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Saying no to the “burning platform”

You’ve just finished the strategy offsite with your executive team, and the message was clear: either you pivot or the company will be in major trouble. You’ve looked at the analysis, at recent industry data, and at the notes from customer interviews. You have the proverbial “burning platform” in your hands. The question is: should you use it to tell the story?

I’ve been in a number of meetings where this kind of discussion has taken place - and I have always failed to understand why the burning platform is such a popular approach. Of course, if you are in true survival mode and the very existence of the company is at risk, then use all the pyrotechnics you can muster to tell your employees about the burning platform. But use this rhetoric wisely and only until you achieve a clear short-term goal: the same fear that compels short-term action in some people may cause desengagement, paralysis, and defeatism in others, which is the last thing you want from your team in this kind of situation.

If you have a bit of time, which is almost always the case, why would you want to lead by fear rather than inspiring your people to look toward a new future? When people are inspired and change because they want to, they engage in a much deeper and more positive way than when they are being forced to.

If you can tell your employees the story in a compelling way, painting the picture of a future they want to be a part of and with the added benefits of overcoming some real upcoming challenges, they are much more likely to join you for the journey. Of course, some employees will be in denial; no matter what you do, they will fight to keep things as they are. You may have to let them go if they don’t budge. But you get to keep the majority of your people engaged while still having the option to upgrade your team with external talent.

In a world where fear dominates, you can set yourself apart by leading from a place of courage. What is more, you can become a role model for a new generation of leaders longing for a better alternative. And I guarantee you will feel proud of yourself and of the much better results you will achieve for your company.


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