Wednesday, March 22, 2006

That Man Behind The Curtain

So a former colleague tells me this afternoon that the company he works for has just sold an expensive software application, a breakthrough that has been anticipated for months. Trouble is, it is expected to consume all the division's development resources for six months (in spite of claims to the contrary, this product is merely 'slideware', that is, product existing only on PowerPoint slides), and is only the first in what is supposed to be, according to revenue projections, ten such sales over the year. The development is not 'build once, deploy multiple times'. It is largely custom.

So how does a company manage to project annual sales five times greater than their production capacity?

An enormous oversight? Is someone having a 'palm to forehead' moment? Not likely. This was anticipated, in a sense. This company, and many others like it, operate under two major, driving assumptions: One, a defeatest attitude that what they are selling will not be bought but will 'position it' for sales of lesser, more deliverable solutions; and two, that impossible tasks are made possible by sheer force of will.

Of the former, any company trying to market itself on the back of slideware that, if successfully sold, would cripple the company's ability to function efficiently, is self-defeating at best and fraudulent (to investors, customers, employees) at worst. The first rule of sales is to believe in yourself and your product. Continued failure to deliver on promises and sufficiently resource projects will undermine customer, investor and employee confidence. It is a consciously engaged strategy designed to hide unpleasant truths for short-term gains.

Of the latter, this only happens in movies. Excepting perhaps for heroic feats in the early years of the space program, impossible tasks are just that - and expectations of rabbits from hats reveal what is essentially an utter lack of planning and no real understanding on the part of management of the broader organization's inter-related functions, a fundamental disconnect from the laws of physics. Too many companies survive (barely) only because of the efforts of a narrow top percentile of employees that are burdened because they are averse to allowing failure - theirs or others. This leads to stress and burnout among the most dedicated and talented, as their efforts become not recognized, but expected; their eventual financial rewards not exceptional but typical.

Vision, mission, strategic planning is designed to avoid all this; honest concession, compromise, discussion and above all, leadership, drive sales and development plans that work as a cohesive unit, breaking barriers and driving growth. This is a company instead driven for short-term result, employing sycophantic ramblings to investors and employees, and an avoidance of the hard decisions that come with leadership. This is a picture of a company on the decline.

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