Founders Overdose on “Sweets”


How can too much of a good thing be very very bad in management? Imbalance, for one, is a perfect example of “overdosing” on what, in isolation, is innocuous. In the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, like the Bay area of California, or a certain part of Massachusetts, technology companies abound and the media is in love with the fruits of the labors of the company founders. Certainly, without the contribution of needed jobs, tax revenues, and similar benefits, the local economies in these regions would suffer. But, on a far more local level–that of the management of a team of people–there can be an inherent problem that is both insidious and solvable.

The concentration of too much emphasis on software development skills, for instance, to the exclusion of other needful disciplines can become a company’s undoing in an imperceptible yet profound way. We must acknowledge that, as human beings, we are most comfortable surrounding ourselves with others who think similarly to us, have homogeneous backgrounds, and understand what we’re trying to communicate  quickly. The danger, though, is one of management myopia. Without a team of executives who bring complementary viewpoints–that are different yet legitimate in their own right–it becomes easy to suffer from the group-think phenomenon like a bunch of lemmings.

Organizations that allow themselves to be managed by cookie cutter leaders are often blindsided by development that Porter’s Five Forces, a SWOT analysis, or common sense in the eyes of an outsider could have anticipated. Market shifts–whether in the realm of sales, finance, operations, or a myriad of other subsets–when realized too late can lead to a company’s fall into a type of death spiral. Turnaround practitioners far and wide have witnessed the phenomenon more times than they’d like to admit and cringe upon encountering it because they know it could have been avoided.

One of the great turnaround consultants I studied in performing research that led to the establishment of the Turnaround Management Association was Donald Bibeault. Bibeault wrote that, “A special case of imbalance in the top team–particularly at the board level–is a weak finance function. This may appear through the company as a general phenomenon, resulting in inadequate financial and accounting controls. But even when these systems are perfectly adequate, their message may not be heard at board level because the finance function is not strongly represented there.”

What should we make of such an observation, then, in our own companies? Firstly, that true outside boards of directors with balance can be a great asset to an organization. These veterans have “been there, done that!” Secondly, as one goes about building a team, become more self-aware of the temptation to populate the organization with a clique of robots, who while very intelligent in their domain, are ignorant on many other topics. Thirdly, consider the value of co-founders and mentors whose life experience is very different than one’s own–albeit they should have been successful in whatever they have previously pursued.

Don’t overdose on what is sweet–do what is nutritional for your organization!


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