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Is your strategy to leave your finger in the dike?

OK, I know that times are tough in the business world. I got that memo. So, I realize that some businesses are in crisis–maybe even yours. But I’ve been struck recently by the short-term focus of folks that purport to be our big thinkers. More and more, I see strategic roles in companies filled by people spending most of their time shoving a finger in the leaky dike. For some, it might be necessary, but I question its long-term wisdom. Are you trading your future for your present? I am using the analogy of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike to illustrate a problem that many of us are facing. I know that our businesses depend on holding back those flood waters, and that we’re spooked watching other companies spring leaks that quickly overwhelmed them. So, when something critical is going wrong, it is natural for all of us, even those of us in strategic roles, such as CMOs and CTOs, to jump into the breach.

Statue in Madurodam of the nameless boy pluggi...

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And, honestly, it’s refreshing to see people respond in a crisis, rather than standing around saying “Not my job.” But there is a limit to how effective that can be. We’re over a year into our economy’s latest crisis and strategic people can’t abandon their roles for that long without causing long-term damage.

So, if you have a strategic role in your company, but you’ve been spending almost all of your time with your finger in the dike, you need to pull it out. Here’s why:

  • The company needs someone else to do it. You are too highly paid and too important in the job you do to spend this much time in crisis. In the long run, you’re enabling the people who should be repairing the dike to continue their shoddy work. Pull your finger out of the dike and make sure the folks in charge of that job step up.
  • No one can fix the dike. As long as you have your finger in it, the dike can’t be repaired by anyone. You’re going to have to accept some short-term water damage to fix things in the long-run. At some point, you need to stabilize whatever crisis you are in to move forward again, not just defend against more damage.
  • Your real job is becoming a crisis?. While you are hanging around the dike, you can’t go where you’re needed in your own job. While you’re doing someone else’s job, no one is doing yours. If you are as critically needed in the crisis as you think, it’s time for you to change jobs so that someone else does the strategy work you are neglecting.

Handling the crisis always seems more important than the long-term things that make your company vital. I would argue that many crises are urgent but not all that important. We must accept that sometimes a crisis is in the natural order of things and that we can’t and shouldn’t always prevent them.

And if your company is in such crisis that you think you are doing the equivalent of prioritizing breathing over eating, it’s time for you to decide if you are in the right place. Because soon you’re going to be very hungry.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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