I had just moved into a new role in franchise operations replacing a veteran executive who had moved on elsewhere. Devoid of any sort of transition into the role, I had to learn the ropes all by myself. I decided to first visit many of the company’s franchise stores. Despite the arduous task, I got an opportunity to see, first-hand, what was really going on where the rubber meets the road. I met with many franchisees and their customers during my visits.
On one of those trips, I met a long-time franchisee who was of the opinion that the company was resistant to change in order to adapt to the new business environment. The conversation was very enlightening. He was a former investment banker who had made a career change into franchising. He had formed an opinion based on his experiences saying, “every time I made suggestions, they pointed to the picture on the wall.”
I am sure many of us have had a “picture on the wall” moment in our careers when people, afraid to move beyond traditions, dismiss new ideas saying, “traditionally we have not done that,” or “if the founder were alive, he wouldn’t have done that.”
A scene from the movie Coming to America beautifully describes such a moment:
[After the royal family leaves the Waldorf Astoria]
King Jaffe Joffer: [smiling] You’re still not speaking to me.
Queen Aoleon: I only want our son to be happy.
King: So do I. Come now, it is out of our hands, she told him no.
Queen: Well after the way you treated her, who could blame her?
King: Even if she agreed, they still could not marry, it is against the tradition.
Queen: Well, it is a stupid tradition!
King: Who am I to change it?
Queen: I thought you were the King?
Leaders who lead-by-nostalgia, more often than sometimes, are blinded and fail to notice disruptive changes on the horizon. I think by pointing to the “picture on the wall,” many fail to see the “writing on the wall.”
History has chronicled the demise of businesses, which were once plagued by the “picture on the wall” syndrome. Many of them could have been saved, had the people leading them gone beyond the past, noticed disruptive trends, acknowledged their implications, and strategically prepared themselves for the future.