'That's How We've Always Done It' is Killing Your Business — Here are 4 Simple Ways to Cultivate Consistent Success
The business world will only get harder, sharper and more competitive. The last thing we can afford to do is let inertia hold us back.
Nothing can make a business more irrelevant than saying, "That's how we've always done it." Relying on existing ideas and processes is attractive. After all, if your business is built on one way of operating, why would you risk trying something new?
Here's one reason: of the companies listed in the 1955 edition of the Fortune 500 list, 87% no longer exist — primarily due to failures to deal with disruptive forces within their respective industries. Counterintuitively, it's inertia that can kill businesses. The pace with which our world changes is only increasing, and failure to adapt to those changes can be fatal.
The problem is that the practices that made a company successful can just as easily cause it to fall into a rut. As companies begin to experience success, they inevitably start to document, mature and formalize their policies and procedures. A one-person bakery can afford to play fast and loose with how to make this week's lemon cupcakes, but you'd better bet that a behemoth like Little Debbie or Hostess has the ingredients and recipes for its products specified down to the finest detail.
As businesses in any field mature, they will by nature and necessity develop strong organizational norms and processes for how things need to be done to stay successful. They have to develop such habits to be successful in the first place.
And if they want to stay successful, they then must learn how to break them.
Breaking the habits
The best-run startups are a storm that can capsize even the biggest corporate ships. Whether it's Amazon killing Bed Bath & Beyond, Tesla dethroning Toyota in market capitalization, or Open AI rocking every industry to the core, focused start-ups can topple giants in the blink of an eye. Transformational changes are everywhere today, from pandemic-related industry upheavals to an increasingly remote workforce to generative AI.
Every industry and company has to ask itself what it will look like in the next 10 years. It's our job in the leadership teams of established companies to prepare our colleagues for the massive changes coming our way and to foster workplace cultures that can thrive through the change.
I spent the last two years studying innovation while earning a master's in entrepreneurship from Cambridge University Judge Business School. Contrary to what many believe, entrepreneurship isn't just about a bunch of hoodie-wearing goofballs from MIT coding in a garage. At its core, it's a process that big businesses must follow if they want to succeed. Here are four simple tips businesses can use to think and act more like a start-up.
1. Leaders must keep their colleagues educated
As leaders, we're expected to watch the marketplace, understand the transitions underway and plan how our companies move forward. We won't move an inch, however, if we don't do a good job bringing our colleagues along for the ride. A new policy or initiative may make all the sense in the world, but if the people we're relying on to implement it don't understand or buy into the reasoning behind it, progress will grind to a halt.
Inertia will rear its head as people prefer to stick to the old techniques that have always worked before. Getting our colleagues working from the same facts and showing why change is needed helps us break habits that are no longer working.
2. Leaders must build a psychologically safe workplace culture
We need workplaces where new ideas are welcomed and encouraged and where failure isn't something to be ashamed of. Failure is bound to occur in a company that's actively experimenting with trying truly new ideas. If 100% of a company's new initiatives are successful, something's wrong within that company.
Those are the results not of a culture embracing change but one with personnel playing it safe and afraid to fail. If we don't permit our people to fall flat on their faces now and again, we're falling prey to the inertia trap and setting our businesses up to wither.
3. Leaders must generate new ideas from within an organization
Even if your company is open to new concepts, ask yourself what you're doing to get new ideas in the door. Consider implementing slack time, structured opportunities for your teams to get out of the daily grind and develop new concepts. Sponsor a "hackathon" where you challenge teams to solve problems in new, innovative ways quickly. At worst, you've created a team-building exercise and learned something about your people. At best, you might just stumble onto the idea that carries your company into the next decade.
4. Don't get stuck in quicksand
Once you have your new ideas, you cannot allow them to get caught in big-business quicksand. There's no sense in spending time and energy creating a suite of initiatives that promptly die in committee. Figure out ways to pilot these ideas in a controlled but scalable way. If they flame out (as many, if not most, will), figure out quickly whether to abandon the concepts or iterate them into something new. If they look like they're working, roll them out and keep your company moving forward. Don't let committees, negativity, or failure stop you. Don't. Keep moving, keep trying and keep assuming that next year's model of your company will run better than the current one.
None of this is easy, and none of this happens overnight. But none of it is optional, either. The business world will only get harder, sharper and more competitive. The last thing any of us can afford to do is let inertia hold us back.
Image Credit: Pexels.com | Photo by Christina Morillo
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