Big Dumb Company

big dumb faceA phrase created by venture capitalist John Greathouse and used by Huggy Rao and Bob Sutton in their acclaimed new book, Scaling Up Excellence, it has never been more important for food industry CEOs to guard their organizations–regardless of size–against developing Big Dumb Company disease.

What are the attributes? Here are a few of mine in addition to some from Mr. Greathouse, Mr. Rao and Mr. Sutton:

  • Executives are not committed to defeating bureaucracy in a Big Dumb Company. Layers of management justify their existence by developing processes that require others to jump through hoops to get things done.
  • Big Dumb Company bureaucracy retains “C players” and repels desperately-needed “A players”: Problem solvers, creative new thinkers, performers of highest distinction.
  • Paraphrasing physicist Geoffrey West at the Santa Fe Institute: BDC leaders don’t like getting their hands dirty, hiring others for the care and feeding of themselves and the bureaucracy. Executives distance themselves from problems and customers, performance comes up short in their people, and the organization slows down or even approaches near-stall speed in some areas.
  • Innovation fails at a Big Dumb Company. Evidence can be noted here in comparison to smaller, edgier competitors:
  • BDC leaders don’t embrace passionate people who work for more than just a paycheck, who strive to make a difference with an insatiable desire to make the organization better. BDC’s foolishly believe that numbers and score-keeping are what motivate people.
  • Big Dumb Company leaders are perceived as secretive when holding multi-day meetings at private getaways that also send a message of privileged authority and rank.
  • Unaware their skills have peaked, leaders in Big Dumb Companies default to what they know best, have always done or what is most familiar rather than personally developing latent skills required to push the business where it needs to go.
  • Accountability is a buzz word in the upper ranks of Big Dumb Companies. Phrases claiming “personal ownership” of negative outcomes are ritualized; the real consequences are passed along to be suffered by others.
  • Trust is not currency at a Big Dumb Company. There’s no counting the costs of distrust in the forms of lower engagement, increased turnover, higher stress. Sadly, emphasis is on what “I can” do and what “I have a right” to do rather than what “I should” do.
  • A Big Dumb Company confuses big-corporate history and industry tenure with new-era experience and adaptability. (No need to mention the dire outcomes of this attribute.)

Have you created a list of Big Dumb Company attributes? Are you committed to prevent them from creeping into your organization?


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