New York Bus Stop

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard a company either say these words or infer them, I would be driving a much nicer car.

“We have that under control.”

Sure you do. 😀

That is why you are seeing 50%+ YoY growth.

That is why you are the category leader in your market and enjoy 80%+ market share.

That is why your brand commands rabid, cult-like loyalty from your customers.

That is why you don’t even need to advertise anymore. Word-of-mouth from existing customers is so good that people are tripping all over themselves to do business with you.

That is why while everyone else is cutting back, you can’t hire staff fast enough to meet your massive growth.

That is why you are driving companies that used to be your competition out of business.

That is why you have already been on the covers of both Fast Company and Inc. this year.

That is why Oprah is singing your praises every other day.

That is why you already have hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter.

That is why your CEO, CMO and other key managers are invited to speak at conferences on a regular basis.

That is why you attract the best talent from around the world without ever having to post a single position on a job board.

Yeah. You have everything under control. I can see that. The quality of your products is stellar. Exemplary, even. Your innovative spirit has helped redefine not only markets but culture as a whole. The way we live. The way we work. The way we communicate. You are the Apple or the Starbucks or the BMW of your industry.

Your Marketing communications are so fluid, organic and true that your company culture oozes from every press release, from every brochure, from every page of your website(s). It emanates from every employee. No… wait, “emanates” is the wrong word. It “radiates.” That’s better. Your company culture radiates from every single employee, from the CEO on down to the janitor, and it rings so true that people simply flock to you out of principle. Even if people don’t use your product, they love your company because of what it represents.

That’s how much you have things under control.

Your listening posts are everywhere. Every time someone says positive about your brand on the web, your community manager(s) and PR team know it, make a note of it, and even send out a little nod of appreciation. Likewise, when someone shares a negative experience or opinion, the same team immediately reacts and reaches out to the person or persons to find out how they might turn that negative experience into a good one. And that team does this flawlessly. It is fast, supremely professional and friendly, and doesn’t let anything fall through the cracks. Again, every such web interaction is cataloged, measured and reported.

Because you have everything under control.

You never ship late – and when you do, you make sure to make it right for your customers. You never make it difficult for customers to return a product or go through the warranty process. Your customer service/customer support team is among the best in the world. If you suddenly went out of business, people’s lives would be in shambles.

But when something goes wrong, the fact that you have hundreds of thousands of followers across your blog(s), Twitter, Facebook and other social web communities makes it easy for you to turn a crisis into a case study of how well companies can handle themselves when they get broadsided by an issue.

Because you have everything under control.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Whatever you say.

Every time a corporate honcho utters the phrase “we have that under control” or “we have that covered” or “we’re good in that department,” the red flags pop up like jacks-in-the-box.

Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop.

Whenever I hear that phrase, I catch myself wanting to laugh outloud… Which I probably shouldn’t do, but I can’t help it because it is so… predictable, in a sad, foreshadowing sort of way.

This is what it must feel to substance abuse counselors every time an addict sits in their chair for the first time and says “I don’t have a problem”or “I can stop whenever I want.”

You see it and hear the words enough times, you learn to understand the depth of the associated dysfunction before the response is fully formulated… And what always disappoints, I suppose, is the degree of predictability and… banality I now associate with that type of reply coming from professionals and industry veterans who clearly should know better.

In my head, I imagine myself thumbing through a dictionary, looking for the exact definition of the word delusional:

From Delusion (noun) di-ˈlü-zhən, dē-

Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin delusion-, delusio, from deludere (15th century)

1: the act of deluding : the state of being deluded

2 a: something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated b: a persistent false (psychotic) belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary ; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs

And then I wonder how the clown I am having that conversation with ever managed to get promoted to a position of influence within a company whose very survival is now at stake because of either one of two things: a. Simple stupidity on their part, or b. an even less excusable and insidiously destructive ego trip. (Sometimes, both.)

To any company exec who thinks it smart to puff out their chests (even figuratively) and exclaim “we have that under control,” I say “grow up”. That kind of ill-informed poser confidence will kill companies and brands faster than an accounting scandal or major recall. This isn’t a game. This isn’t about playing Mr. big-shot. This isn’t about “being right.” What it is about is being smart – and that means being realistic, open-minded, and yes: responsible.

Fact: No company has “it” figured out. Even if it seems that you are doing “it” better than everyone else, guess what: You can still do it better. And just because you do it well now doesn’t mean that you will still do it well in six months. Conditions change. Customer needs and expectations change. Your company’s staff and culture changes. Doing “it” right is as ephemeral a thing as breaking a world record. It comes and goes. One day you’re on top, and the next, poof. You have to readjust.

Companies should always be in the process of re-adjusting.

In the military, complacency and false confidence will get you killed. The business world is no different.

Show me a guy who thinks or runs a team under the delusion that he has everything under control, and I will show you a disaster waiting to happen.

All of that aside, what really tugs at my curiosity is this: What is so hard (for a good chunk of corporate executives) about simply accepting the possibility that maybe – just maybe – they haven’t thought of everything.

Maybe the Titanic isn’t truly unsinkable.

Maybe winning the war in Iraq isn’t that simple.

Maybe Apple without Steve Jobs or the culture he built can find itself circling the drain inside of five years.

Maybe poor leadership can kill or severely endanger major companies like Enron, GM, AIG and Circuit City.

Maybe iconic lovebrands like Levi’s can go from global Top 10 to WalMart sales bins in les than a decade.

Maybe platforms like Google and Twitter can make your business model completely obsolete inside of 24 months.

For every one of these stories and thousands more, there was a guy who thought he had things pretty much under control… when he really didn’t.

Ask Nestle how much they had their Social Media practice under control until GreenPeace decided to say hello.

Maybe the first step to getting your company out of the ditch is realizing that you’re in the ditch to begin with. Just because the engine makes a sound and the needle reacts when you put your foot on the accelerator doesn’t mean you’re actually going anywhere.

And maybe the second step to getting your company out of a ditch is accepting the fact that you need expert help. Maybe a little bit, maybe alot, maybe somewhere in between.

So next time someone offers you advice or a helping hand, stop and think before you speak. Listen to what they have to say. The fact they they may hold the solution to a problem you weren’t aware of yet doesn’t make you any less of a man or manager or executive. You can’t think of everything. You can’t plan for everything. Not alone anyway, and certainly not from the same vantage point you enjoy day in, day out.

Stopping to ask for directions does not reflect poorly on your manhood or ability to navigate uncharted roads. Admitting that perhaps your engagement strategy could be better, that your social web strategy is really nowhere, that your staff isn’t as talented or effective or professional as you would like, that your product design isn’t as hot as the other guys… None of these things make you inept or weak or undeserving of your paycheck.

Pretending that everything is perfectly under control, however, does.

So next time you find yourself across a desk or coffee table from someone like me and they ask you how you’re doing in a particular area of your business, instead of putting up a wall of self-destructive bullshit, why not turn the tables on them instead, and ask them… “I don’t know. What do you think?”

1. You will get the benefit of an expert opinion – which you can still choose to ignore if that floats your boat.

2. You might actually find yourself in a position to gain a competitive advantage and improve your business for the first time in six months (or longer).

1 in 7 companies will typically jump at the opportunity to partner with someone who can help them gain a competitive advantage and come out of a challenge smarter, stronger and better. The other 6 will usually wait and wait and wait while things get worse, because well… you know… they have things under control.

Something to think about. 😉