Your business didn’t start out with the intent to become lethargic and ultimately irrelevant. It began with an idea that would provide a product or service that is faster, better, cheaper, or friendlier than your competitors. Sometimes that idea was an enhancement of what currently existed in the marketplace. Other times, it was a revolutionary idea that changed the world.
Over time, however, something happened … or, you live in fear that it will. The start-up spirit where everyone came to work every day ready to conquer the world was replaced by people just doing their job.
There is nothing wrong with people just doing their job if you want to limp along with the status quo. Yes, you will eventually become irrelevant and obsolete in the marketplace, but if you are lucky, you will have moved on by then.
Should your organization experience a slow decline into irrelevance, you can console yourself in the fact that the average lifespan of a company is about 10 years. You didn’t really want to be among the legendary companies that continue to thrive for over 100 years anyway, right?
Wait – you do want to be legendary? You don’t want to settle for becoming a lethargic, irrelevant has-been?
Retaining the nimble startup spirit is a challenge. As Peter Drucker said, “So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”
You can prevent – or at least impeded the spread of – organizational lethargy by avoiding these five traps.
- Telling customers what they need rather than listening to what they want. In the early days of your business, every opportunity to interact with a customer was celebrated. You wanted to make your product or service better, and most important, make your customers feel important. That feeling can wane when you experience success, and it is easy to slip into the trap of viewing the customer as an inconvenience rather than a valued partner. When that happens, your company loses the urgency around solving customer problems that created excitement in the beginning.
- Hiring people for competency rather than hiring people who get your vision and culture. This is a slippery slope that begins innocently when you decide that the tradeoff between fit and hard-to-find skills is worth it. You rationalize that the team can work around one person who doesn’t quite “get it.” The next time sacrificing fit becomes a little easier because your initial experience wasn’t THAT bad. Before long, you have lost the commitment to the vision and culture that gave your company life.
- Rewarding efficiency and risk avoidance more than creativity and innovation. Efficiency and risk avoidance lead to increased profits, and everyone wants more profit, right? The challenge is that your business needs new ideas to grow. Sure, creativity and innovation can be messy and disruptive. On the other hand, you don’t want the last words of your organization to be, “We’ve never done it that way before.”
- Valuing specialists more than great leaders who create energy and focus. The University named most innovative in the South for two years in a row by S. News & World Report is led by a president who is not an academic by education. A large international financial services client placed a person from marketing in the role of CIO because they wanted an increased focus on the customer. A municipal government client recently made a Police captain the head of public works because he embodied leadership. Specialists know the best practices that worked in the past. Great leaders know the questions that help you focus and change for the future.
- Becoming a slave to policies and procedures more than guided by doing what’s right. Policy and procedure provide structure and consistency. Those are good things as your organization grows and becomes more successful. They, however, become a bad thing that sucks the energy from your operation when following the policy prevents your team from exercising judgement to do what is right. As Emerson noted, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
There are many things that can derail your business over which you have little or no control. Great leaders don’t allow lethargy that leads to irrelevance to become the one that brings them down.
Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your organization or event, visit www.penningtongroup.com , email email@example.com, or call 972.980.9857.