My friend Peter from Australia sent me a post from a far away time. Which was followed by Heath Row at Fast Company even earlier 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.
Here's the post:
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 asked -- can social media help all stakeholders grieve and celebrate a dying or dead brand?
Ten years on, I've been thinking more about this topic for two reasons:
1. When companies get acquired or merge, one or both brands die -- and often, in the haste to kill the brand, the people who waved a flag for it get killed as well, one would hope metaphorically speaking.
Inevitably, the culture takes a toll, especially if it had not had enough time to percolate through the organization. "Business as usual" generally means the way the prevailing structure is used to doing things.
Despite the direct to stakeholders nature of customer relationships today, organizations still make their brand decisions behind closed doors, then push big launches out.
One recent example of this: ING Direct, the fun orange account bank is now Capital One 360 a smorgasbord of colors and symbols. A previous example was Cingular becoming AT&T. In both cases, the customer-friendly brand took the fall.
2. Discontinuing a brand with "likes" and followers becomes a bit more complicated -- after all, the organization has made an investment in resources to develop a personality and voice for that brand to interact directly with advocates.
Is your company prepared to address this situation?
The examples of brands where we had invested time and attention that went away abound in social -- anyone remember Friendster? When it comes to social, my philosophy is to cultivate owned properties, like your URL, vs. sharecropping those of others.
Do you suppose organizations will start doing a better job with the aid of more (big) data?
[image of personification of death from Wikimedia]
[reposted from archives]
Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her for a speaking engagement click here.