How to Succeed at Endings
Playing catch-up means you’re behind. You hung on too long.
You limp along because the people around the table won’t vote themselves out of a job. They’re posturing, preserving, protecting. They’re maintaining status, position, and security.
Those who can’t succeed at endings end up in crisis.
Rise above the idea that ending things represents failure.
One reason to end it:
“Activities need to stop because they can no longer demonstrate good growth potential…” Rita Gunther McGrath author of “The End of Competitive Advantage.”
Will current behaviors, processes, or activities grow you into the future? The operative word is “grow.”
If you aren’t growing you’re dying.
McGrath believes that playing to win includes developing strategies for healthy disengagement.
Developing a strategy of disengagement means moving:
- From defending advantage to the bitter end to ending advantages frequently, formally, and systematically.
- From exits viewed as strategically undesirable to emphasis on retaining learning from exits.
- From exits that occur unexpectedly and with great drama to exits occurring in steady rhythm.
- From focus on objective facts to focus on subjective early warning signs.
From “The End of Competitive Advantage” page 54.
McGrath explains that it takes strong leadership to engage in healthy disengagement. Three possible options:
- Create a dedicated disengagement team.
- Aggressively and frequently change the management team.
- Empower CEO’s to drive regular evaluations of what needs to end.
From “The End of Competitive Advantage” pages 57-58.
McGrath’s definition of strategy (92 sec.):
McGrath on the elements of sustainable advantage (91 sec.):
What makes leaders hang on too long?
How can leaders help organizations engage in healthy disengagement?
Do yourself a favor and connect with Rita:
I tried searching and couldn’t find the article, but there was a piece a year or so ago about why cities last a long time while most companies don’t last long at all. Even San Francisco with massive devastating earthquakes has been able to recover and go on to be even more successful than before. The article talked about the critical nature of cities allowing people from very diverse backgrounds and job types to interact and share ideas, problems, and find unexpected solutions.
I know Steve Jobs worked to emulate some of this at all places he helped run/found (Pixar, Apple, and NeXT) by having a central break room and restroom area so that everyone had to interact at some point. I know I’ve sometimes found the most creative ideas I would never have thought of on my own for a stubborn problem from coworkers in radically different departments who were just inquiring about how my day was going.
So I would say it’s important to not only reinvent what you do, but constantly look at how you can stir engagement and interactions between employees of all different departments and product groups.
KaPow. Thanks for adding these practical insights.
Not exactly the same, but I was intrigued by Zappo’s extra computer login, where after your login and password, you get shown a picture of an employee and have to pick their name out from a list.
The double login is cool!
James, excellent ending advice for leaders. Employees tend to respect and listen to leaders that encourage, promote and support collaboration, interactions and support interdepartmentally – and across product groups.
Thanks Bob! I even heard of organizations that encourage employees to expense going out to lunch with fellow employees in other departments.
James hit the home run with the engagement & interaction.
leaders that hang on too long could be many reasons, financial, fear of change, or just klike were they fit in.
Hanging on too long also erodes the empowerment and initiative of a leader because he/she is wary that the team has become disenfranchised or they view the prior strategy or platform as untenable.
Thanks thelineismine. Sadly, we neglect the negative impact of hanging on too long on people. Everyone slips into sleepwalking.
The best thing I ever learned is how to say it’s time for me to leave. And, I learned this at the age of 22 when I was offered a job I really, really wanted. The particular job offered a lot of opportunity for innovation and also a steady thread of activities that were right up my alley. I hoped to be there for 5-7 years.
The day I first started, the three people in the section where I’d be working sat down with a list of all the functions handled by people in that section. THey’d built a list of things I needed to learn before I’d be turned loose on my own. By the end of the week, I was allowed “out” on my own after two days of supervised interaction. And, things went swimmingly. By the time I’d been there 18 months, I was given a task list each week and at two years allowed to fly when nobody else in our section was available.
The only upset I had with that particular employer was when I was approaching my self-imposed 5-7 year stay. In early June, I told them I’d be going back to graduate school in the fall and, if they had a suitable candidate, I’d start training him/her over the summer. They said thank you and tole me they’d select a candidate by the end of the month. I trained him until I left for graduate school in September. Shortly before I left, the “big boss” did an exit interview with me. His first statement was an observation, “I thought you were enjoying the work here.” My answer: “It’s time for me to move on. I believe I’ve learned as much as I can here and I HAVE enjoyed the work. But one thing I know about myself is that when it’s time, it’s time. And, my time here is up. For both your mental health and my own, I need to move on.”
And, when I left any job after that and was asked the reason, my reason always was, “Because it’s time for me to move on,” whether the old job had become routinized or the new job was something I’d always wanted to try out.
In a job I took in the mid-1990s, my boss and I made a list of the tasks that needed to be accomplished and, when I finished those tasks and documented them for whoever would follow, I handed in my resignation with the reason being that I’d completed all the tasks and the documentation for them.
Finally, since I came at this list from the perspective of an academic administrator in my last full-time job, when I handed in my resignation as the responsible administrator, I again pointed out that I’d reached all the goals we’d set out for me when I came on-board and so it was time to leave.
Two important considerations are ALWAYS to leave at a point where you’re satisfied and ALWAYS to leave the position having “prepared” a successor.
One point about this approach is that it always leaves the relationships in a good spot and always has resulted in disbelieving staff who almost always stunned that somebody would actually give up a good-paying job. But, in my case, “It’s time” has been my motto, whether in an academic position or a non-academic position.
And, because I learned early how to do this, I’m ALWAYS comfortable moving on.
Thanks hurricane. What a great story. I think it reflects something deeper than simply moving on. It suggests to me that you didn’t define yourself by your job, title, or role. I find the thought very freeing. It’s funny how someone can read something and take a giant leap like I did. Thanks again.
BTW… this approach also suggests that we should always be looking for the next job.
“…always be looking for the next job” can apply also to always looking for other things that need doing where you’re planted NOW.”
I really enjoy reading your interactive blog especially the comments and stories. At an early age, I enjoyed job hopping to find out what I am capable of doing and turning down good positions because I don’t want to be tied down on a job. I realized at he height of my so called prestigious career, I prefer to make more contributions in the society than in a corporation. I walked out of my job, kept on walking on a pilgrimage came back took a lower position as a clerk and just be a pion in an ordinary life. I go by on a yearly basis if I want to hang on this job and time went 14 years later. The leaders came and go and that is the nature in workng for the government.
Interesting article Dan!
I think, as someone who is not a leader, it becomes abundantly clear when your leader needs to “step-down”. It shows in every aspect of the leader’s behaviour, and yes, leads to lower productivity, and the disengagement of all those below them.
I think your concept of a sort-of systematic self-assessment, and peer assessment is a great idea!
We talk a lot in education about adopting new practices and technologies in order to meet the needs of our students. It is important for us to ask ourselves the question you worded so well, “Will current behaviors, processes, or activities grow you into the future?” Teachers sometimes have a hard time trying something new because they feel like they already have too much on their plate. They need to disengage from certain practices in order to make room for the new ones. Perhaps as leaders we should regularly ask, “What needs to end?”
Thanks Jennifer. I’m glad you noticed that question. It was big for me. As I read Rita’s work on how to know when to disengage it just hit me that evaluating by growth potential makes so much sense.