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Mind Your Business: Has Your Company 'Jumped the Shark'

Mind Your Business: Has Your Company 'Jumped the Shark' Credit: Photo Credit: Karl Tate

Watching the Oscars try and yet fail again, to reinvent itself last night reminded me of that "Happy Days" episode in which Fonzie attempted to jump over a tank of sharks on his motorcycle, hence spawning the now ubiquitous phrase: "jump the shark."


After that episode, people quickly began referring to any television show that had outlived its relevancy and, in an attempt to revive itself, taken the show in a ridiculous direction as having "jumped the shark."


Since that "Happy Days" episode, though, "jumping the shark" has become a term you can apply to anything – even to your business.


So what does it mean when a company jumps the shark? Usually, it's a sign that the owner or investors are taking the company in a direction that everyone knows is not sustainable. The changes are usually precipitated by a sudden need to boost the bottom line and the changes most often come at the expense of its employees.


A company often jumps the shark when it loses sight of what its strengths and greatest resources are and instead focuses on wringing every penny, hour or bit of energy out of its employees for short term gain.


The problem is that when you create an unsustainable work atmosphere, where employees are overworked, underpaid or underappreciated, you've created a cycle of resentment and apathy that will quickly halt your company's forward trajectory and most often cause an about face.


No matter how tempting it is when things get tough, creating an atmosphere in which your employees are no longer respected as the most important part of your value equation is a quick recipe for disaster.


While the plan may be designed to weed out the dead wood, it's more likely that your most valuable workers – the ones who work the hardest simply because they believe in the company – will be the first to jump ship. After all, the ones who work the hardest are also the ones most likely to have the gumption to start looking for a new job.


Jumping the shark as a company often spells the beginning of the end. While some smart businesses quickly realize that they need to build value and lower costs in ways that don't deflate employee morale, most, unfortunately, don't see the forest for the trees until it's too late.


If you've recently been tempted to rev your entrepreneurial engines and take your company in the direction of the ramp leading to the shark tank, remember, the chances you'll make it to the other side in one piece are even less likely than they are on TV.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.