Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Getting off the dime

Removed background, cropped, and converted to ...

"'Even' is the new (in the) black", a friend in financial services told me the other day. He was referring to his clients' portfolios, bailed out banks, automobile manufacturers. A world where losing a billion fewer dollars than you had been expected to is seen as positive news for the market.

In a time of powerful financial gravity, 'even' is safe. 'Even' is acceptable. Except when it is not (for ancient historical reference, see Matthew 25:14-30).

The origin of the term to 'get off the dime' comes from old dance halls, when floor managers would see dancers and their customers barely move from a small (dime-sized) spot as they held tightly to one another. In the morality of the day, this was unacceptable.

Today it isn't dancers but companies and their executives that can't seem to unwind from their tight hold on whatever brings them security: cash, "the old way", the bird in the hand, or whatever was done a year ago when things weren't so dire. When Larry Young, CEO of Dr. Pepper-Snapple reported earnings last month, he stated, "Even though the majority of Americans are still working, the fear factor that has gripped the nation is having a significant impact on consumer psychology." That psychology is real, and it doesn't just impact sugared drinks. It carries itself into offices and boardrooms where it impacts a whole host of decisions based on the paralyzing fear of the unknown.

Such destructive emotions are common among all companies, large and small, and the longer they go unchecked, the worse the impact, as they create a flywheel of negative emotions throughout the organization, building, building, the cycle destroys any chance of a recovery.

In his book Confronting Reality, written with Ram Charan, former Honeywell CEO Larry Bossidy outlines a process for executives to begin to see the forest from the trees, and the symptoms from the cause. Companies that recognize the symptoms, recognize the cases, and, critically, take action to overcome them can recover. It just takes a little insight, a little courage, and a bit of forward strategic thinking.

And that's my two cents. I only wish I had as much as a dime.

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