Inject a Little Shock To Your System

Every now and then, it'll do a body good

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I once read in an advice column that you need to unpack every box you bring with you on a move within 72 hours of arriving at your new destination. Otherwise, the odds that that box will ever get opened is next to nil unless there's a catalyst--a shock to the system--that forces your hand.

Assuming that is true, one could conclude you're better off dumping the contents of your life or business onto the floor every now and then. That way, you'll surely have to deal with what you've collected over the years.

I am beginning to wonder if Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd read the same article. Seems he has decided to dump his company's contents on the floor to get a good look at what it has, rather than settle into the chief executive position and ponder.

Just weeks into the job, for example, Hurd reversed a predecessor's decision to combine HP's PC and printer divisions, and decided to lop 15,000 workers from the company's payroll. If nothing else, the news likely sent a collective jolt throughout the company, which one could argue has been zapped enough during the past few years with the integration of Tandem and Compaq, and subsequent management turnover.

Hurd, however, is wise in jolting the company yet again. Does a body good, now and then, although in the case of HP's employees, they may have reached their voltage limits.

Some companies thrive after a good zap or two. Think Apple, Oracle and Motorola. Others, including Qwest, Gateway, Sun and ViewSonic, seem to wither.

How a company handles a sizable jolt says a lot about its character. For Dell, which posted a surprise revenue shortfall in the recently completed second quarter, the moment of truth could be at hand. Conversely, Tech Data, which also posted a second-quarter loss, won't likely take a shock from its recent financial report; it has sustained hits before and knows what to do about them.

You may wonder how your company would handle a jolt. If it is privately held, chances are it won't handle as many as a public company. That's because public companies, of course, have to report their numbers every three months. Private ones...never. Big companies also put themselves in harm's way with big acquisitions, high-profile product introductions and/or noteworthy management changes.

Still, small IT consultancies and solution providers have their own moments of truth, albeit in private for the most part. They occur when a family-owned business changes hands, a key vendor ally terminates its relationship or, worse, a customer refuses to pay its bill.

If any of the above has happened to you, no doubt you've sweated through the experience but gained some knowledge from the event. Indeed, in many interviews I have had with solution-provider CEOs, they look fondly back at the jolts that they've lived through. They tend to wax on about the life lessons learned and the battle-tested thinking they had to deploy during a trying time. Ironically, many do everything in their power to avoid ever getting into that type of situation again. But the longer they avoid a career-jolting event, the closer they are to the next one. Like I said, every now and then, a jolt does a body good.

So, how do you safely test your resistance? Well, it requires more than a weekend getaway with the troops. Laser tag with marketing is as expensive as it is useless, fun and games aside. Want to really test your strength? Try buying into a new territory. Try stealing some accounts from a cross-town rival. Try negotiating with some new vendor partners, especially ones that are at odds with your current allies.

No, I am not suggesting committing business suicide. Instead, I am suggesting it may be time to apply a jolt to the system. If the above seems out of line, try some more sensible tests. Ask yourself:

  • What percent of your revenue is tied to practices that are less than 2 years old?

  • What would happen to your business if your single largest customer suddenly stopped paying its bills?

  • Who is your next CEO?

  • How could you take 20 percent equity out of your company to reward yourself or fellow employees without killing your firm?

  • If you cannot answer these electrifyingly frightening questions, then don't worry about applying a jolt to yourself; chances are, someone else is already working on that.

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