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Imagine that your company was a person, let's call her Rose

February 4, 2015

Rose grew from small beginnings, just a twinkle in your eye, a fuzzy idea and after months of nurturing this idea she was born.

 

You stayed up late at night worrying about her, wondering what would become of her. You fed her, clothed her (resources) and gave her all the guidance (values) she needed to become the best person she could be.

 

In the early days, you did everything for her, by yourself. You stayed up late at night and worked tirelessly to keep her warm, cool, safe, dry. You checked on her so often you may as well have had her hooked up to you intravenously.

 

At times, you didn't know where Rose started and you began.

 

After helping her grow she is now fumbling around trying to figure out how to crawl, walk and then eventually run.

 

Rose is now the sum of your parts, she is what you created. She reflects your values, ideals and your version of what success looks like. Sometimes she needs a lot of fuel to chase a dream (during a growth spurt/recruitment) and at other times you've had to hold back on the sugar so she can rest up and lose weight (during hard times/cost reduction) to keep her moving at the same speed. But something changed and you didn't notice. Rose became her own person, with a mind of her own, independent of you. She started to make her own decisions and you couldn't do everything for her anymore. Not just because you couldn't keep up, but because she wanted to do it herself.

 

It is now, you realise that you need to guide her gently, and try not to take credit for her achievements - be proud of her and help her grow, she still needs you - just in a different way. You begin to imagine the possibilities for Rose if you just let her blossom. But you just don't know how to let go......

 

As a founder, by thinking of your Company as a person, it helps you to take a step back. Just like a child or sibling, you can love your Company, but ultimately she will take on her own form and make her own way in the world. You can guide her and make sure she has everything she needs, but you can't force her to do what you want. Once you have key departments and resources run by teams of independent people, she becomes more than you. There are lots of working parts that keep her moving, not all of them work in harmony. Some parts even try to hurt each other, seeing them as a threat. At times the left and right side of the brain are at odds. But it all comes together and somehow that Company keeps on going.

 

You have to make decisions for her, especially when a seemingly vital organ become cancerous. You need to spot it early and cut it out before it spreads to other organs and she shuts down. If she was a real person, you'd take that kidney right out and save her, rather than watch it blacken, ignoring the signs and advice of experts.

Recognising your Company as a person means that you can see her as a living breathing and responsible being, with a heart and mind made up by the collective decisions you and your team have made. You haven't made a machine and they are all a part of it now, it is no longer you. You can take a deep breath and begin to work on your teams and ensuring they are working in harmony and know what you're trying to do for her and what you want her to become, where she's going and why. You need to start getting all of the parts working together for the same purpose - getting Rose working to her full potential and embodying your values. Working toward the same goal. Imagine if Rose's arms thought she was swimming and her legs were running. All parts need to know what she's trying to do, so they can work together.

 

As an Employee, you can be passionate, shout and scream at her but in the end, you can only change things within your control. It doesn't mean that you don't care, it just means you know where you have to stop screaming and start trying new ways to help guide her to the right place or figure out that your values no longer match as she takes on her personality and pace. Sometimes it is just time to throw your hands in the air and give up. That's fine, she'll keep going without you, maybe she'll stumble but not for long. But if you decide to stay, put your shouting to the side because she's not listening. Try figuring out better ways to help your peers and colleagues work with you more easily and things might fall into place. Realise that you do it for love and that is enough, don't be a martyr.

 

Just like a person, Rose will mature and age. There is no stopping this from happening. Many founders try to force Rose to keep running at the same pace, throwing resources at her and stretching her too far, making her do things that she wasn't raised to do. She struggles and eventually figures it out, but it is too late as others created for the new race have lapped her and she is left behind.

 

Of course, we can prevent the early onset of maturity and do all of the right things to help stay young and healthy. We can make sure that Rose can deal with adversity and adapts to change. But inevitably it will come, the best thing to do is manage her aging gracefully. Remember Rose isn't a real person, so you can put her out of her misery. However, she is made up of lots of real people and they can help you breathe life into a new person, slowly move them across, as you wind Rose down, get as much life as you can bear and eventually let her enjoy her last days with as little effort as possible.

 

Here's an example:
If Rose became a Jazz singer and Hip-Hop comes to town, for her sake, don't release a new single called J-Rose. She's a Jazz singer, do it well and be the best, become a legend. If you want to do Hip-Hop start a new life, grow a new Rose and gradually move your resources over as she grows. Better still, try to figure out what's coming after Hip Hop and have a few more Roses growing and waiting to sings. If you really want to get her singing Hip Hop, try doing something with a new partner as a cameo - it worked for Tom Jones.

This approach to building, loving and ending companies and products is hard to do. It means you have to think about the end. Not many leaders get to see things this far and their task is to continue to force Rose to do more and more despite the extra effort each breath is taking.

However, if it is your company, you can think about your companies whole life and who you want to raise. What will make you proud and can you bear to let it go?

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