Any conversation about the common pitfalls that hold organizations back could go on for days, with different people citing different (all valid) opinions. We could look at countless examples of companies that have faced avoidable obstacles because of unfortunate decision-making and practices, and in each case the “perfect storm” was unique. With this in mind, let’s consider a few of the ways organizational leaders contribute to their own struggles.
Poor Leadership Choices
One thing that can’t be denied is that leadership at all levels, from CEO to front-line Team Leader, shapes the culture and success of an organization. Leaders from the top down shape the direction and strategy of an organization, and their actions and directives trickle down to the frontlines. They decide what the organization should be doing, who the organization is as a unit, and the general strategy for getting things done. It is then up to the rest of the organization to work out the details and implementation. Top leaders decide what the fabric of the organization should be, and the rest of the organization is charged with weaving the appropriate elements into that fabric.
Organizational culture relies heavily on organizational priorities and the outcomes for achieving them. Having the wrong leadership in place results in setting wrong priorities and setting the wrong tone. There are exceptions where companies thrive despite poor top leadership, but it’s undeniable that leaders can bring great success or run an organization into the ground. Strong organizations require strong leadership at every level!
Failure to Take Ongoing Analysis Seriously
Being a profitable, powerful industry leader is reason for an organization to be proud, but a company that’s winning today can become a historical footnote tomorrow. Once upon a time, Radio Shack was the go-to option for all things technological, the vinyl records industry was the only resource for consumers to enjoy music at home, and Bic was a household name for pens, which consumers kept readily on hand. Things have obviously changed – the advent of computers and the IoT (internet of things) has disrupted these and other once-thriving staples in the business world. Any organization that didn’t see this coming or didn’t take the threat seriously is (more likely than not) no longer around.
To truly stay on top and properly understand what it takes to maintain current competitive advantages and gain more success, organizations should regularly go back to the basics and conduct an honest analysis as if the organization was a new startup all over again. If this means bringing in outside consultants to bring a fresh perspective, going directly to consumers for unfiltered feedback, meeting with front-line employees in small group sessions, or whatever else it takes, that’s what the organization needs to do.
Proper analysis must be paired with proper follow-up. The insight gained must be immediately acted upon, whether used for new product development, enhancements to existing products or services, or changes to internal practices or procedures. Technology companies are often the first to realize this and adapt quickly – just reflect on the image companies such as Microsoft and Google have as not only key players in their industry but also employers of choice. Organizations outside of the technology space should follow their lead!
Failure to Evolve
Peter Drucker wisely said, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” This is a simple yet powerful statement. It doesn’t necessarily mean making dramatic moves like discontinuing a popular product or completely abandoning a procedure – it can mean simply making minor adjustments to a step in the process, adding new features (e.g. integrating a product with another existing product, especially IoT), or changing a corporate policy to make it more employee- or customer-friendly. Minor adaptations can attract star players to your team…companies have missed out on potential star employees for failure to evolve.
Time marches on with or without us, and leaders need to accept this. Organizational success is definitely a matter of “survival of the fittest.” Organizations should strive not only to evolve, but to evolve proactively – ongoing analysis as we previously discussed can clue leaders in on upcoming trends and allow them to get one step ahead of them. Organizations that evolve well tend to be the ones that are consistently first-to-market and set the bar high for their industries.
Awareness of these common pitfalls and embracing a strategy to address them going forward can not only protect organizations from falling victim to them but also help organizations to be better and stronger. More pitfalls will inevitably emerge, however starting with those we’ve discussed today can have a huge impact!