There’s an old saying that the best way to get yourself out of a hole is to stop digging.
The problem is that, too many times, you think there’s a treasure lurking just a few more shovelfuls down, so the digging continues. As the hole gets deeper, you keep at it because you’ve already put so much effort into it that it would be a waste to stop now.
There are many examples in business of these ever-deepening holes that eat up manpower, time and money. Sometimes, the elusive treasure is a product that’s sputtering along but just can’t quite get going like you had hoped. Other times, it is a person who has all the promise in the world but doesn’t have much to show for it other than a warm chair and a lot of frustration on your part. The “hole” might even be an entire division that is underperforming or a vendor that just isn’t meeting your needs.
Corporate America is littered with decisions that seemed like a good idea at the time but that just didn’t work out. Remember New Coke? It was meant to replace the Coca-Cola that everyone grew up with, but it lasted only 77 days before the classic formula was reintroduced to the market.
The Coca-Cola Co. wisely made the tough decision that its reformulation didn’t pan out the way it had hoped and brought back the old formula. The result was that while New Coke may have failed, the company retained its top spot. It realized the hole was getting too deep with no return in sight, so it got out.
If you’re going to be successful, then you will have to make tough decisions. No matter how close to the buried treasure you think you are, at some point, you have to take your shovel and climb out of the hole and move on.
It’s called cutting your losses. Coke executives could have stuck to their decision because every bit of market research showed that people liked the taste of the new formula better, but it just wasn’t showing up in the sales figures. Maybe you’ve invested a lot of time and money into a product or a person, but there comes a point where you have to give up and focus your resources on more productive areas.
You can’t be afraid to make these tough decisions. It might be easier to justify further expense to keep going, but don’t wait any longer. Pull the plug.
Ending a project that’s bleeding money is an easy decision. The really tough choices come with the marginal performers — people included. To know when enough is enough, you need to set up accountability for projects and people so you can measure how well things are going compared to the standards you’ve set.
If something isn’t measuring up, get rid of it. In today’s business world, profit margins are too thin to waste money on unproductive portions of your business. You can’t afford to have a nonproductive anything — be it a person, division or product — weighing you down. Do everything you can to help the people affected move on, but make the decision and stick with it. These types of decisions are never easy. You never know how they will affect your business. It will always be easier to keep going after that elusive return on your investment, but you have to hold yourself accountable, as well. If it’s not working, it’s time to make a change.
So stop digging now before the hole gets so deep that you are unable to climb back out of it.
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Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.