Riding a dead horse can happen to all of us. The point is about realising it ahead of time. Obviously you do not want to get in to the situation of having a dead horse, because that means you did not see that it was getting sicker and sicker. This is probably one of the reasons why we have difficulties confronting ourselves - at least when we are in the rider position. Being aware of it and acting accordingly helps a lot. It frees up talent, money and time. The key is to permit the organisaiton to bring the question up: Is this a dead horse?
I was told that there is a saying from the Dakota Indians. Apparently they say, …” If you discover you are riding a dead horse – get off “. Makes a lot of sense – so why would I want to talk about it?
I was reminded to this saying during one of the Coaching sessions I had last month. It was about a client who was riding that dead horse. The questions that came up: - how do I motivate it, should I threaten it, should I change the Leader? Given the descriptions he gave me – I asked if he was sure that the horse (business) was still alive? The question was a shock and the first answer he gave was – I am not sure! In the meantime he had people look at this and he is now convinced that the horse is dead and our conversation has changed accordingly.
Do not think badly about the client, this is a very successful businessman, and yes this can happen. Maybe you can think back of an organisation you know, who when they were riding that dead animal, set a whole bunch of activities up to make the horse move forward. Maybe you have your own experience? From my side at least I have to admit: Yes I have been riding dead horses - unfortunately.
In fairness it is not easy in private and business life to always be sure if the horse is dead or not – often though – even when we actually know it, we pretend not to see it until we ask ourselves this very question. Is the horse still alive? I will come to this point later on. Lets look where dead horses can appear in our business life.
Dead horses can be
- Projects that make no more sense to pursue - they may have been great when they started - now they are just meaningless
- The 10th offer to that client – who for what ever reason – just does not want to do business with us
- The production facility in this high cost are, producing what used to be a special product and what is today a commodity coming from low cost countries
- This innovation, that cost the organisation a fortune and where everybody knows it is going nowhere and nobody dears to say anything
- Many others, which also includes relationships, strategies, product lines…
When is the horse “dead”?
Well that is a good question and I am sure that you can figure that out if a team of stakeholders look at the horse and try to answer that very question. I find that once the question is actually on the table, people find a way to make a decision if there horse is just sick or unfortunately dead.
What happens if nobody asks that question if the horse is dead?
The horse is then perceived to be alive, accepted not in good shape, but alive. As the horse fails to do what is expected from it – obviously it cant because its dead – it gets support.
The support can be (examples):
- Get a bigger whip
- Call in a horse whisperer
- Find out what horses like to eat and motivate it
- Bring in a new team to take care of the horse
- A new Leader with a great track record – some even claim they can ride dead horses
- Confront the horse with the benchmark, explain the difference to its performance in comparison to an average horse and a top quartile horse – that must help
- Hire a consultant to make the desired progress – careful here because you might see movement. This is however not the horse, but they might carry the horse and the cart to achieve the objective. So when you see it moving – make sure you understand why it is moving
- Merge the dead horse with a dying horse – get the synergies out of it and see if it moves
What can we do about dead horses?
Unfortunately nothing much in the sense of progress. However a lot can be done for the organisation. The animating and taking care of dead horses consumes a lot of talent that can be used elsewhere. Dead horses that are not known to be dead cost a lot of money on top of that. Image wise leaving a dead horse in the organisation doesn’t look good and over time the odour makes it s way through the whole organisation, until it stinks that bad, that somebody will bring an end to it.
One possible recommendation is:
- Take good care of your horses
- If a horse gets sick, make sure you take care of it, until you are convinced that it is in good shape again
- If a horse does not recover, check on its chances and act accordingly, before it dies
- Should you run into something that looks like a dead horse, behaves like a dead horse bring a team together to check that out, before it starts smelling like one.
As always input and other recommendations from your experience are very welcome