Saturday, December 6, 2008

We're going the wrong way! Who's driving?

My friend, Jamie, was was telling me about a his sister's job in retail. It's an industry I'm passionate about and may return to someday. It's the heart and soul of the 70% of our GDP created by consumer spending. They're hurting, like so many industries, and in times of trouble companies need the most able navigator at the helm. The trouble, at least with Jamie's sister's company, is that everyone is playing a game of Pass-the-buck instead of Survivor. The answers to questions like "Who is our core customer?", "How are they hurting right now?", and "With our competencies how can we ease that hurt for them?" are critically important for companies that wish to come out the other side of this latest economic slide, or any economic slide for that matter. 

Jamie drew a metaphor that is so clear in my mind and it perfectly captured the situation with his sister. It's as if everyone is in the back of the bus, facing the wrong way, and asking where we're going. No one, no one is actually willing to grab the steering wheel and drive. That driver's seat is a very dangerous place to be for sure, though sitting in the back, eyes covered, knowing no driver is up there steering is far worse. It's a choice of the lesser of two evils, with advantages and disadvantages for each action. 

Let's look at hat's actually happening for Jamie's sister - no one's driving. A crash is practically unavoidable. A runaway car with no driver can only stay on the road for so long. The people in the back may feel that they have a better chance of survival if they hang out and wait for someone else to step up. That's possible. Though the greater likelihood is that the whole operation goes down while everyone is wringing their hands. And the lead up to the crash is painful and anxiety-inducing. 

An alternative is that someone does take the helm, and the crash happens anyway. It would be a near certainty that the blame and guilt will fall to the driver, and that driver couldn't hope to survive. But what if that driver can pull it off? At this point, it's hard to imagine any industry coming out of this recession unscathed. With the right leadership, the wounds could be bumps and bruises instead of lost limbs and massive internal bleeding.

It's a gamble - there are clear choices that need to be made now by every company. What's not clear is the best way forward that causes the least number of casualties. Strong leadership that focuses on stakeholder needs now is best able to find a way up, over, or through. At this point, we have to ask ourselves a key question about that bus situation: If we had no intention or desire to drive, or at least take a shift at the wheel, then why did we get on the bus in the first place? It's foolish and downright dangerous to leave an entire journey up to everyone else. 


runner52 said...

I like your answer..."driving the bus" relates to many things in our own lives, whether or not it is of a personal nature or professional nature. Sometimes we have to be the ones that make the decision to drive the bus. Its not easy to take on the responsibility. The good thing about driving the bus is that you can decide where it stops, who gets off, but especially who gets on!

As to how I found your blog, I was just wandering around the net one day, typing in words...I had heard of blogging...who hasn't? So I typed it in the search area and your site came up...I even watched the video of you and your desire to blog! You seem very passionate and enthusiastic about it, so I wanted to read more of your stuff...

Christa said...

Hello! Thanks so much for your comment. I completely agree - taking the wheel can be hard, and clearly there is always a risk of failure and criticism though the alternative of not living our lives the way we want to live them is far worse.

I am very passionate about blogging, about being part of the larger conversation happening in the world about issues that are important to me.