Evaluating what's in your company's backpack
How to avoid weighing yourself down on the corporate trek
More than 20 years ago, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I became a last-minute substitute adult for a Boy Scout high-adventure trek to the Philmont Scout Ranch. I was to standing in for someone who had an unexpected medical condition and had to withdraw at the last minute.
I only had a few weeks to prepare for an experience unlike any camping trip I had ever been on before.
This wasn’t just a hike in the woods that starts at the parking lot and loops around the park for a couple of hours. This was a 10 day high-country, wilderness trek covering 90+ miles of highly strenuous trail.
Minimalist trail running shoes were definitely not going to cut it.
“Invest in a good pair of boots” was probably the best advice anyone gave me.
Elevation changes in a given day could be in the hundreds, or even thousands of feet. Calorie consumption was measured on a similar scale because of the trail’s rigors. I needed way more water than I ever thought I’d be able to drink.
With just 1 or 2 stops to pick up replenishment supplies of food, this was a carry-everything-on-your-back trip.
I needed a good pack to go with those boots. After all, there was a lot of equipment to carry:
Water purification tablets
Extra water bottles
Did I mention extra socks?
Lightweight camp stove & fuel (no open pit fires at the ranch)
and so on…
The scouts all had similar equipment. The adults shared the load to get their packs to a manageable weight based on their varying sizes and physical condition. My pack to weighed 60–65 pounds.
There was one scout, though, who learned a hard lesson when we were setting out from basecamp. More on that in a minute…
I write a lot about organizational strategy — the idea that we need to have a goal, a game plan, for what we’re trying to achieve through this business we’re running.
The 10 day wilderness trek is an appropriate metaphor.
To dream about what it would be like to see the world stretch out before you from atop the 9,003' tall “Tooth of Time” and breathe the butterscotch scent of Ponderosa pines.
To dream about being at the pinnacle of a successful, growing business and seeing people you’ve helped and the difference you’ve made in the world.
Planning is essential.
You need the right gear.
The trail is not easy. You might be tempted to skip some steps. And, the truth is, you’ll probably get pretty far by taking some shortcuts. But then your feet will start to hurt in those trail shoes. That map and compass you didn’t pack because the trailhead was so clear at the start?
They’ll all turn out to be more important than you thought they’d be.
At basecamp, the Philmont Rangers were apparently well known for a particular ritual right before you hit the trail. We’ll call it “the shakedown”.
The scout I mentioned earlier was one of the smallest kids in the crew. That’s probably why they picked him. That, and the fact he seemed to be having trouble getting his pack onto his back.
The ranger grabbed the pack and weighed it — close to 70 pounds. Way more than 1/2 the scout’s body weight.
He didn’t even have any of the crew’s shared gear in his pack yet.
The Ranger had the scout pull everything out onto a bench in front of the rest of the crew. And then he started.
“What’s this book in here? A novel? When do you think you’re going to have time to read 600 pages up in the back country?”
“How many sweatshirts do you need? You’ve got a raincoat, right? You don’t need a sweatshirt, just use the coat.”
And then he did one, just for show.
“What’s the story with this tooth brush? You don’t really even need a toothbrush — you can use your finger!”
And SNAP! He broke the handle clean off and gave the bristles back to the scout.
By the time he was done, the guy’s pack weighed something like 35 pounds.
We added some of the lighter crew gear and helped him get his, now substantially lighter, pack on his back.
What about the stuff we bring along on the journey of growing our business?
If you were to assign 1 pound to each “item”, how much weight could you take out of your corporate backpack?
The way I think (er, KNOW) it should be done.
That person who has been here a long time and not really driving hard in that spot — it’s just too much work to find something different and backfill the work they actually are doing.
The building we’ve purchased that nobody comes to anymore — a smaller space would be just as good and less expensive.
In case you’re thinking “that Philmont ranger didn’t need to be so rough on that kid…” I’ll offer you this bit of insight.
The rangers are all experienced backcountry hikers. They can orienteer their way out of almost any terrain. But there’s something even more important than their experience.
Their job is to rescue the lost, overcome, and injured.
The shakedown is a critical lesson for the entire crew that the journey ahead can be strenuous and dangerous.
Where’s the parallel?
In 2012 (the latest available census data), the SBA reported that 680,716 companies died between 2008–2009.
Approximately 30% of new businesses die in the first 2 years and 50% die in the first 5 years.
Of those that make it 5 years, only 30% make it to their 10th birthday.
There’s a 15% chance any new business will make it.
Another interesting data point comes from Gallup’s State of the Global Workforce report in 2018. Here’s what they said:
85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job.
This isn’t about trying to create an environment of fear. It isn’t about scaring anyone.
It is about enrollment in what you’re about to undertake. It’s about education and awareness that helps you come through the experience both alive and invigorated.
Most importantly, it is about asking questions to find out what we’re missing because we’ve allowed ourselves to think we’ve got it all figured out.
Could there be a link between the way we lead and the long-running trend toward corporate demise?
What would our companies look like if we were:
humble enough to ask for a shakedown?
open to hearing that the things we think are important might not be as valuable as we think they are?
committed to making changes — even if they might not work?
willing to start doing things we don’t particularly like?
If your company has made it to 2 years, or 5, or even more than 10, you’ll be tempted to think:
“Nothin’ to worry about here!” right?
What if your crew is only making 1 mile a day of progress when you could be making 2?
What if you’ve stuffed so much into your backpack and the backpacks of those you lead that they just can’t keep the pace?
Are you at a trailhead and getting ready to start a totally new trek?
Or are you at a crossroads, getting ready to make changes that will take you down the next trail?
What are the top 3 things you’re carrying with you that, if you let them go, you (and your team!) would have the energy to enjoy the trip instead of feeling weighed down and wondering if you’re going to make it?
The good news is that there are experienced corporate rangers who are ready to help you look inside the backpack. They’ll help you figure out if the things you’ve got are important, unnecessary, or just plain missing for the next leg of your journey.
The question is whether or not you’ll let them help.
You know how so many people have the Sunday night blues when they get ready for work on Monday? We want there be less of that.
Wise Insights exists to facilitate leadership breakthroughs. We uncover and resolve issues that stand in the way of team alignment and stable, sustainable growth. We build strong ties between strategy and implementation through a blend of leadership coaching, consulting services, and strategic training focused on improving communication skills. Teams that deliver confidently and consistently avoid the Sunday night blues.
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