When things go wrong

Things can go sideways in any company or organization, regardless of size/industry.

You don’t have to be evil or stupid for this to happen. Markets change constantly, and timing and luck have a lot to do with whether your product is successful over time.

Often, there are opportunities to course correct before the problems become major. But seeing those opportunities (and acting on them) depends heavily on building good culture.

At a team level, if you are a manager, director, or executive cutting headcount or delivering a performance improvement plan (corporate lingo for “you’re not doing well and need to get it together”)…it’s already too late.

On the other hand, building good culture is a hedge against changes in the market or ecosystem your company plays within.

Leaders that invest in teams correctly rarely have to deliver bad news, because their team is already saying things like “there’s something off here, I/we need some help figuring out how to move faster, tweak communication or project management, get clearer metrics.”

When that happens, a great manager, director, or executive responds with “Glad you mentioned, let's figure this out together" and then works to find a way forward. If this happens 2-3 times with the same issue, they might say “this isn’t a fit” but all sides would already know by then.

There are other paths in that situation. Sometimes, the leader is a jerk and/or has a sink or swim approach. If you’re working in this scenario, get out as soon as possible. The product or service may be successful in the short term, but sustainable growth isn’t part of the equation.

Sometimes, the leader empathizes but their own boss (director, ceo, investor, etc.) is putting them in a similar scenario and they can’t get ahead of it fast enough. If you’re working in this scenario, you’ll want to think carefully about the trade offs.

To be the first kind of leader you have to practice being proactive…consistently thinking, learning, and refining your workflow and communication, and helping your team do the same. It takes hard work and humility, but the end result is an approach that attracts talented people and hedges against the risk of the unknown.