Are You an Octopus?
by R. Thomas Stocker
Is your business in control or do you control “A” companies work this way. Most
your business? Being an octopus stifles problems brought to superiors have already
growth; revenue, creative, personal, profit been analyzed for possible solutions and
and worker to name a few. Evaluate through the analysis the best alternative is
yourself. And be candid. Does everyone in presented. The manager is not necessarily
your organization come to you to make a being asked to decide, but approve the
decision, big or small? Do you have a basic direction the employee is taking. In some
feeling that no one can do “it” better than cases, the alternative presented may not be
you? Is it easier to do it yourself rather than the solution the manager would have
show someone? Do you delegate? And preferred and subsequent peer to peer
when you do, do you give the person you are discussion to decide the best direction
delegating to very specific instructions? Do occurs. Subordinates are encouraged and
you find it hard to get good people, and if expected to have alternatives and to be able
you do find that person they end up leaving? to defend their chosen solution.
How many hours had you worked already
Where are you in your business cycle? If
by the end of Wednesday following your
you are a start-up, being an octopus is part
last vacation? Do you have a short temper
of the plan. You’re figuring everything out.
for suggestions? Do you ask for options?
You don’t have the cash you need to hire
Do you make all the “big” decisions by
everyone you’d like to. But if you are past
yourself? Often wonder why no one in your
the critical stage of start-up, and you are still
organization is “thinking”?
the octopus, it’s time to assess why. It
If you are an octopus you may not realize it doesn’t matter whether you are profitable or
but you’ve trained your staff to let you be. not, something is wrong. Your management
For example, how often does your controller style is holding you back.
or bookkeeper come to you with a problem,
An octopus may not realize the culture they
perhaps about a collection issue? Do they
have created. But over time, the octopus
bring you all the facts, information,
will get tired. The business may not be as
alternatives and their favored suggestion for
exhilarating as it once was. Frustration may
resolution? Or do they just bring data and
set in because no matter how hard he/she is
wait for instructions? How often do you
working, the business doesn’t respond.
need to stop what you are doing, look at the
Employees can’t or won’t help; they’ve been
data, hear their problem then have to send
taught that their opinions aren’t valued. If
them back for more information; maybe
they have been in the company long enough,
with instructions about what you may need
they may not remember how. They may
to make a decision? How do you think it
have become complacent and comfortable to
would be if most problems came with
let the boss do all the lifting. The business
suggested alternatives? Even better, what if
isn’t under control.
the conversation was more about informing
you what was being done rather than asking
Earlier in the article I mentioned ‘A’ players
for your instructions?
don’t last long working for an octopus.
10 Larkspur Road, East Greenwich, RI 02818 401-451-9799 www.boardroomadvisorygroup.com
They won’t tolerate just being a “doer”. It’s and ‘C’ level employees. Revenue and
not in their nature. They need the mental profit growth will always be sub-optimal.
stimulation of working though problems and With a weak team and one clear decision-
don’t understand when they aren’t heard. maker your company will be considered a
Although the octopus may have great regard risk and you may not be able to get the
for that individual’s ability, the octopus has financing you need and certainly the value
a hard time changing their ways. They may of the business will be less than optimal.
not give the responsibility the subordinate But it doesn’t have to be this way.
feels they should have. Ultimately, that
Generally an octopus needs someone to help
person will get frustrated and leave.
them change. This can come in the form of
An enlightened octopus won’t let that a trusted advisor, coach or mentor. It could
happen. Getting the business in control will also be a key subordinate, but this generally
require the octopus to delegate…and have doesn’t work well as that individual has
the patience to let it sink in and work. When their own job to do and coaching the boss
people step up to make the business easier, isn’t something very many people look
the octopus must embrace it. Challenge forward to doing. Sometimes a board of
subordinates to provide their opinions, advisors or an organization like Vistage can
alternatives and solutions on a regular basis. help, but generally the coach or mentor is
A change won’t happen overnight and will the best choice as they have been hired to
require a significant amount of coaching and help with the change. Although CEO or
effort on your part. Make sure your owner groups are good peer to peer groups
subordinates are doing the same thing with and can definitely help, they can’t provide
their reports. This is a serious change in the same depth and attention as the coach or
direction for an octopus company. Many mentor.
employees will be unsettled and may not be
So to start the transformation, what is one to
able to accept the change. It could drive
do? First come to the realization that being
away long-term employees. You may
an octopus is not good for the long-term
sometimes have to make employee changes
value of your company. A company similar
yourself. But the change will be for the
to yours with a more disciplined and
better of all involved.
distributed management style is most likely
One of the biggest positives of this change is stronger, growing faster and attracting the
the effect it will have on company growth. type of employees you need to help you
Over time, you will be able to concentrate reach your goals. To be competitive you
on the things necessary to increase revenues must change in order to allow your company
or whatever your specialty may be. Others to change. You are going to need the help
have stepped up to run their own areas, and of your employees. They will need to
with little “help” from you. Interruptions for change as well.
every little thing occur less frequently. Staff
Having a plan is important to making the
is more energized. You will start to notice
transformation. As you work toward
talents you didn’t realize employees had,
educating employees to analyze the data and
and you will find you are actually having
produce potential alternatives and solutions,
it will be important to spend time explaining
Changing from an octopus doesn’t happen your new expectations. In some cases you
easily, and you may not be able to do it. But may need to show how analysis of the data
the consequences of not changing can be will lead to multiple alternatives and make it
harsh. You will forever be saddled with ‘B’ easier to have meaningful discussions.