Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Patience is No Virtue

Most people I meet tend to think that organizations work on the principle of inertia:  structures and strategies tend to stay as they are, either at rest or in motion.

But it appears to me that organizations actually are subject to the Law of Sharks.  If a shark does not move, it cannot breathe.  And it dies.

A conversation with a senior executive of a global bank reminded me that this principle cascades to personal ambition and career management.  He is the #2 leader in a large organization, with little movement among the ranks above him.  “A shark’s gotta swim,” he said to me when I asked what was next for his career with the bank.  Enough said.

Moving organizations tend to keep moving.  Dormant ones tend to run out of air and die.

Movement takes many forms, and involves many muscles.  A continuously-evolving strategy is one form of movement.  So, too, is the insistence on lean operations and avoiding bloat that brings weight which much be carried about.  Rotation of talent, especially at the senior ranks, is an especially important form of muscle-building.

Realignment and refactoring of strategic partnerships is an area of common neglect in building the strength of an organization committed to movement.  Too often, companies tend to think that yesterday’s decision is one that seals destiny, when actually it’s an opportunity for building agility – the ability to flex and move.

To worsen this problem, not-moving rarely causes any immediate pain to an organization.  This encourages even more waiting.  “It ain’t broken, so don’t fix it.”

Not-moving begets more not-moving.  By the time the delayed consequences of all of this not-moving occur – one of which being that action-oriented people in the company flee for new situations, making the company even more waiting-oriented – it is often too late to correct them.

In the age of digital disruption, with nimble competition lurking around every coral reef, it’s essential that your organization embrace movement, change, and realignment.  Purposefully, and with a cadence of being a survivor for the long term.

Act like a shark.  Keep moving.

Peter Allen has many years of operating experience as a top executive and strategic advisor for companies of all shapes and sizes, with focus on technology-enabled business services. He is now Senior Advisor for Alvarez & Marsal, and Chief Evangelist at Peter Allen & Partners.