With or Without You

Quick Summary: Does your company run on cruise control, or do you have to constantly be behind the wheel?


Building a company and promoting a culture of understanding is critically more important than building a company based on the strict adherence to processes and rules.  As the CEO, you must focus on explaining why things should be done instead of merely telling people how they should be done.  Providing them with fundamental understanding will allow the organization to move forward without your constant supervision.  

The title of this article is not a reference to the 1980s hit by the Irish band, U2.  Instead, it refers to what happens to the company when you, the CEO, are not present.  Your lack of presence could be because you have left the company for vacation or are otherwise unavailable or distracted from day-to-day operations.  Will the processes, procedures, vision, and tone that you have put in place continue without your daily involvement?

In the article in this series, “Change Needs Constant Attention,” the concept of entropy is discussed.  From that article, entropy is characterized by the statement that, if a system is left alone, there will be a gradual decline into disorder.  Being “left alone” means not providing continuous attention or energy.  Ice cubes are a good example.  Neatly arranged water molecules in ice cubes will quickly transform into random puddles of water without the constant exposure to cold.  In the business world, a CEO or manager can announce a new program that is enthusiastically supported but quickly becomes mired down without their constant attention.  If you, the CEO, are the primary injector of energy, that is, the only person constantly reinforcing the desired behaviors, then, in your absence, gradual disorder will occur.

You do not have to be physically absent for this situation to occur.  Any CEO that has been involved in the IPO process or a merger or acquisition understands the time-consuming nature of these activities.  Day-to-day operations and tactical issues simply fall by the wayside with the CEO expecting others to carry the ball.  Sometimes this happens, sometimes not.

To avoid or, at least, minimize this situation, you have to focus on helping people internalize the activities, thinking of them as their own.  They need to understand the inherent value of the activity.  Compliance based on fear or intimidation will be short-lived when you are not present to act as the “enforcer.”  Additionally, you cannot anticipate all future events or issue variations.  If others have a thorough understanding of the underlying principles, their judgment can help ensure that they follow your desired path when you are not present.

It is easy to fall into the trap of believing others will carry on as you desire without your presence.  Your dominant personality, instead of achieving true buy-in from others, may cause you to falsely assume that your desired momentum is in place when you are not available.  There are a few telltale signs that may lie just below your level of consciousness that can indicate that you have not achieved the culture buy-in that you desire.

  • Do you feel that you cannot take a day off or, if you do, are you in constant contact with the office?
  • Are meetings canceled at the last minute if you cannot attend?
  • Are you regularly involved in meetings attended by individuals who are organizationally much “lower” than you, in which you act as the Chief Decision Maker?
  • Do you feel that you have to “checkup” on issues that you have asked others to address?
  • Are you worried that no one is capable of replacing you at some point in the future?
  • Do you experience blind adherence by others instead of flexibility and common sense?
  • Do even trivial decisions require your involvement?

If you can relate to some of these issues, perhaps your time would be better spent on teaching, instead of telling, others what to do and how to do it.  Build a culture of insight into the organization.  It will be easy to judge your success by being confident that you do not have to be present, and the company will not only stay on track but will also grow and prosper “with or without you.”


Article Number : 4.050405   

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