What company does not savour its success as it reaches a level of stability as an established organisation? With its people in place and processes under control, the company’s glowing scorecard reveals a high level of achievement to be proud of. Long gone are the days of struggle for growth and incessant adaptability to meet market demands. A sense of urgency is replaced with satisfaction in the status quo as leaders reap the rewards of their efforts. In such a state of contentment, Change Leadership would appear to be incongruous, perhaps even absurd.
And yet, Change Leadership is precisely what a company needs if it is to escape certain death. Like living bodies, companies experience a lifecycle made up of distinct stages:
- Birth (venture/absence of organisation).
- Childhood (capital attraction/informal family type organisation).
- Adolescence (market visibility/role settings and organisational standardisation).
- Adulthood (market notoriety/established organisation).
In the stage of adulthood, companies enjoy a sense of accomplishment and ease. As the organisation settles into a routine, its teams find themselves with more chores than challenges, more encoded beliefs than open questions, and more entitlement than effort. Without notice, a state of complacency takes over. And as with humans, this complacency marks the shift to a new stage: decline.
Decline creeps in, largely unnoticed, until vital energy is lost and people are left with impending collapse. Indeed, decline is the result of a blissfully self-satisfied adulthood where blindness to external forces and deafness to sound advice renders companies incapable of stepping back and revisiting their assumptions. And so, instead of preparing their companies for a next stage of wisdom and renewal, leaders are stuck in a stage of denial of the change ahead. And this sets them up for decline because change, indeed, is a constant in the lifecycle of both individuals and organisations.
Change Leadership needs to be developed so that it can read a context and define the road-map to renewal. As adulthood gives way to a state of wisdom acquired through experience, Change Leadership drives a process of uncompromised and energetic growth for the company.
While Change Leadership is essential as adulthood wanes, it is paradoxically the most difficult time to embrace it. For companies to veer off the course of decline and move towards a path of renewal, they need to recognise and admit that complacency has set in. As complacency is so often invisible from the inside, it can be identified thanks to clear indicators.
The 5 key indicators of complacency:
- Absence of critical thought – When team members systematically agree (lack of dissent) and it is (wrongly) assumed that they are on board.
- Absence of a constructive voice – When complaints, if expressed, do not lead to action; when experimenting, testing and taking initiatives are replaced by inertia.
- Absence of customer-orientation – When internal maintenance prevails over market orientation; when managing customer feedback is seen as an obligation rather than a source of inspiration for continuous improvement.
- Absence of accountability – When a culture of detachment (and even blame) has diminished individual responsibility and resolve.
- Absence of passion – When routine has replaced the excitement of going to work every morning.
Without critical thought, constructive voice, customer-orientation, accountability and passion, a company cannot be sustainable. To avoid decline, the adult company must open its ears to acquire wisdom. It must open its eyes to accept the reality of its lifecycle and embrace its next state.
5 ways towards a state of renewal:
- Stepping out of the present and into the future. Imagining what one’s organisation might become in a world of boundless possibilities.
- Letting go of the company’s restrictive beliefs; challenging assumptions and entrenched behaviours that feed stagnation.
- Reaching out and reconnecting with one’s teams – especially the front-line employees and their direct managers. Inviting feedback, listening, and acting on it. Encouraging authenticity by expressing it.
- Not giving into to a growing sense of urgency. Taking a step back to gain perspective and take stock of the external environment and internal capacity to adapt to it. (Turning to a coach as a sounding board or support during the transition can be helpful.)
- Rediscovering the pleasure of following gut reactions – inspiration comes from intuition! When the fear of loss is replaced with the anticipation of opportunity, risk becomes an instrument for driving a spirit of entrepreneurship.
As adulthood evolves, Change Leadership repels a company’s decline and drives the conditions for its renewal. It stays vigilant for signs of complacency so that it can ward them off. Change Leadership sparks innovation and nurtures initiative throughout the company so that it may progress and prosper through a new cycle of growth.
About the authors
Professor Carolina Serrano Archimi is MBA Director at IAE Aix-Marseille Graduate School of Management, Aix-Marseille Université:
Nathalie Kleinschmit is founder of Global’Ease Inc, Canada, and MBA participant at IAE Aix-Marseille Graduate School of Management.
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