Since there is such a bias in the markets for the short-term results, how can you prepare for the long-term?
Wayne Abernathy, Washington9
In a word: management. That is, balancing the demands for quarterly results with the pressure for a profitable future is what good managers do for a living.
Sorry to sound exasperated, but every time we hear this question, we wonder, “What do you think you were hired for?” You were hired to wrestle a paradox—and pin it to the mat. And not just once, but over and over again. Look, anyone can manage for the short-term. Just keep squeezing the lemon, wringing out costs to the pulp. And anyone can manage for the long-term. Just keep telling people, “Be patient. Our strategy will pay off in time.” The mark of a leader is someone who has the rigour, vision and courage to do both simultaneously.
I’ve worked for five years at a very successful company where many exciting challenges lie ahead. But I know that the independent contractors employed by my department earn a lot more than I do—in some cases, almost triple. So, I find myself at a crossroads: Should I go out on my own as a “hired gun” or stick it out as a company man?
Name withheld, Dublin, Ireland
You hail from one of the world’s most robust economies, but your question is universal. It’s the “it” career question of our times—and not just for newly minted college grads or MBAs. Virtually every businessperson with some form of marketable expertise now has the opportunity to outsource those skills to the growing number of employers attracted by the flexibility of hiring people without “chains”. Indeed, as one such employer told us recently, “Independent contractors make my life so easy. I don’t have to pay their benefits, write their appraisals or manage their neuroses.” Best of all, she added, “If things don’t work out, I don’t have to roll in the muck with HR or legal. I just have to say, ‘So long’.” The deal can work very nicely for independent contractors too.
I run a small firm and it's time to pick a successor. I can make the case for any of four people. Now what? Losing someone could hurt
Michael Rueckert, Sioux City, Iowa
You have a rare and wondrous problem. Indeed, you face the exact opposite of the usual case, in which companies find themselves empty-handed at succession time, and, in desperation, are forced to back up a Brinks truck to pay for an outside hire. So, first of all, congratulations on building a leadership team with such bench strength.
But we understand your concern. You've got four stars and only one top job—plus the sinking feeling that your small company can't take an exodus of its most experienced managers. Your instinct is probably to forge some kind of compromise solution: picking one person and giving the others job titles and money to stick around in support roles. That approach can work. But if your candidates are who you think they are, the likelihood of that is, well, low. Very few real leaders are satisfied with second-tier roles or maintaining the status quo.
And in fact, your goal right now shouldn't really be downside protection. It should be finding the person who can take your company to the next level. It may feel as if you have four great candidates, but it is highly unlikely they are interchangeable.
Not all of them have the “stuff” for the challenge ahead, meaning the kind of insight and courage that will be required to reinvent your organization after you go. You need to push yourself to identify the single candidate who does. Will that move prompt the runners-up to leave? It’s very possible, due to feelings of disappointment or embarrassment.
But don't focus on that too much. Their departure will actually be a favour—for them and the company. For them, because it certainly sounds as if they earned the right to run their own shows, and they deserve the challenge and fun of it. Make sure their severance packages are fair and generous, and contain some form of non-compete clause.
That will help everyone when other companies show up to “steal” them away. Their departure will be a favour to your company because, in our combined experience, keeping failed candidates around is too often disastrous.
Each candidate's sense of letdown—compounded by the bad vibes of his or her followers—enervates the organization. By contrast, if the runners-up go, you can reach into the teams they surely built along the way, to find replacements. These new managers may not come as “fully loaded” as their predecessors. But very likely, they will be bursting with new ideas and positive energy.
Basically, you don't have a problem as much as an opportunity. With four candidates to choose from, you're guaranteed to pick a successor who will hit the ground running. Yes, there may be an initial jolt to the company when one or two of the runners-up depart. But soon enough, the change will open the doors of their careers and bring fresh air through your own windows too.
My team has been forced to put up with an incompetent manager for two years. I spoke to the regional head and was told they were "working on it". That was six months ago. I don't want to be seen as a whiner, but I am thinking of going to the CEO to get some action. Your opinion?
Name Withheld, Atlanta
If you take your case to the CEO, you'll get action all right! And that sound you hear is the collective groan of everyone who has ever watched in wonder as some poor, naïve soul has tried to pull an end-run.
In fact, the fate of people who go to their boss’ boss to complain is so well-known that we wouldn't have felt the need to answer your question—except we get one like it almost every day. Sure, the details are different, but the final quandary is the same: I'm frustrated with my boss. Can I break rank?
For the record, then, the answer is usually no. Don't do it unless you have a big safety net or another job in hand. The facts are, end-runs backfire 80% to 90% of the time. Very few bosses reward people who sneak around the organizational chain of command.
Moreover, most companies are painfully aware of bad bosses, but struggle to find a way to force them out. Shoving that point in their face won't make you a hero. It will make you an annoyance.
If you dislike your boss so much you are ready to burst, you really just have two foolproof choices. Wait it out or walk out. Most end-runs only end you.