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Misreading Opportunities

Opportuntiy word cloud

How often do you hear people talking about opportunities that don’t seem to bear fruit? As someone who likes to work with early stage companies, I hear the “O” word from founders and employees on a regular basis.

While a company may have identified an unmet market need with huge growth and revenue potential, organizational behaviors can quickly reduce the big “O” down to a very small “o.” Potential investors identify the size of the “O” when they assess the team, and that often spells the difference between funded and unfunded ventures.

Self-inflicted Wounds

The people working for a company with poor behaviors often get into a mind space that prevents them from seeing the severity of the self-inflicted wounds that cause poor performance. When you’ve become emotionally attached to the “big win,”  a common reaction is to dig in and work harder. You’re convinced the opportunity is too good to let go and your efforts will pay off despite any destructive signs you see.

In these cases, I would tell you that the opportunity is not an opportunity because the company continually shoots itself in the foot. You can only overcome self-inflicted wounds by disarming organizational dysfunction. First you have to recognize the clues. People misread the size of opportunity when:

  1. The founder ‘knows’ more than everyone else or is otherwise an ineffective leader
  2. Factions form because people do not share a common vision or goals; politics prevails
  3. Communication loops break down or do not form across functions
  4. There’s a mismatch between company needs and employee talents
  5. The company lacks discipline and pursues too many opportunities concurrently
  6. Strategy and structure do not transition in tandem as the company matures
  7. People see what’s going on, but duck and cover rather than openly addressing issues

Sometimes you see several of these factors in play at the same time. Digging in and working harder without addressing these issues wastes time while the size of the “o” grows smaller and the opportunity merely becomes an illusion. Redirect your efforts to acknowledging and addressing these very real barriers to success to turn the perceived opportunity into a real opportunity.

Transform Little “o” into Big “O”

Leaders in this situation have to accept responsibility in order to turn a downward trend around. Things get a little trickier for employees. You cannot expect behaviors to change unless you have the courage to speak up and address the company’s challenges in a constructive manner. And very often having that discussion means you will have to pursue a different opportunity.

So, what other factors turn a big” O” into a little “o?” Please share.

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