Over the last two years, at least one thing should be crystal clear to all of us… that an inability or refusal to evolve can lead to existential threats to our business. “Evolve or die” has become more than just a cliché… it has become a truism that we ignore at our own peril. And the more dramatic the environmental shift, the quicker that evolution must happen, and the more existential the threat to those organisms that cannot, or will not, evolve.
I could write a 25,000 word piece on the the things that my company, and I, have learned and changed over the last 21 months. (I could easily write that piece… and I will.) And I hear similar stories from many of our clients. We instituted a decade’s worth of evolution in six months. Comments like this abound throughout our network.
Conversely, the number of stories of companies and leaders who refused or were not able to change is far greater. And the epitaphs are often a sad read. Sometimes the lack of evolution was beyond their control… those businesses were set up in a way that made dramatic change nearly impossible. But often the lack of evolution was essentially a choice: an inability to see what was happening, an incorrect read on the implications, or in some cases, just a plain refusal to change.
Running a good business requires at least two competing behaviors… most well run businesses become students of their own behaviors, and build in best practices that create efficiencies, consistent experiences for customers, muscle memory for staff, and in turn stronger brands, higher margins… etc, etc, etc. Every good business and every good business leader is trying to create best practices to make things run more smoothly.
But that exact instinct to create muscle memory also creates massive risk… because understanding when your best practices are no longer in your best interests requires a vision, and a level of situational awareness that is not easy or common. React too slowly in an environment that is changing quickly, and your very existence is in question. React too quickly in an environment that is changing more slowly, and you could disrupt your own momentum in significant ways.
Unfortunately, there is no single magical answer to this conundrum. But here is what I have learned over the last two years:
- Your ability to correctly read environmental shifts requires a full understanding of what is going on in your industry. That may sound obvious, but in my experience, that is not always a certainty. The number of business leaders I meet who are operating on a daily basis under incomplete or incorrect situational awareness is shockingly high.
- Your ability to correctly read environmental shifts requires a full understanding of who and what your company is. What value do you bring? Why do people or companies buy from or partner with you? Understanding the answers to questions like these will give you a better sense of how you can, or can’t, pivot.
- The strength and level of alignment among your leadership team will directly impact your ability to evolve. A leadership team that is not aligned will be exposed quickly during a crisis. In many ways, the best thing you can do with your leadership team when times are good is to make sure you are building alignment and cohesion, so that you are ready the next time things get bad. An aligned team will be able to point its collective energy externally, towards solving the problems, and creating the necessary evolution. An unaligned team will be forced to point too much of its collective energy internally, at each other, solving problems with each other, or fighting unnecessary battles.
- And always remember that an aligned leadership team does not mean constant agreement. Well-aligned teams can, and do, disagree. In fact, constant agreement among a leadership team is often a signal of deeper problems… perhaps a lack of honesty or trust, both of which are essential if a team is going to tackle problems in an effective way.
Running a successful business requires that we create efficiencies and best practices that create consistency.
Running a successful business that can survive massive environmental shifts requires that we understand when our best practices are no longer helping us, and in fact are killing us.
It isn’t always easy to see the difference. But if you know your industry, your company and yourself, and if you have a great leadership team, your ability to see the difference will be increased dramatically.
Start planning today for the next environmental shift, because that shift will inevitably come. Start preparing now.
Have a great day.
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