Smoke Signals

  • January 20, 2015
  • Scott

I’m not a big believer in managing by smoke signals.  When you read about Fortune 500 companies in magazines, the authors often write about CEOs and leaders in those organizations, and key moments in their tenure. They almost always discuss those leaders’ words and meetings and deeds as signals, turning points, and portents of changing priorities and things to come.  What I find fascinating is that rarely are those changes spelled out in plain English – and if they were, likely the signal would be missed.  To signal that Silicon Valley companies and acquisitions are important, a CEO might call a meeting with their senior management team in Silicon Valley or invite execs from SV to speak at a company event.  To signal that someone is “on the team” they might engage in open dialog with that person.  To signal that there is too much bureaucracy, a dress code might be shortened to a few words.  To signal that customers are important, the CEO will take senior management with them to meet with customers. To signal rebellion or free thinking, a pirate flag is flown.  Do these things need signals, or action? 

Wouldn’t it be better to live in a world where the symbolism is a lot closer to the reality?  Where actions are made because the leader believes it is the right thing to do rather than a signal that needs to be sent?  Where words are spoken clearly, rather than loaded with hidden intent?  Where subordinates aren’t reading tea leaves, they’re colleagues and they just have open and frank dialogs with their leaders? Where team members aren’t afraid to speak there mind and ask honest questions, and therefore aren’t left to guess the intent of their company and leaders?  At small companies like BP3, I’ve seen people get into more trouble assuming some kind of symbolism or intent that isn’t really there – that not being invited to lunch represented some kind of criticism, for example.  I quite prefer the small company problems, from a cultural point of view.

That’s almost the nutshell of why working at a small company is a great experience for many of us.  There are lots of other reasons, but this is a good one.  To be clear, it isn’t all on the CEO’s or leaders of this organizations – in some cases they’re playing the game at the same time they’re trying to fix the organizations they’re inside of.  Not an easy thing to do in a Fortune 500 company.

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