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Deckchair Management Kills Commitment

By David Orren

Successful leaders build powerful teams

Successful leaders of innovative technology solution providers face a dual challenge. On the one hand, they must continually evolve and convince their target market of a new and better way to solve an important problem. On the other hand, they must develop the organizational capacity to deliver on that new approach, even though the solution and deployment model is still evolving.

Leaders must recruit, train, inspire and retain a team that has the skills and understanding of what that new approach entails. In an early market, this means hiring and developing people who have the ability, ownership, and enthusiasm to learn and then add to the vision the innovation business is promoting. And the catch is they must often do this when there are still few well-developed examples of what that future will look like, or how it will be delivered.

It’s not about the deckchairs..

Much is written on how successful entrepreneurs lead and build their teams at different stages of growth. But leaders can also reflect and learn from the more common mistakes, and one area rich in lessons for early stage businesses, we will call ‘Deck Chair Management’.  

We tend to associate Deckchair Management with unresponsive bureaucracies in large, legacy organisations… think ‘Titanic’. Surprisingly, it is not uncommon for initially successful entrepreneurs to become overly comfortable with the business model that helped them to achieve their early success. When this happens they sometimes avoid scanning the horizon. Early external warning signs in the market can be ignored, and leaders can sometimes respond to emerging business pressures by reinforcing the order and detail of how things have been done historically.

Deckchair management is bad for companies, departments, and individual teams. It creates three serious problems and if you’re practicing it yourself, you may be losing key staff as a result.

Undermining staff ownership

In the digital era, we understand the necessity of individual staff members taking personal ownership of what they contribute. If every staff member takes that ownership, the company succeeds as a whole. The problem with deckchair management is that it undermines staff ownership.

By obsessing over detail and avoiding engagement over the bigger picture, leaders effectively teach staff members to narrow and reduce their own perspective. The message is clear, staff concern or ownership of the company’s big future is of no interest to the leadership. Ironically, staff ownership of the detail is also undermined. By micromanaging the detail, the leader ignores the staff perspective and denies their ability to develop even low-level solutions. This immediately hurts the business by narrowing participation in solution development.

Undermining confidence and innovation

A big part of retaining great staff is making sure they feel valued. They want to know that their contributions amount to something tangible. They want to know that they are wanted. Deckchair management undermines how valuable staff members feel they are to the business.

Staff members who perceive that they add less value to a company than they perceive their potential self-worth to be, gradually lose any sense of satisfaction they may have in their jobs. Once job satisfaction is gone, they are but one employment ad or interview away from jumping ship. There is no satisfaction in going down with a sinking ship and valuable team members may leave to join a competitor where they feel they can make more of a difference.

Undermining staff value

The third problem deckchair management creates is one of undermining both confidence and innovation. Deckchair managers focus on correcting the symptoms of decline, busying themselves with inconsequential tasks and dangerous micromanaging, whileignoring the underlying external challenges facing the business. Confidence in the company is eroded because staff members can easily see the sinking ship while managers deny it at every turn. With lost confidence in the business, there is less incentive to innovate. Those who stay may develop the appearance of being engaged, while actually stepping down to a more routine involvement, instead of a personally invested level of creativity. In a fast-changing technology market, this can lead to a fatal downward spiral.

How is your business doing?

Have you noticed an exodus of key staff over the last 12 to 18 months? Are good people leaving for positions in other companies? If so, it would be a good idea to step back and consider whether your company has a problem with deckchair management. Departing staff members are a wake-up call that something is wrong.

Confidential discussion

For a confidential discussion about changes in your business or market place, and to explore strategies for continued business growth, contact David Orren at, or call 0/+44 7914 223 691.

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