CEO Shoptalk — Lancing the Boil

Glorious sunny day in the ATX, y’all. So, what does “lancing the boil” mean, Big Red Car?

[Early stage, pre-MVP hamburger looking at you in the Hill Country.]

Suppose for a second you are a CEO — tough job. You have dealt with one of the List of Horribles, that compendium of distasteful things a CEO does that comes with the job and justifies the equity stake.

For sake of argument, let’s suggest you have engaged in a meaningful reduction-in-force, RIF, but for a good reason — you’ve decided to pursue a new initiative, an inflection point and you have to prune the org chart. It happens. It happens way more than you think.

So, what happens, Big Red Car?

What happens is, first, you tell those who are leaving that they are leaving. There are ways to do that are better than others, but you come up with a good one and you are pleased with the result. There was no gunfire.

You tell those who are not leaving the obvious thing — “You’re safe.” No champagne, no confetti, no strippers.

What happens next, Big Red Car?

It takes a week or so for the initial reaction to arrive — perhaps in the form of someone unloading on you on GlassDoor?

This is perfectly natural. You will not get a sense of the reaction until a week passes. Perfectly normal.

The reaction will be negative — you’re surprised that folks may react negatively when they are fired or their pals are fired? That’s so cute.

What do I do, Big Red Car?

Here is the game plan:

 1. You communicate the “why” of what you did understanding that during the “shock” phase of such changes people are not listening and when they aren’t listening they can’t process the information.

When people don’t process information about change, they become uneasy. Uneasy is the first step toward a bit of chaos and chaos can be dangerous.

You begin to understand the words “over communicate.” You follow your talking points and you’re good at this.

 2. You meet with some key folks and get their reaction — you listen. You do not debate. This is the first element of “lancing the boil” — taking its measure.

If you have some folks who say, “Probably the right move” that is good.

If you have some folks who say, “Updating my resume” that is not so good, but it is not fatal. People will say all kinds of crazy shit at times like this because they are hurt and hurt morphs into anger. The anger is focused on YOU. Sorry — remember who owns the equity.

 3. You may want to conduct an Anonymous Company Survey. You know how to do that because you’ve either done it before or you have read this:

Anonymous Company Survey

Don’t conduct the Anonymous Company Survey if you did one last week and don’t do it the day after the RIF (reduction in force).

 4. You conduct a brainstorming session to refocus the company on the future and to turn its back on the past. Know how to brainstorm? Here’s how.

Brainstorming for the Startup or Small Company

 5. You spend a little more time “managing by wandering around.”

What exactly are we doing, Big Red Car?

You are doing two things, important things:

 1. You are lancing the boil of what may be substantial discontent.

 2. You are recharging the company’s batteries.

Do you recall when we talked about energy sources and energy sinks. A RIF is a huge energy suck.

The Energy Source v The Energy Sink Theory of Life

Bottom line it, Big Red Car

OK, dear reader, here it is — when you encounter one of the List of Horribles, which you will, you can do nothing and cast your fate to the winds. Not recommended.

Or, you can, alternatively, “lance the boil” of potential discontent by cutting away the diseased flesh, allowing the poison to flee, and re-energizing the company for the future.

I promise you one thing — IT WORKS. I know because I have done it.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Have a great weekend. Call a sibling or a parent or a grandparent.