Chuck Lauer is on vacation. This column first appeared in February 1994.
Success is wonderful. It's what we all strive for. When it happens there's no other feeling like it. But success is also dangerous and seductive. In fact, when a company or organization achieves success, that's often when the seeds of failure are sown. How many corporations have we seen achieve great success and then in a very short time suddenly start to unravel? This phenomenon, one of the great paradoxes of life, has always been something to be feared, but many companies don't plan for success-or how to sustain it.
What are some of the negative manifestations of success? The word complacency comes to mind immediately. Understand that it's OK to pause briefly and take a deep breath, but in too many cases complacency becomes a habit and turns into arrogance.
Another warning sign is when customers become a bother and consequently are taken for granted. When customers call they're considered an interruption. The organization thinks of ways to outwit its customers instead of understanding that they should be considered partners.
Then there's the tendency at newly successful companies to build a bureaucracy. Suddenly more accountants appear on the scene as management becomes preoccupied with all the money being made, wanting to protect it not only from the tax collector but from their employees. This is all mixed with a little paranoia. More supervisors are hired to oversee people who have more than proven their loyalty in helping the firm achieve success. But for some strange reason management now seems to believe these individuals bear watching. Morale takes a nose-dive.
At the same time, executives begin to pull away from the day-to-day activities of the company because they now believe they need to spend less time managing and more time acting like "top executives." They distance themselves from the very customers who have made them successful by appointing regional managers or account managers to handle the clients. Selling and spending time on the road visiting customers is just too inconvenient, especially with all the decisions that have to be made regarding the new headquarters building going up. Things like deciding what kind of furniture to order or what type of computer system to install become the top concerns, not the customers. Not the customers who are being called on by competitors. Not the customers who constantly need reassurances that you value their business. No, the worries now are all the things that have nothing to do with success. They're the worries of a company destined for hard times.
Laughter and spontaneity also begin to gradually disappear at companies that aren't prepared for success. That's because members of management begin to take themselves too seriously and neglect their dedicated employees. Saying thank you and giving people positive stroking is all part of it and is critical to good morale.
Probably the most obvious sign of decay is when the lore of an organization begins to disappear. Those stories about this person or that person making a big sale, developing a new product or winning a prestigious award are important to the tradition of any successful enterprise. Keeping that history alive shows pride and a caring attitude about what made the organization a winner.
Success, like anything else, has to be planned for. It can't be a last-minute thing. Those companies that simply "wing it" are in for some serious problems. It has to be taken as seriously as any other long-term strategy. Success is great, but learning how to handle it is even greater.
Success can be fleeting,
Charles S. Lauer