by Nick McCune
No company survives without predicting, adapting to, or innovating change. Stasis is fatal.
The world culture itself is suffused with technological enhancements to how work is done. Dramatic changes made to machines, to software, to the manner of communication that dominates and who dominates it; to the materials that are purchased and resources required, to the software and systems that must be built, bought, licensed and deployed – all these changes must be managed, anticipated and absorbed.
Most of human behavior and most of the behavior of a company is based on the ability to excel at making copies, repeating successful events. Most of nature, even the building blocks of life are dependent on successfully copying a previous model. Change – which we may see as creative evolution – is a combination of the ability to copy with the ability to adapt. Bad copies and bad adaptations in nature are dead ends – so it is in business.
It takes little insight to understand that the level of required workforce skills undergoes constant transformation; that new talent must be found and on-boarded, that training and competency must be accomplished and measured. What works well must be copied well. When copies are no longer useful, they must be modified. How does this play out in a business? There are two basic approaches – top-down and bottom-up. The most successful companies have learned how to use both approaches, but there are limitations in each.
Make Money or Make Room
For almost every company, to keep up and advance, work becomes a bottom-up collection of projects and programs conducted in pieces distributed across an organization. Workers and managers see only parts of the whole – focusing instead on their personal schedules and timelines which quickly become uncoordinated with the overall vision of leadership. Management is challenged with the need to organize projects and programs as components of an overall strategy – as actions in support of a clear and overarching mission. One business leader mounted an engraved plaque on the wall behind him that stated “Make money or make room.” That is a clear message, and perhaps one that is in part, a jest – but it is a message that speaks only to a single motivation, leaving aside the many human, environmental and technological factors that drive a successful business. Coherence of strategy must incorporate technology, process, behavior, relationships, and expected outcomes. Markets never favor less-than-predicted outcomes. Markets love positive surprises and reliably predictable results – that is they love an excellent copy but are attracted to a positive change. An economy fulfills wants and needs – a company that fails to understand what is wanted and needed loses its way.
Two Powerful Questions
The answer to two powerful questions must be absolutely clear and comprehensive: “Why is this company in business?”, and “Why do I work here?” It is the company’s responsibility to answer the first question. It is the employee’s obligation to answer the second. If the answer to the existential question “Why are we in business?” is “Because this is what we do (copy).” some brighter entity will make or do something that renders your copy obsolete. Together, companies and their employees create an integrated organization with clear purpose and value. Together, they form an economic engine that provides for need and fulfills some or many of the virtually unbounded wants that motivates human behavior. If the answer to the question “Why do I work here?” is not “Because I contribute and am rewarded for doing so” then good copying is the best a manager can hope for.
Successful companies continuously reevaluate and challenge their own business models and the processes that they introduce: automation, consolidation of roles, opening and closing offices, dropping lines of business and adding others in order to keep pace with segment competition and dynamic market changes. A company can lose customers, lose market share – lose an entire market unless it can transition from one mode of operation to another. Similarly, a company can lose employees, fail to meet goals, slip timelines and produce shoddy products or services if it cannot coordinate staff and fund its many projects.
Managers and Directors who own the processes, machinery, location, and responsibility for accurate accounting first expect, and then demand an engaged workforce to complete hundreds of change-born projects designed to solve problems identified by internal and external customers – the retailer or manufacturer that will suffer a massive loss of value by failing to succeed with the timely introduction of a new products, the yellow pages or print media company that fails to create a digital strategy.
Creative Evolution Begins at the Top
Top down business drivers force reassessment, challenge processes, and demand customer orientation to keep the company’s reason for being foremost in every employee’s mind. As a leader, what you are thinking, your work force must think. What you believe to be right action, they must believe. Your organization must feel the same way you feel when you think about your business in order to accomplish what you set out to do.
A focused directive from the top echelon of management reinforces why the company exists and why employees are willing to work for it. Without that focus, work that takes place throughout the organization will likely be a repetition of the previous day, week, and year. It is not possible to change the way the world measures the value of your business unless your vision for the company is reflected in the eyes of the people who make it work.
You Must Have a Vision for your Business
Leaders must construct and execute a coherent strategy for expanding markets and improving profit margins. You must have a plan for success and the desire to make it so. From a consultancy’s point of view, too often that plan and strategy is a lifeless document that gets copied and copied and copied until the original, fresh idea becomes blurred.
Exceptional consultants are high quality change agents. Exceptional consultancies bring structure and clarity to diverse projects, they devise and enable top-down strategies, and they assist in sustaining quality copies while introducing transformative adaptations. Consultancies are themselves an adaptation – ideas are carried from company to company – experience gained in one situation is applied to another. For leaders who understand that coherence and adaptation are essential behaviors, working with the right consultants is a winning, creative, and evolutionary strategy.