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Sep 6th, 2018 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts

Take away the literal meaning of the saying, and you are left with the reality of why companies tend to get worse over time.

What initially was an exciting startup filled with enthusiastic changemakers working to make a difference, becomes (hopefully) a well-oiled growth machine, where the fun doesn’t seem to end. And then it all goes down the drain.

Bureaucracy starts to set in, and processes become the new norm. Where once the company hired only the best talent it could find, it now settles for warm bodies who can do the work. The purpose statement becomes something which is printed and framed in the lobby. New managers don’t speak to customers; everybody spends too much time in too many meetings. The question of which energy drink brand is stocked in the fridges becomes more important than figuring out what the customer’s emerging needs are. Fiefdoms are erected, and infighting begins.

I have seen this movie play out a few too many times to wish it would be the exception rather than the norm. The problem isn’t that this is happening overnight and this is one caustic event. Quite contrary – it is the accumulation of hundreds upon hundreds of small paper cuts. The one useless meeting which gets added to the calendar; the one hire we all agree isn’t that great – but better than having an empty seat. The one process we all hate and know is inefficient – but tolerate as it is just “one process.” Each one of these items doesn’t change anything. However, the cumulative nature of these things brings even the best run company to its knees.

Beware the paper cut! Speak up when you see one (and do not create your own), put your foot down and make sure they don’t happen. It’s the only way to ensure your company rocks – and continues to rock years from now.

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