Can your organisation survive the Death Zone?

People often ask me why so many business-critical programs become basket cases. My reply usually goes something like this.

“You wouldn’t climb above 8000m on Mt. Everest – rightly named the “Death Zone”- without extensive preparation, expert guides and specialist equipment necessary to stay alive in such a hostile environment. The same applies to running programs that are so business-critical, the very future of the organisation is at stake”.

In the Death Zone, climbers can’t leave anything to chance.

The Death Zone is not a place for the faint-hearted. Over 300 climbers have died on Mount Everest alone since Tenzing and Hillary’s first successful summit in 1953. Most of them lost their lives in the Death Zone.

As the mountaineer Rob Hall said: 

In the Death Zone “human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747…once we get above here, our bodies will be literally dying. And I mean literally dying. It’s not called the Death Zone for nothing.”

Expedition leaders plan meticulously for years for every known eventuality, as well as building in flexibility to deal with potential threats that could endanger the lives of their team and threaten the success of their enterprise.

Anyone who imagines they can short-circuit the rigorous demands of operating in the Death Zone by applying the standard rules of mountaineering will not survive. They lack respect for the challenge and are likely to be overconfident, dumb or both.

It’s a different world and requires a different approach.

Different rules apply

Business leaders responsible for the success of business-critical programs operate in the equivalent of the Death Zone. Compared with the everyday world of functionally driven business-as-usual, different rules apply.

Yet, most companies do not take this vital factor into account when setting up to execute business-critical programs.

Transforming a company’s strategic direction through business-critical programs demands special measures. 

Their sheer scale and complexity set them apart from day-to-day “business as usual” projects. A functional “base camp” approach – led by people who time-slice their day jobs with business-critical execution – will not provide the focus and intensity required to deal with the ever-changing terrain and extreme conditions above 8000m. These characteristics demand crisp decision-making from people saturated in relevant experience. 

When you simply have to succeed, you must perform as if you are in the “Death Zone”. Teams have to know how to operate successfully in ultra-harsh conditions.  

Jeff Dodds, the former CEO of Tele2, explains.

“Many organisations underestimate operational requirements when they look at massive strategic programs critical to their success. They assume their organisation can deliver them without the right people – without the right levels of experience and without the right levels of knowledge – a massive gap.”

The result: at least 70% come a cropper and fall well short of their business objectives.

Exploring the connection

There aren’t many businesses that can help companies survive in the “Death Zone.” Yet, it’s where we’ve been successfully helping organisations execute business-critical programs for the last 30 years. 

Our approach is straightforward, fast and proven and above all, expert. There’s no need to wonder if it’s possible to climb the mountain. With the right preparation, you most definitely can. And we’ll guide you every step of the way.  

So, if you have a business-critical program that must not fail and you’d like a second opinion on how probable success is, please email me directly.  And we’ll quickly give you some educated impressions.

About the author

David Hilliard is Chief Executive Officer of Mentor Europe – Business-Critical program execution experts.