I worked at TaylorMade Golf Company for nearly eight years and I’m feeling very mixed emotions about the news today about office closures and “workforce reduction” (also known as people losing their jobs). If you’re interested in yet another reality check about the speed of change you’ll appreciate that this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal merely 18 months ago. It concludes this way: “Things can change fast. Even so, for now, it’s good to be TaylorMade.”
TaylorMade completely reinvented the golf equipment industry in the last decade. Completely reinvented it. While the rest of the industry was licking its wounds or being complacent or defeatist, there was TaylorMade blowing doors not only open but clearly off their hinges, literally shocking an old and tired system with radical new approaches to design, marketing and sales. And then, as happens all too often with industry leaders, they stayed too long at the party, using the same recipe of speed, muscle and flash long past its “sell by” date.
It was thrilling to be a part of the run up to that success and to play some small part in helping it become a reality. It’s not so thrilling to realize, especially as a learning and leadership expert, that our efforts to facilitate new thinking, to unlock creativity and to discover new ways forward were always plagued by the shadow of previous success. As much as we would talk about reinvention we were paralyzed by the seduction of what had already worked.
We didn’t do enough and, in fairness, could never have done enough to get the gambler away from the table. That might be overstated, but I don’t think by much considering how strong the pull was to believe that a hot streak could last forever.
The hard fact remains that it is just incredibly hard to question, much less change, a formula that has worked for so long. And that you have to do so anyway. That the leadership required to deliver speed, muscle and flash is not the same leadership required to candidly assess how once successful business practices and cultural realities may be getting tired – less and less relevant and productive every day. Chapter one of Jim Collins’ How the Mighty Fall is called “Hubris” for a reason.
Smart and energetic people will surely get things back on track. Hopefully they can and will act quickly and decisively but also thoughtfully and with a longer view than just the next product launch. There’s an opportunity – especially with recent and significant leadership changes – for a cultural reinvention that could be the beginning of another great story. A story of recovery and reinvention and, much more importantly, a story of lessons learned from the pain of experience that no one wants or is willing to see repeated.
The cycle can be broken. It’s just a decision to lead, in the deepest and most significant sense of the word.