Pitfalls of large corporations – how to kill your company

While many believe they know the secret to growing their company and publish amazing books on culture, strategy and how to scale, I find it interesting there are no books on how to lose. In this musing, I will explore a few of the things that I have seen in my career that signal things are moving in a poor direction.

The impetus of this discourse began today as I read the latest Stratechery Daily Update. It mentioned an article in the New York Times about the cracks being seen in Google. This paragraph stood out to me:

“Fifteen current and former Google executives, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of angering Google and Mr. Pichai, told The New York Times that Google was suffering from many of the pitfalls of a large, maturing company — a paralyzing bureaucracy, a bias toward inaction and a fixation on public perception.”

I read that as the 3 major pitfalls of large organizations and it caused me to pause and think back on my own experiences. Having been through startup, growth, acquisition, going public etc. I wanted to see how that matched up with what I have seen and I would agree those are 3 of the major items, although there are many more I could add to the list:
– infighting/disagreements amongst employees
– folks “kingdom building” which I define as trying to amass as many things as possible to say they control
– backstabbing other employees deemed as competition in the workplace, if you can make them weak, you can take their power away
– no clear mission/objective set by the CEO
– making short sighted decisions to try and make the numbers work for investors

I would say the last item on the list seems to make the largest influence on poor behavior. Making short-sighted decisions is akin to fixation on public perception in that if you are always focused on the needs of things external to the business, you are not focusing on the internal needs. This causes leaders and employees alike to focus on making others happy vs. making employees and customers happy. When you do so, employee satisfaction drops, the care and quality of the product are impacted and customers feel that through poor customer experiences with the product and when interacting with company employees.

How many times do we allow a loud voice on Twitter, an individual in our industry, a politician or some other external force to drive our decision making? How many entrepreneurs would build anything of value if they followed suit and listened to the naysayer? How do businesses reach a plateau in which they are afraid to innovate and would rather placate?

My last question is, how can you think through this and view your business?