The Dark Side of Success

Startups pine for profits, predictable cash flow, a sustainable competitive advantage, and the personal wealth and comfort that come from success.

Not many will get there.

The ones that do are mostly deserving of all those accoutrements previously mentioned. The leaders of that organization toiled and stressed and made do and sacrificed a great deal — and hopefully had fun! — to get to the aforementioned state.

Unfortunately, success has a dark side. With profits come comfort and bloat and competition and salaries driven ever larger by HR departments that suggest you pay at the 75th percentile like every other successful company apparently does. Because it’s harder to communicate and coordinate across broad modalities (geography, time zones, large office spaces, etc.), silos and weird behavior develop.

People who misunderstand your vision and strategy make up their own and pull toward destinations that shouldn’t be on the map. Departments that require detailed explanation show up on the organizational chart.

You’ll find budget requests for projects you don’t understand, with justification made in white papers written by people you don’t know. The board retreat becomes more of an adventure in finding a more luxurious hotel than in a hard-pressed discussion of strategy. The management team morphs into a group of well-groomed caretakers.

These are the early signs of failure.

Depressed yet? Don’t be; there are antidotes.

Antidotes to old age in business share the characteristics of antidotes to old age in humans. You can’t sit on the couch eating ice cream and expect to find a pill to make you healthy again. It takes work and discipline.

Some antidotes to old age in business are innovation, careful budgeting, value-based performance standards, clear communication, strategic thinking and meritocracy.

I had a good friend who died young. He wasn’t here for a long time; he was here for a good time. Businesses that want to be here for the long haul need to avoid the bad behavior that comes naturally to successful organizations.

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