Companies & Industries

You Thought They Had It Tough on Survivor?


There's a new game in town that will profoundly affect your career. It pits old, new, and emerging economies in a test of survival. Let's call it Global Businessball.

Global Businessball is a "results game," so called because financial results are all that matter. The game isn't about producing exciting products and services that could make the world a better place. Those are merely byproducts. Instead, the objective is to post points on the scoreboard, based on three criteria: profits, revenues, and growth. A team that regularly puts up more and more points -- also known as earnings per share (EPS) -- gets to play on to the next quarter. A high EPS total keeps the fans, or shareholders, happy. After posting four consecutive quarters of EPS gains, the team becomes a certifiable winner. More fans support it. And the team gets to add players.

DECLARING A LOSER. A failure to produce gains for a quarter, however, puts a team in survival mode. If the team underperforms for more than three quarters, fans boo from the sidelines. A team that slips for four consecutive quarters is declared a loser. Fans desert it and switch their allegiance to winning teams. Many players are retired before their time.

Each Global Businessball team is led by a Go-To Person (GTP) -- also known as

the chief or, sometimes, the leader -- who is driven by the league's and the

fans' hyperemphasis on boosting the team's short-term EPS total. (Teams foolish enough to build for the future at the expense of piling up points now often alienate fans and drop in the rankings.) Even though the GTP's job can be miserable, competition for this role is fierce because the sky's the limit when it comes to compensation -- which rises faster the more the team scores.

Prerequisites include strategic intelligence; a cutting-edge technological background; global and diverse business experience; elevated levels of confidence; drive, maturity, and fearlessness in the face of extraordinarily high levels of risk; enormous energy; and of course, ambition.

RECENT CASUALTIES. There are lots of openings for GTPs. Turnover is high: More than 1,150 GTPs have left their teams since August, 1999. Recent casualties include GTPs at Gillette, Lucent, Xerox, Campbell Soup, Aetna, and Procter & Gamble. The average tenure of a GTP today is 38 months.

Team players -- who fill positions in sales, finance, human resources, marketing, product development, e-business, information systems, manufacturing, and so on -- have even less time to strut their stuff. Whatever their position, players have to live by the same basic rule: Play to win or leave. Winning means making a measurable contribution to the team's EPS. In return, the players expect to be dealt in on profits, challenged with exciting opportunities, and promoted or frequently recognized. If they don't get these rewards, they declare themselves free agents and sign with the highest bidder.

Every quarter, the GTP meets with the team's offense and defense and asks one question: How have they contributed to EPS? Has the human resources group helped find the best employees? Has the finance team raised shareholder value through cost reduction? Has the sales group boosted revenue and profit per customer? Everyone who can answer yes gets a pat on the back plus cash bonuses and maybe even stock options. Groups that have missed their goals are granted one second chance and reminded of the rule of the game: Play to win or leave.

UNDESIRABLE QUALITIES. Certain types of leaders and players aren't cut out for Global Businessball. Those who aren't believe that hierarchical, bureaucratic organizations produce stronger financial results, that people are owed a chance to play just because of their many years of experience or their great personality, that it's O.K. to smile upward and kick downward, that being a bully or complainer will somehow keep them in the game.

Indeed, many would-be participants may never be ready for Global Businessball. For much of the past decade, they needn't have worried. They didn't have to hustle every day to prove their worth to their team, teammates, and fans.

Global competition, the fickleness of fans, and rising "share the profit" expectations from talented, mobile players have combined to produce unprecedented pressure for a big, fat EPS total. The "play to win or leave" philosophy of Global Businessball makes each individual accountable for the team's profits, growth, and revenues. Maybe you've already started to feel this effect. If not, be warned: It's coming soon to a company near you. Don MacRae is president of the Lachlan Group, a management consultancy, in Toronto. He has taught and worked with corporate leaders for the past 25 years. You can reach him at don@lachlangroup.com, or visit his Web site at www.lachlangroup.com


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