How Bosses Do Harm

credit to  Andrea Ovans  |   HBR

This is harsh. When participants from a high-performing division of a Fortune 100 company were polled during a Thunderbird webinar, fully 60% said their division was successful despite their leaders. And 35% of respondents in a broader study of all high-performing companies said the same thing. How does that happen? Bad bosses don’t wake up in the morning and ask themselves: “How can I hurt the company today?” As Kannan Ramaswamy and Bill Youngdahl point out in this excellent Thunderbird research blog, they chuckle along with everyone else when they read Dilbert cartoons about the Pointy-Haired Boss.

The trouble starts when, climbing through the ranks, they’re encouraged to think big and leave the details to others. That causes them to lose sight of whether an idea that seems feasible in the C-suite could work on the ground. It’s compounded by failing to encourage honest, complete feedback from their ranks. Since people expect bad bosses to produce bad results, clueless bosses in high-performing divisions attribute success to their own efforts, when in fact it comes from self-motivated individuals making up for their boss’s shortcomings.

Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft each bought three companies last year. Facebook? Ten. Google? A whopping 25 — one every two weeks. Its remarkable success in turning acquisitions like DoubleClick and AdSense into major revenue drivers, says Ben Popper in this smart feature (worth a look if only for its cool graphic visualizing Google’s growth), has a lot to do with the fact that when Google buys those companies it doesn’t turn their founders loose. Two-thirds of them are still with the company — and they’re the ones making the decisions about where the products and the company are going.

Annie’s, purveyor of bunny-shaped organic foods, isn’t exactly a hot internet start-up. But looking at the company’s evolution through that lens helps explain why its IPO numbers have topped those of perhaps the most successful internet start-up of all time. Among Annie’s critical moves: pioneering a niche product — “healthy convenience food” — after witnessing the success of its first snack (Smartfood), and taking its time to go public until hitting “the sweet spot of its growth curve.” Can Annie’s keep growing now that it’s beholden to shareholders? Yes, writes Wired’s Marcus Wohlsen, because, unlike Facebook, Annie’s “value proposition is plain and simple”: a bowlful of cheesy goodness that’s (reasonably) good for you.
— by Gretchen Gavett



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