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Kill The Company – Book Review

In keeping with our 2 week long series on employment and hiring, we recently read Kill The Company by author Lisa Bodell. While the book is intended for a corporate, rather than a start-up audience, it’s still highly applicable to entrepreneurs. The book explains how important culture is to company (and employee) productivity. The premise of the book is that the only thing worse for employee morale and productivity than a bad company culture is an indifferent or complacent culture. Kill The Company provides tools for tearing down bad and indifferent cultures so that managers can create positive cultures in the work place.

With only a dozen employees or less, it’s easy for many entrepreneurs to lead by example at their start-up and control the culture. But, that’s not always the case, and it only gets harder to maintain a positive culture as the number of employees grows.¬† That’s why the personality and culture of early hires is so important.

Bodell explains a series of tools, the most ingenious of which is called Kill The Company. She uses Kill The Company as an exercise to realign corporate culture, but it’s also an impressive strategic tool to keep your team sharp and focused on maintaining a competitive edge. Here’s how it works:

Step 1) Gather your employees together in a conference room or auditorium (depending on company size).

Step 2) Ask your employees to try to kill company X, a direct competitor to your own company. If the employees were to go after company X’s business lines, how would they do it? What are company X’s weaknesses? Where is its soft under belly? Write all of the responses on sticky notes and put them on a white board.

Step 3) Categorize the stickies into 4 groups or quadrants with Low Impact and High Impact along the X axis, and Easy Implementation and Difficult Implementation along the Y axis.

Step 4) Decide which weaknesses to attack. Those that are easy to implement, or attack, but are low impact can be done quickly and easily, but might not be significant enough to be worth spending time on. Those that will have the most impact might be the hardest to implement. It’s a sliding scale. Categories are not hard and fast.

Here’s the catch. Company X, which your employees just spent several hours attacking, isn’t really a competitor. Company X is your company. This exercise is incredibly useful because in any industry, there are companies with more experience, deeper pockets, and more resources. If you can’t determine what your company’s weaknesses are and address them, your competitors will, trust me. Kill the company keeps your team focused on innovating and staying right on the edge rather than resting on their laurels. If MySpace, Polaroid, and RIM (maker of Blackberry) had undergone this exercise they may have been able to maintain their competitive edge.

In addition to discussing techniques for staying on your game and reforming company culture, the book also describes trends in hiring. Specifically, it talks about the trend toward employers hiring people with flexible, qualitative skills that can be adapted to a number of scenarios and job responsibilities. These “soft skills” Bodell says employers are seeking include: Strategic imagination, provocative inquiry, creative problem solving, agility, and resilience. Do any of these sound familiar? They should for most entrepreneurs. These are exactly the type of skills that an entrepreneur needs to succeed and the type to skills to look for in potential early employees (as well as all subsequent hires).

Kill The Company is a great book with a lot of applicable knowledge for start-ups in various stages.

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