It is always great fun to work with management groups interested in growing their businesses, pursuing a new and bold vision or embarking upon new strategic directions. More often than not, these groups have enjoyed success, established themselves and their firm in a favorable position and have a common excitement about what the future might hold. They also talk about the fact that change will be necessary for growth, and it is usually about this point that the wheels start wobbling.
For some reason, teams that heretofore were successful often struggle at the point in time where they recognize that the business must change, and that means that they must change along with it. We all know that the talents and skills that help launch a successful start-up may not be the same talents and skills needed to reach $10 million in annual revenue. And a $40 million dollar company is much different than a $10 million or the start-up from whence it came. And so on.
As alluring as a grand new vision or compelling growth plan for the future might be, everyone on a management team knows that pulling this off will require significant change to what has often been a comfortable situation. The reactions are fascinating. People quickly anchor in some form of defensive or offensive behavior.
- The passive-aggressive type nods her head in the meeting and proceeds to resist change in her everyday actions and decisions.
- The doom-sayer plays on the very real fear that teams have of not only not succeeding, but of potentially taking steps in the wrong direction.
- The cultural cheerleader frets about the loss of “what made us great”.
- The anti-establishment type highlights the burden that the new bureaucracy will impose on the organization.
Often, the net result is paralysis while the Chief Executive processes on the seemingly real and genuine fears of his or her top lieutenants. This period of paralysis over change is what I refer to as the point in time where the management team has not decided to be successful. It doesn’t’ mean they want to be unsuccessful, they just haven’t decided that they want to succeed by the new definition. Prior to this point, success was clear. Hit our numbers, do our jobs, satisfy our customers and repeat. Going forward, deciding to be successful means all of those plus creating needed infrastructure, engaging new talent, inviting new faces to the table and much more.
There is no doubt that the issue of taking a good thing and trying to make it better, bigger and stronger is a complex and emotional one for many humans. There are scores of books written on the topic of leading change in business. (Some of the best come from John Kotter.) My issue is simple, and it is generally targeted at the top executive (or executives plural). There is a time for debate, there is a time to let people vent and posture, and there is soon after, a time to move forward. This point in time reflects the “decision to succeed” and is manifested by a new set of behaviors:
- Discussions begin to address tough topics with a focus on fixing or improving, not placing blame.
- The “We Can’t” or the “We’ve Never” discussions turn into “Why Can’t We” and “What If” discussions that result in ideas, actions and experiments.
- Dialogue down the organization ladder and across silos starts to take on the tone and feeling of action and forward movement.
- Problems shift to resource issues, project priority calls and the need to create new processes and approaches for decision making.
- Talent identification, leadership development and succession planning take on a new urgency and are called out as key priorities.
The Bottom Line for Now
The point in time when a firm decides to succeed on an agenda of change is the beginning of a great and challenging experience for everyone involved. We work to live, but it is much more fun to live and work and grow and strive with a team that decided to be a success. Unfortunately, many teams never move out of the abyss of “not deciding to succeed” and they decline until a crisis shocks the system or they eventually disappear from the landscape. If your firm has not yet decided to be successful, you owe it to yourself and the firm to help move that decision along. It’s really quite simple. Management Team: please quit standing in the way of your own success and get on with it.