Sometimes, even great organizations find themselves in situations in which everyone knows that change is needed, but nothing happens until a crisis. There are telltale signs that an organization is heading in that direction, but having the strength and courage to act can be harder than it looks. Here’s what you can do to help avoid a bad situation for your team or organization.
Here we were, speaking to an individual who was beginning to lose sleep about how to prepare the organization for sustainable success.
“I know we need to make changes – maybe several changes – but I’m honestly having trouble figuring out where to begin, how to prioritize, and how to ’transform’ while still delivering on our goals.” Most people don’t hear successful CEOs speak with such candor, but those were the words we heard during a recent call with an important client (well, they’re ALL important). Two of our principals, who are not strangers to this level of candor from successful clients, were having a very honest conversation with a CEO who was coming off two back-to-back, record-breaking years. Sales and earnings had never been higher. The Board was thrilled with the CEO and asking to negotiate a new, extended contract. Bonus payouts to key employees were at an all-time high. And yet here we were, speaking to an individual who was beginning to lose sleep about how to prepare the organization for sustainable success.
It’s more difficult to stay on top than to get there.
This is not as uncommon as you may think. Many believe that once you’re at the top, you can relax and coast, but as soccer superstar Mia Ham said, “It’s more difficult to stay on top than to get there.” Once you’re on top, three things become true:
- You’ve probably used some of your best thinking to get there, but now others know what you’re thinking. Your best tricks are no longer up your sleeve, but on your sleeve
- The bar has been raised. Once you’ve performed, people expect you to continue to perform at that level or above, regardless of changes in the world around you
- And speaking of changing conditions, you’ve built a system to succeed in a world that is constantly changing, and your system is becoming obsolete even as you bask in the glory of your success.
These are some of the reasons so many brands, companies, and leaders enjoy only a moment in the sun before they’re toppled from their perch. However, that doesn’t have to be the case. Here are some actions you and your organization can take to extend success and reach even greater heights:
1. Invest now
In the words of John Kennedy, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” If you’re enjoying success today, use a portion of those gains to invest in a plan that prepares you for further success instead of waiting for problems to appear.
2. Admit that you don’t have all the answers
The CEO we quoted above wasn’t weak or fearful. They were a force in their industry, at the top of their game, with a long winning streak likely ahead of them. But even the greatest generals worry about how to win the next battle because they know that it will be different than the battles they fought before. Accept the uncertainty; dealing with it is better than denying it.
3. Seek help
Great athletes don’t make it to the top without trainers and coaches, so why should businesspeople be any different? The myth of the self-made business leader is just that: a myth. That CEO was speaking with us because he had just hired us. We probably couldn’t have done what he did to build his company, which was remarkable. However, we were absolutely the people he needed to see things clearly, prioritize, and create a plan for the next chapter. Those helping you don’t have to be able to do everything you can do. They just need to help you build and sustain your capacity to do it again – only better.
4. Think about how to improve your team for ‘next season’
We were amazed at the team this CEO and his HR lead had created and retained. But we were also aware of who was likely to move on, who needed a new challenge, and who needed some additional coaching and training to perform in an even more challenging role. Never think of people as disposable; embrace the fact that a team inevitably requires changes from season to season. Be thoughtful and proactive about how to build the best team possible for the challenges ahead.
5. Don’t delay
Be thoughtful and deliberate but act decisively when the situation demands it. This CEO knew he had a weakness for ‘analysis paralysis,’ so he asked us to be especially mindful of this as we worked with him. We had to suggest action sooner rather than later only twice during this engagement, but some of the best CEOs can be reluctant to act. Sometimes that’s an asset; more often, if the CEO isn’t prone to rash behavior, the tendency is to delay action too long.
Regardless of where your organization is today, it must continuously change and adapt to the environment.
These are just a handful of the things to keep in mind if you know your organization needs to change, and they’re a good start. Regardless of your level in an organization, the same principles apply. Only the span of control that your actions will affect changes as you ascend higher in the organization. The most important thing to remember is that regardless of where your organization is today, it must continuously change and adapt to the environment. Accept that and be ready to do it well. Sometimes that’s needed to improve performance to a competitive level, while at other times change will be what keeps you at the top.
Author: Joe Meadows
Image credit: 123RF.com