It had been a good day of training when I walked up to the second floor to sit down with the CEO in his office to share my thoughts. As I explained to him, first, you need to unpack the organization’s mission statement as the majority of people who are currently in leadership positions were not around when it was first created back in the mid-90’s. I know this because they do not reference it in their language when describing what is most important. If they do not use the language of the mission statement, then they are not using the mission statement in their work as a leader.
Second, you need to make sure you are cascading clarity in order to increase focus rather than fear about making mistakes. When I asked those in training what was the definition of success, they replied “making the CEO happy”. Quality customer service was a distant third in the group discussion.
Third, you need to connect coaching with goals and professional development rather than coaching as punishment. Currently, coaching is infrequent and mostly a complaining session.
Fourth, you need to define your brand better. If today’s leaders can not articulate a concise message about what they want the organization to be known for within the communities where they offer services, then today’s problems are just going to get bigger. As a wise leader once told me, “the past is the prologue.”
He thanked me for my comments and we explored the key words within the mission statement that needed to be leveraged more. Then, he shared an observation and a question with me.
His observation was that “Our culture is not as constant as it should be. Our key leaders are not as strong at building that culture as they should be.” And his question was “How do I change this? Because what I am doing currently is not work very well.”
As we discussed his observation, the following line from Jim Collin’s Good to Great came to mind: “Confront the brutal facts but never lose the faith.”
There are three problems within the business world currently, namely cognitive dissonance, hubris born of success, and chronic inconsistency. Cognitive dissonance is the disconnect between what we believe in our minds and what we experience or see in reality. As Marshall Goldsmith in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, explains: “the more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong.”
The second problem is hubris born of success. Hubris is historically defined as the excessive pride that brings down a hero. “Great enterprises,” notes Jim Collins in his book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009, “can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline.” Problems can occur “when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they loose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.” I agree with Collins that “many organizations are loosing sight of the true facts that created their success in the first place.”
The third problem right now is chronic inconsistency. Again referencing the work of Jim Collins in his book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011, the big question is the following: “Does your primary flywheel face an editable demise within the next five to ten years due to forces outside your control - will it become impossible for it to remain best in the world with a robust economic engine?” As he explains, “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”
When we zoom out and look at the bigger picture this spring, we continue to operate in a VUCA environment, which is a term borrowed from the US military. It stands for a work environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. As Jim Collins and Morten Hansen pointed out in the aforementioned book: “… instability is chronic, uncertainty is permanent, change is accelerating, disruption is common, and we can neither predict nor govern events. We believe there will be no “new normal.” There will only be a continuous series of “not normal” times.”
At the same time, we continue to struggle balancing continuity and change at the day to day level and at the strategic levels. The challenge for many leaders this spring is to balance continuity and change, plus innovation and transformation.
The upshot of this big picture is that we must continue to execute on our strengths. “Success for our company is not going to take a new strategy or an entirely new business model”, notes Blake Nordstrom. “Instead it’s taking what we already do well and continuing to execute those strengths.”
This week, I encourage you to watch out for cognitive dissonance, hubris born of success, and chronic inconsistency. Now is the time to execute on our strengths. It will make a world of difference in a world that feels chaotic.