Over the past week I have been exploring the ethics of business closure and the idea of euthanisation. It is time for me to explain myself – what do I mean by business euthanization? and why use this metaphor for talking about business life-cycles?
My sense is that how we treat business closure is actually symptomatic of a much wider cultural and spiritual issue around how we perceive and deal with death and dying (stay with me!). For many people, death comes as a surprise and can be full of heartache – not just for the person dying, but also for the family. Research around organ donation for example shows that many families do not discuss the wishes of their loved one prior to their death. This lack of discussion and planning leads to sometimes difficult decisions needing to be made, and conflict amongst those left behind.
What can reincarnation teach us?
All cycles come to a close, and to the beginning of a new cycle. Yet we somehow treat business, strategy and life as if it is in a state of perpetual growth. This is simply not how life works. Of course all cycles will end. In life we have two main types of cycles – the major cycle of incarnation, and sub-cycles which could be seen as life stages. Each sub-cycle can include periods of creation (or innovation), growth, maturity, sustainability and eventually decline. Periods of decline can lead to business turnaround, which usually occur after some kind of midlife crisis or turning point.
This series on business euthanization was originally inspired by two colleagues who as CEOs of two separate non-profits, had the courage to close them down. Both happened independently of each other, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney, and for different reasons.
The first case came about through a realisation that the purpose of the organisation, while noble, was not making the impact it set out to achieve. It had been working project to project and producing fine work. There were by all reports wonderful achievements, and a lot of goodwill surrounding this organisation. Despite that, when impact is the main game and resourcing that is essential, there comes a time when one wonders whether something else could be done with those same resources to achieve impact (and resources mean more than money here).
The decision was perhaps a surprise to some stakeholders. Why close a business that essentially is doing some good? If it was a commercial business, there would have been little evidence to close it. In fact if profit was the main game, this business could potentially have moved into markets that exploited staff capabilities and maximized return. But this was not a commercial organisation, and the drivers were elsewhere. The people wanted to make an impact.
The second case was in many ways more surprising. It was a market leader in its industry or target group. They had been around for a long time, Read more
Can ethics or leadership be done alone? I have thought a lot about this notion in the western world of the individual leader. As a CEO I struggled with the expectation that I needed to be ‘accomplished’ or effective at all aspects of the business. Of course, I had some people tell me that this was not so, yet the social consciousness places so much significance on the individual leader.
Leading an organisation takes a lot of skills. There are the domains of finance, operations, administration, strategy and governance. Then there are the meta-skill areas of emotional intelligence, discernment, decision making and consultation (amongst many more). The idea of one person being accomplished at all of these domains and possessing all of these skills is ludicrous, yet that is often what is expected.
Ethical leadership and ethical decision-making is another core skill of leadership, and equally it should not be assumed that one leader is accomplished at this. In my experience as a CEO, whenever we faced an ethical dilemma within our organisation or program the outcome would have been significantly jeopardized if I did not collaborate with others. I most often defaulted to collaboration rather consultation, because I believe it requires a whole lot more than simply seeking the opinions of others. On one occasion I recall consulting and making a decision, and reflected later that the decision would have been enhanced if we made the decision together.
Consultation and collaboration is challenging though. Read more