The cautionary tale of Mr Growthman

The arch rivals Mr Growthman and Mr Batten-Down-The-Hatches are vying for control of our economy, says management consultant Campbell Macpherson. But it's time Growthman won the day.

by Campbell Macpherson
Last Updated: 26 Oct 2012

One of the first casualties of this recession was, sadly, the much-loved Mr Growthman. In businesses across the nation and indeed around the world, this doyen of optimism and never-ending good times was sadly forced to clear out his desk and make way for his arch nemesis, Mister Batten-Down-The-Hatches.

That was three years ago.

I think it is time for his return.

During the boom times, when the word 'bust was officially expunged from our collective lexicon, and when companies dared to invest and grow, the man of the moment was Growthman.

Growthman is one of my favourite leaders for obvious reasons; he’s a visionary; he’s charismatic, he’s great with the media and is someone who leads very much from the front. The rest of the company takes their cues from him and the organisation’s culture soon becomes entwined with his personality and his way of doing things. He sets outrageous goals for the company, which most of the staff believe are utterly fanciful, but they secretly yearn to make them real.

His strategy is very simple – as long as his company is growing, head office will leave him alone and may even support him from time to time. Of course, the problems start when the cycle inevitably turns and the growth starts to slow, for success not only breeds success, it also breeds resentment. At the first sign that the stellar growth may be coming to an end, the knives will start to appear. Never mind that Growthman has quadrupled the size of the business in the last five years, he will be yesterday’s man and destined to be shown the exit.

Of course, experienced Growthmen innately understand that business comes and goes in cycles, like waves on a beach. Major League Growthmen will jump ship before the tsunami breaks, taking their well-negotiated performance bonus with them to find another becalmed company in need of their services.

It’s just as well. Mister Growthman is definitely not the man to mop up his own mess. For that, we need Mr Batten-Down-the-Hatches. For there comes a time in the life cycle of every business where it needs to retire to its cave to lick its wounds – to cut costs and consolidate.

Not a man blessed with a world-class personality, sense of humour, social grace or any sort of dress sense post 1975, Batten-Down-the-Hatches' job is to close down under-performing businesses (sack people), slash budgets (sack people), rationalise the company’s product offerings (sack people), increase efficiencies (sack people), optimise the customer service departments (reduce service levels and sack people) and increase the company’s margins (charge the customers more … and sack people).

Inevitably, the first budgets that Batten-Down-the-Hatches will cut will be advertising and staff training, in spite of the fact that these are the very things that the company will need in order to prosper during the next growth phase.

Once the company is back on its feet and the legal, audit and finance departments are happily in control once again, it will be time to think of growing the company once more. This should be the exit cue for Batten-Down-the-Hatches, but far too many tend to outstay their welcome.

Batten-Down-the-Hatches has no idea how to grow the company; that’s Growthman’s job. But if you’re not very careful, Batten-Down-the-Hatches will start to convince himself that he can be Growthman after all. He can’t. Don’t let him. Thank him for the job he’s done, pay him off and move him onto the next basket-case organisation that needs ‘turning around’.
Otherwise, he will create an even worse mess than the next Mister Growthman eventually will.

Mr Growthman and Mr Batten-Down-The-Hatches are two characters out of twenty in Campbell Macpherson’s new book on leadership entitled In the Company of Leaders.

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