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Why businesses and job boards fail

job boards failI’ve been doing lots of reading (and re-reading) in preparation for this fall’s workshop on Branding, and it has me thinking about why companies thrive, just get by, or fail. I’ve been personally involved in all three types of businesses – and I have a few thoughts for you to consider.

In the U.S., we’ve been raised to revere the ‘hero-CEO’ – someone like Steve Jobs or Lee Iacocca, a person that has a strong, clear idea of what is right and wrong, what works and doesn’t. Most commonly the hero-CEO dominates the company and its workforce through sheer force of personality. He (and it is most often a he, sadly) can be abusive and critical, or inspirational and motivational – but he pushes the company to a greatness it theoretically could not have achieved without him.

That works sometimes – I’ve even experienced it myself. But what happens when the hero-CEO leaves/dies/is deposed? Does the business falter? After all, if the business’ success is tied up in the hero-CEO’s leadership, it stands to reason that it will fail if he’s gone.

I would argue that the hero-CEO is more of a problem than a solution. For example: think of Monster under Jeff Taylor. Big, successful, growing like crazy, taking on all comers. Now think about Monster after Jeff Taylor: bloated, wandering, defensive, unsure of its place in the industry. I’m sure you can think of other examples.

So why is the hero-CEO a problem? Because the company’s identity – its position and brand – are tied up in that particular person. In essence, this larger-than-life person is delaying the development and maturation of the company. It’s like keeping your kid in the basement until he or she is 30. He doesn’t know who he is because he’s never had to find out.

What’s the opposite? How about a company that is clear in its reason for existing – its fundamental purpose in life? In the case of a job board, it may be to connect as many people with disabilities with great jobs as possible. Or to transition every veteran looking for a job into the right one. When you frame the purpose of the company in this manner, you find that you have an entire company making ‘good decisions’, instead of one hero-CEO.  You find that every single person, from customer service to sales to IT understands what the company does and why it does it. When you liberate a company from a single decision-maker, you also liberate it to make better, more consistent decisions across all aspects of its business, by the people who are most deeply involved in those decisions.

So if you’re in the online recruiting business, don’t worry about who occupies the top spot in the job board hierarchy – focus on how well the business understands who it is, what it does, and why it does what it does. If you’ve got that nailed down, you’ll be in business for a very long time.

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