My friend Peter from Australia sends me this post from a far away time. It was followed up by Heath Row at Fast Company more than five years ago in a post that referred to a somber article about Driving in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Working at a company where employees and customers have been killed is very hard - I know from personal experience, although it is not as harsh as the one depicted in the article.
On August 28, 2003, the Melbourne, Australia, Company of Friends (Fast Company's readers network) group held a forum on death and business -- and how our attitudes toward death influence our lives as business people.
Without wishing to make light of the gravity of the article linked above, there was one paragraph which struck me as equally applicable to business: "There is no management book, no business school case study on how to lead a company that has become the target of war."
Business can be a metaphoric war, companies seek the "death" of opposition products, business units, and ultimately the company. Business schools teach how to kill in business, but, in our experience, none teach how to deal when our businesses are the victim and our companies die or are dying.
Our guests for the evening were a corporate liquidator; a former major, rescue pilot, and now business coach; and a member who had suffered near death in life and business. Each agreed that in the west, for many, death in business is as much ignored, avoided and sanitized as death in life.
We came up with our own ideas on how to lead in the face of death:
- Plan for death. Morbid as it sounds, our liquidator confirmed that companies that had business plans for death coped better both financially and personally.
- Have rituals upon death. Employees often dealt better with death than management and the board. This was seen as a result of employees getting together and grieving, whereas management and the board were alone in the process.
- Help people grieve when their products, services, and strategies die. They will transition to their new life quicker. Death should not be left to the experts alone. In leaving death to the experts, we rob ourselves of an essential part of our lives -- an experience which informs a healthier approach to life and business.
- People with strong network deal with life threatening situations better.
- Businesses die for many reasons which have nothing to do with the founders directors and employees. Though death in business (perhaps from an Australian cultural perspective) is often seen as failure. Perhaps we need a way of recognizing the contribution of a company that has died.
Peter asks - can social media help all stakeholders grieve and celebrate a dying or dead brand?
[image of personification of death from Wikimedia]