THE FSC MAG’S RESIDENT BUSINESS UNCLE, JAMIL QURESHI, IS HERE TO HELP OLD AND NEW BUSINESSES WITH THEIR PROBLEMS. IF YOU HAVE A BUSINESS PROBLEM YOU WOULD LIKE SOME HELP WITH, EMAIL JAMIL AT HELLO@FUTURESTRATEGYCLUB.COM
We are a successful and proud 100-year-old business. We do things how we like them and we like how we do things - and it has always been that way. Our customers love us - the ones over 50 that is. Our employees love
us and are very loyal - the ones over 50. But we have a problem with the kids (those customers and employees in their 40s and below) - or, as some call them the millionarnials. They are unhappy with us. They complain on social media about our services, and take videos of our mistakes and share them with everyone, and if we hire them, they leave after three months because of the lighting, the seating, the organisational structure and the speed of decision-making. Obviously this a problem for us. Mainly because Jeff & Jim - who have been with us since 1963 and mostly run this place between them - both need to retire soon to go fishing, and we can’t find anyone to stay long enough to replace them. We are starting to see a slow decline in our profits as our loyal customer base dies off. What should we do? And how should we go about doing it without it being too painful, or upsetting our most loyal employees and customers?
Ronda (CMO) - company name withheld
Thank you for your letter. This is a problem that a lot of my readers have - a successful company with a culture that is 20 years out of date, where everything is being held together with Scotch Tape in order to avoid the organisational-wide transformation that is needed. In this situation Ronda, you have two choices - rip the plaster off quickly and hope that the shock and pain subside relatively quickly, or unpeel it slowly and prolong the pain over a much longer time frame. Most organisations that are still making good money from their old structures and culture will choose to do the latter, and those that are about to go under will choose the former.
From your letter, it sounds like you are firmly in the latter camp and want to transform your culture as quietly and softly as possible, with minimum disruption. You are probably imagining
a warm, painless, overnight transformation of your 50-year- old culture, where you come in the next day and everything is broadly the same but different. And the ‘millionarnials’, as you call them, love you and flock to you in droves, quitting Facebook and Google to come and work for you. You may get a few complaints from your more senior employees about the noise of the new coffee machine in the corner that is constantly frothing milk for lattes, but you solve that by getting them to turn their hearing aids down, or buying them noise-cancelling headphones and a free $20 iTunes card. You will also a see few upside-down smiles when the ‘millionarnials’ start taking down all the desk dividers in order to open up the office more, to help ‘cross-discipline collaboration’, but you soothe those sad faces by reminding the seniors that they are now able to eavesdrop on the ridiculous ups and downs of their new young workers’ hilarious lives. Generally, your organisation goes from strength to strength, profits are up and Jeff & Jim retire to the large fishing shack in the Appalachian mountains.
And then you, and Jeff & Jim, wake up. And you realise that it was all a dream.
The truth is Ronda, you are - to use the technical term - proper f#@ked. If you attempt the slow route, you will have a long and bloody civil war and your company will pretty much implode. If you try the fast route, you will need to fire a third of your unproductive stuck-in-their-ways senior staff.
Either way, you will need to allow beards on site, and in the summer even consider allowing flip flops (although I suggest that is only for the employees under 40 - as yellow toenail fungus is extremely infectious and will put most other employees off their lunch, with a considerable drop in productivity). You will need to completely rethink how you do meetings - and everyone will need to learn how to ideate at the drop of a snapback baseball cap. Your post-it note costs will increase tenfold, and you will suddenly find Sharpie pens in every corner of the office, seemingly multiplying like rabbits. Windows will no longer be windows, they will be see- through ideas boards, and weird wireframe pictures will litter the walls and never ever be taken down (and God forbid you try). Fried food will be banned from your canteen, replaced by an exclusively raw menu. Monday morning planning meetings will start at 7am sharp, after yoga.
And all this is just the beginning, Ronda. You will within 6 months, replace your current organisational structure with a flat managementless one, and jazz will play everywhere, even in the toilet cubicles. Everyone will be responsible for everything, and all desks will have wheels attached to them, so you can choose to sit anywhere you want (you will indeed meet people in the lift moving their desks to other floors every other morning). Eventually, things will settle down though, and whoever of your senior employees are still left, will be found mainly hiding in the server rooms for the comfort of the enclosed walls and lack of jazz music.
Not long after, the kids will have totally redesigned your product as an integrated omnichannel AR service, and this will go live as a beta (unfinished) almost immediately (although it won’t work, that is absolutely the goal because it must fail to work properly). After 37 iterations, the new service will finally be ready to go live and replace your old rubbish product. On the day it goes live, 70% of your customers will leave you to go to your competitor, and the 30% that is left will all be young, cool kids with no money to spend and who you will never manage to convert from your basic, freemium service. After a year, your company will be a quarter of the size it was, and the kids will decide to move it to LA so they can go surfing in their lunch break (which is an employee right as written in the manifesto that adorns every wall in the office).
Eventually, they will get bored of iterating the new omnichannel AR service, and as losses rise to an unsustainable level, the kids will sell your 100-year-old brand for $1 to your competitor and go into Failure Consultancy. Your competitor will then rebuild it with the help of all its senior staff, and relaunch it as a physical product again, winning back all of your old customers and achieving full profitability within six months.
So my advice to you Ronda is - everything declines, slowly, methodically - so stick with your seniors, and your old customers, and decline with them with grace and self-respect. You and I both know that the allure of the new is nothing more than the shadow of the old - so stick to your guns Ronda, and you may just bend the future instead of it bending you.
JAMIL QURESHI - Perfomance-enhancing Psychologist
Jamil Qureshi is a leading performance-enhancing psychologist and an expert in high performing teams. Jamil has worked with a rich diversity of the most talented business leaders, sports people and sports teams in the world. He has successfully worked with three English Premiership football clubs, Formula One drivers, the 2009 England Ashes winning cricketers and footballers from Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Outside of sport, Jamil has worked with many businesses, helping teams to fulfil their potential by orchestrating change and performance programmes. Jamil has developed management and leadership programmes at board level for Coca Cola, HP, Emirates Airlines, Serco, Orange and RBS.