4 Bad Business Ideas in 2010

As I begin to reflect on 2010 during December, I am struck as the outsider in my engagements by the truly bad ideas I have seen.  None of these are new ideas.  They are just business practices I have personally experienced in 2010 that are still ringing in my head as truly bad ideas that are pulling their companies down.  Here then, in no particular order are four truly bad ideas:

1. Campus Work Environments

Do you remember trying to work in a campus environment when you went to college?  Let me remind you: you had to leave your room and desk because your neighbors got out of class at noon, and scored Pink Floyd’s The Wall along with some excellent Maui Wowie.  Your roommate could only study with Wheel of Fortune on and there was a squirt gun war between your dorm and the one across the quad.  Remember?  That’s why you moved off campus as soon as your residence hall contract would allow.  So why do you think it would be any different 30 years later?

I have had the opportunity to work in two very different environments this past year.  One is very traditional: offices for the VP’s, cubicles for everyone else. Men wear ties when they give presentations.  Women wear suits all the time to try to diminish the credibility gap.  People who want to listen to music, discreetly bring in earbuds.  Another is a campus environment with universal wi-fi where employees are encouraged to work from anywhere at anytime.

At first, I thought it would be heavenly working in such an open environment.  Turns out, however, that people only come into the office for two reasons: meetings in conference rooms or socializing.  See, if they actually need to get work done, they work from home or Starbucks.  That leaves the floors of cubicles the realm of adults-with-too-much-time-on-their-hands who believe they can improve their popularity by sharing YouTube videos, gossiping and telling one another how much work they have to do.  The headquarters has become the least productive real estate in the company with people coming and going at will and no boundaries for respecting people needing to work.
Or as I like to say: all the headaches of a college campus with none of the booze.

2. Outsourcing IT

Propelled by Good to Great and other business books of the 90’s,  companies came to believe that IT was not core to their success and was simply an enabling discipline that could be best managed outside the company.  Scarred by Y2K expenses and a business team that envied large IT budgets, companies began to outsource IT to specialized services firms.  Lulled into believing they could control their budget AND deliver leading edge IT solutions (through their SLA’s) companies alienated their internal IT champions and handed the keys over to companies who had only one reason to take on the additional work: profit.
Now companies with outsourced IT departments are finding it expensive and even impossible to get high priority items into the IT workstream mid-year.  They have lost any nimbleness that the outsourcing was supposed to bring because the weight of executive decisions by the subscribing company does not influence IT priorities the way it once did.  The IT service companies have incentives to prevent or slow the subscribing companies to use cloud-based solutions that eliminate middle IT management.  And that leaves the subscribing companies open to fast-moving companies that never outsourced IT to begin with.

3. A Chief Ethics Officer

I sat in on a presentation from a Fortune 100 company’s Chief Ethics Officer who impressed her audience with her work on building transparency and accountability among the executives and the company’s key stakeholders.  (As a side note, I happen to believe the reason most companies hire a Chief Ethics Officer is to put a woman in the C-Suite who will have no real power.  That and a creepy repressed need to have a mother figure tell them what they should do.)

A public company that needs a Chief Ethics Officer is like a nursery school that needs a Chief Childcare Officer.  It comes with the job and should be so ingrained in the character of everyone in the company that every infraction of unethical behavior is immediately called out and penalized.  Creating a culture of enlightened ethical behavior happens in every company with a culture of accountability.  ETHICS IS ACCOUNTABILITY and if a company you have invested in needs an ethics officer, ask yourself why the C-Suite is unable to build accountability into the DNA of the enterprise.

4. Stores Open on Thanksgiving Day

America’s retailers wish to corrupt a national holiday that is supposed to be focused on gratitude for all that we have.  A day to reflect on our blessings as a nation, as a family and as individuals is being transformed into a day to covet having more  and to be dissatisfied with what we have.  Shame on all retailers who are open on Thanksgiving.

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