Malcolm De Leo
Welcome to the S&*t Show!
Don’t forget to take stock in the mess you chose to walk into… Starting something new can be one the most exciting times in our lives. The unknown can be both very scary but exhilarating. We get to meet new people, learn new things, be part of a new culture, and most importantly get to do something…well, different. But as we all know when the euphoria wears off, we often look around and wonder how we didn’t see the problems that were inevitably there. The question we need to learn to ask ourselves anytime we think about doing something new, getting involved with a new group or joining a new organization is…
What is the shit show factor?
What do I mean by Shit Show Factor? It should be self-explanatory, but after foolishly believing new situations will make up for all the things that were lacking everywhere else, I have learned when I land that they never are. And while every new place we go or relationship we build won’t ever be idyllic, if we can sniff out what creates the shit show we are now a part of early and often, we will see things more clearly, be able to help to improve things that are broken and most importantly be self-aware of whether we can thrive in the chaos that lives just beyond our rose colored glasses. How can I define the Shit Show Factor? I like to think of the Shit Show Factor as a spectrum. It’s kind of like the old saying, “Everyone needs therapy, but some people need more of it that others”. Each company, project, opportunity and relationship live on a spectrum from perfect (Shit Show Factor 0) to a total and complete mess (Shit Show Factor 10). There is no hard and fast exact metric. It is a way of checking out certain aspects of what we are doing and assigning a number that just makes sense. It helps you get real very quickly about where the danger lies. In addition, it gives you a mental checklist as to whether things are improving or worsening over time. Think of it as an internal barometer of how crazy things will be, whether or not they are tolerable, and most importantly if situation is ultimately tenable. We can all deal with a shit show, but if we don’t continuously assess it, we shouldn’t complain when nothing changes or it blows up in our face. What elements in business do I use to assess the Shit Show Factor? As with any rule of thumb you must have some basic metrics by which you decide how you rate something. Like anything, the concept of assigning a Shit Show Factor is personal. Below are a few of the internal questions I use to help me assign this very important factor 1. Leadership: As with most things, the top sets the tone. This comes down to the CEO or leader of the pack, and how you might fit with their behavior, methods and vision of things. Some questions I ask myself might include the following:
Is the CEO/leader morally aligned with my view of leadership?
How does the CEO/leader make decisions?
Can the CEO/leader articulate their weaknesses?
Does the CEO/leader have a clear truth north for the business?
Does the CEO/leader see where the potholes lie along the road we are traveling?
Are the other senior leader/group members a mirror of the CEO/leaders or represent diverse modes of thinking?
2. Culture: Behind leadership (where culture is set or goes to die) culture is the number two element in my shit show factor. Some would say culture first, but I have always found culture starts at the top. This element centers on whether leadership is aware or can even articulate their most important cultural elements. If your leadership can’t clearly articulate how they want their team to behave you should simply run as fast as you can to the door. Little things show you this element.
Are there “three” things that anyone can definitively articulate about their culture and what
Do they have good health care and benefits? This tells you a lot about how they take care of their people.
Is it collaborative or a free for all? This is a personal choice of course, but most people do enjoy when people like seeing each other thrive. (not everyone of course).
Is it arrogant or open minded? This is the slow boat to failure, because no actualization of weakness can lead to sudden collapse.
Is it focused when it needs to be and creative when it needs to be? Balance to me is the fuel of both innovation and growth.
3. Ethics/Diversity of Thought/Self-Actualization: Within the culture is an element that really shows me the shit show factor; humanity, humility and self-awareness. We all have flaws, but being around people who know themselves, crave working with people who are different, show a distinct ability to process mistakes and treat others ethically really lowers the shit show factor. It may sound Pollyanna, but if 1+1 = 5 and that helps you kick ass then these things are critical.
Do your ethics align with the folks around you?
Are they simply hiring clones of themselves or they honestly like to have people who compliment their weaknesses?
Can they articulate clearly what they suck at? And do they let you help them when they suck at it?
Do they keep running into the same burning buildings over and over or do they find ways to avoid getting burned the same way over time?
4. Peer Interaction: Beyond the “enterprise”, it is imperative to see how the “WE” works together. And by “WE” I mean the teams of people you will interact with beyond those in charge (Individual or Group of Individuals). A great friend of mine once said, “there is managing up, across, or down…everyone is good at two of them”. I have found this to be true. This is all about working across (together) and down (with those who own roles below what you do). Keeping an eye on human workflow with those who get the work done is a very key part of shit show factor. You could love those in charge, but if things beneath the tip of the iceberg are a huge mess, it won’t be very fun.
Do people look out for each other? Or do they look out for themselves?
Is it easy to get beyond work with your peers? Or is it all business? This is a personal preference of course…but if you aren’t aligned in this way it can be bad…really bad.
Are people trying to help each other grow? Or are they looking out for themselves. All this seems obvious but they are “shit show factors”!
5. Process/Method of Operation. Enough fluff, onto the tangible things that matter. Whether your company is just getting started or been around for a long time, the processes that help drive decisions is important. This is very straightforward. And I would argue this factor is very personal. If you are someone who is comfortable with fast and loose decision-making, working in a multi-billion-dollar global company might not be for you. And if you like the security and rigor of a billion-dollar company, working somewhere that flies by the seat of its pants could be quite stressful. What is also important to realize about this factor, it can be the one you might be able to change the most. How things get done is always up for interpretation. But first you must know yourself, how you fit in and where you think you can improve it. Then you can get comfy and make things fit your style (if it’s possible)
How far is your style from the way things are done?
Are decisions often data driven or gut driven?
Are there formal decision-making steps or can things happen informally?
Is breaking the process tolerated or will it affect your standing?
Are there mechanisms to change how decisions are made?
6. Product/Market Fit You can love the leader, you can love the culture, people can work seamlessly, and the process for doing things can be easily changed, but if you have a bad idea that no one cares about you can work forever and it will always be a shit show. Of course, product/market fit can be a leadership problem; blindness to where the product should actually be sold. It can be a culture problem; technically driven instead of market driven for instance. It can be decision making problem; incessant analysis paralysis or bad market interpretation. There are a litany of reasons product/market fit can feed the shit show, and this can change, but there is no doubt that an exciting business idea that the market doesn’t care about will break everywhere over time
Do you believe there is product/market fit?
Does the company give the strategy enough time to stick or are they chasing the silver bullet?
What evidence does the market present that might show you the gap the helps drive product market fit?
Does the company realize there is or isn’t a product market fit
Are sales climbing quickly or struggling mightily?
Are sales people hitting their numbers?
Are sales people like a revolving door?
7. Technology Development /Process: Nobody likes to sell faulty products or services, but sometimes there is a balance of risk between reaching the market and improving your offering. If you perfect things too much you can miss the opportunity and if you have sub-par products even the market is ripe for the taking you can fail. This factor is really a balancing act and one that needs careful consideration. I put it at the bottom, not because it isn’t critical but because usually the flaws lie with the humans doing the work and not often the technology itself. If you have a technology that isn’t ready for prime time there is a person lurking behind the problem. It could be the technology doesn’t work and they want to act like it does or it works great but it isn’t screwed together well. There are so many permutations of this factor it isn’t worth writing, but you get the idea.
Does the product/technology work?
If it technology/product doesn’t work, do you have a path to making it work
Is the technology/product issue a fundamental flaw or one that is fixable?
Do you have the right people building the technology/product?
Is your technical/product team being honest about issues?
Is your technical/product team suffering from analysis paralysis?
Is your technology/product team really hearing the market clearly?
The shit show factor is just a rule of thumb. It’s a concept that can very helpful because it helps you be the realist you need to be. Let's be honest, just because it's a shit show you need to run and hide, be a martyr or a loyalist. It is critical, however, to be able to see the “plot holes” that exist so you can be a part of re-writing the story. Any business can be thought of as a movie because they all have a beginning, middle and end. Seeing things clearly helps us play our part so well that we are not only a character, but also a director and even a producer of what we hope is a very successful movie.