading up to the firing:
  • I Coached and coaxed...
  • Met this employee in the middle (or tried)...
  • Reviewed what previous managers had done and how that had worked...
  • Took into consideration personal issues I knew existed that I assumed were part of the situation I was dealing with... 
  • Set myself outside my feelings and looked at the situation without emotion and, finally, 
  • Realized that sometimes you just cannot turn someone around. 
It's the same with a marketing or social media or sales plan. Sometimes you have to trash it all and move on.

I hate to admit that I failed. We all do. But to succeed you need two or more willing participants. If one of those participants is disengaged, you have no hope of winning.

Accept it and don't waste any more time or resources.

But how do you know when that time has arrived? We've all heard the Perseverance speech, the Never Give Up speech and the Try One More Time Even When You Just Can't speech. Yeah, I tried all those approaches and still...nothing.

I'm an eternal optimist - almost annoyingly so. I want so badly to make my plan work that I'm willing to push and push to get it accomplished. That's admirable to a point - until it's not and not taking the necessary steps becomes the problem. Yes, you, yourself,  become the problem - because you're not taking the actions necessary.

So, let's take a look at the three steps you need to take to know when to call it quits - whether you're dealing with a staff member or a plan (business, marketing or sales):

1. Review the Situation as It Currently Stands
  • Review the plan as strategized (Note: Every plan must have a timeline to measure against effectiveness)
  • Review the steps taken to implement and look for missed opportunities
2. If Missed Opportunities are Identified
  • Try those options/opportunities with a strict timeline
  • Review to see if the new options/opportunities had any impact
If Yes: Continue on that path
If No: Move to the next step
3. Do One Final Push to Succeed
  • Set a short timeline - no longer than one month 
  • At the end of that time period, review to see if any significant changes have occurred to the positive
If Yes: Revise the plan to adjust and adapt those positive outcomes for growth and expansion and continue
If No: Set a date - no longer than two weeks -  to pull the plug and implement a new plan.
Thanks to the internet, life moves at light speed - both personal and professional. Technology has given us the tools to track, monitor and measure every campaign, decision and post.

That makes wasting precious resources irresponsible - most importantly, time. At the end of the day, you're not helping yourself, your company or your plan.

There are clearly visible warning signs your plan might be failing, such as:
  • No changes in behavior or sales or marketing goals (i.e. 'Likes' on your Facebook page)
  • No willingness to take new direction
  • No willingness to engage in communications that the plan is failing
  • No metrics to measure success or failure
  • No timelines attached to milestones
  • No way to quantify engagement
  • No excitement over the plan or daily activities to execute the plan.
Sometimes a simple, small change in approach or messaging can make all the difference between success and failure. But without a mechanism built into your plan to measure those changes and a benchmark to say This is Success, how will you know if you're succeeding?

In my consulting practice, I'm profoundly confused by some executives' and business owners' refusals to set metrics for success along the way. They're "afraid" to set those milestones because they're afraid of this "new idea" or unsure "how to implement new media." Some flat out don't want to be able to label an effort a success or failure because they see that as a projection of their success or failure.

Not one of those excuses is a reason not to put appropriate measures into place.

Even freshman business students know that there's no "100% Success" plan. One product may have success and another similar product may try exactly the same plan and fail miserably. Hundreds of small details go into the formula and they determine success or failure. Some of them are concrete, but, often, they're gauzy intangibles like "tone" or "response time" or "personality" that there's no definable label for - but can make or break a campaign.

Ultimately the formula is the same no matter the situation:
  1. Make the plan then be willing to follow it. 
  2. If it's not working...take a deep breath and pull the plug. 
  3. After a brief mourning period - no more than a day - begin strategizing a new plan.
What you will find, much to your surprise, is a renewed energy around the situation and that, by knowing what didn't work, you and your team can concentrate on what did and how to build on that in new directions.
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The Anti-Fear Motivation: the Lessons of Lady Gaga and the Dixie Chicks

"A little bit of fear is a good thing."

That comment is neither new nor novel.  But, whether you're talking the "War on Terror" or creating corporate sales, it has become a staple for ostensible motivation - whether of your employees or society as a whole.

It's a sorry state when it's the voices of pop and country stars - from yesterday's Dixie Chicks anti-war comments to today's Lady Gaga rallying her audience to peacefully protest Arizona's SB1070 - are not only needed but simultaneously vilified for trying to remove fear from the equation.

Because, while fear may create a short term win, it decimates long term success.

My first time hearing the statement in a corporate setting was from a senior Sales executive in a division of a Big Pharma organization.

His problem?  His sales force wasn't making its numbers and that was knocking his bonus off track.  His solution? "Motivate" his sales force by making clear that they needed to make their numbers or they could lose their jobs.  Be summarily dismissed.  Be walked out the door.  Have their Blackberries confiscated.

Possibly.  But not absolutely.  (Because that would have been against both the law and corporate policy.)

So, what they needed to do was make sure that they didn't get themselves into that position by performing. That's all.  Just sell the product.  Go team!

And they did.  They made the numbers he needed - in volume.  But to get there, they cut deals with their customers that did more financial damage to that division than anyone had ever seen before.

But our smiling executive got his numbers.  And his bonus.  Until he lost his job - and deservedly so.  (The division was later spun off as a stand-alone company.)

Fear is a despicable strategy.  It works against any organization's long-term goals simply to fulfill an individual's short-term needs.  It is, in fact, the tactic of cowards.

There is too much research on empowerment and the importance of collaboration to innovation, improved operations and financial success to ignore.  And, consistently, within that research, we find that the more that executives create a culture without fear, the more successful - and sustainable - their organization is.

That doesn't mean that you don't or can't tell employees the truth.  You have to tell them the truth - whether things are going well or not.

That's why there is such a sense of betrayal even by employees today who have jobs.  They've given in on everything from salary increases to cutting their hours and, as a result, their ability to financially sustain themselves, because their executives told them that the company would go bust if they didn't.

So they took the hit - and now they're seeing those companies' profits soar.  Yet their salaries and hours aren't improving.

Because those executives are still maintaining that things could go wrong.  There might be a double-dip recession.  Consumer confidence isn't what it needs to be.  While they're taking their bonuses.

You can't have it both ways and win.

Remember, your people really are your most valuable asset.  They are the ones who know how to make things happen in your organization.  They are the ones that work within the effective and ineffective systems by which your organization works.

They are not easily replaceable - even in a downturn.  Nor by contracting.  Because when your people walk out the door, they take all their knowledge and experience with them.  And they bring it to your competitors.

So, small business or large.  Entrepreneurial venture or legacy organization.  Across sectors and industries, pay attention and don't make the core long-term mistake that can make or break your company.

Fear is a bad thing.  If you see it being perpetuated in your enterprise, get rid of the person who's doing so - because that person's goals are not the same as yours.  At least not if you want to keep your job - and your organization - for long.

That's not fear-mongering.  That's fact.
For more on how to create a High Quality culture and bring innovation to your organization, click here.