Whether for-profit or not-for-profit, service or manufacturing, well-funded or boot-strapped, irrespective of geographical location or the brilliance (or otherwise) of the founders and managers, all organizations pass through specific, clearly defined phases of growth.
These phases have names, characters, distinguishing features. Each phase is very different from the other, and yet the transition from one phase to another can sometimes be so gentle as to be undetectable. Alternatively, on occasions the transition from one phase to another can be traumatic, even fatal for the organization.
It feels like you’re hacking through the jungle, as you fight to keep your newly-born organization alive. The two main challenges are (1) making sure there is enough cash to keep going, until (2) you’ve clearly established that there is a market for your product or service.
The mortality rate of organizations is high in this stage – over two-thirds of all organizations don’t make it out of Early Struggle. You’re fighting for your organization’s very existence…
You’ve broken through the Early Struggle – you have cash (at least enough to take the pressure off), and an established market: it’s time to have Fun! Now you’re free to concentrate on getting your product or service into the market, so the key focus now moves from cash to sales.
This is the time when the organization’s myths and legends are built, and the ‘Big Dogs’ emerge – those loyal high-producers who build the business exponentially in this time of rapid first-stage growth.
The very success that you reaped in ‘Fun’ brings with it the seeds of Whitewater: your organization becomes complex, and the key emphasis shifts once more, from sales to profitability. Achieving sustained profitable growth requires you to put in place consistent processes, policies and systems.
Unfortunately, putting those systems in place proves harder than you expected. Making the right decisions seems easy, but implementing decisions, and making them stick is incredibly difficult.
The organization seems to be going through an identity crisis, and you may even be doubting your leadership and management skills.
You’ve developed a team that has successfully navigated your organization through Whitewater – congratulations! You have reached the prime stage in your organization’s growth – what I call Predictable Success®.
Here, you can set (and consistently achieve) your goals and objectives with a consistent, predictable degree of success. Unlike ‘Fun’ (when you were growing, but weren’t quite sure how or why), in Predictable Success you know why you are successful, and you can use that information to sustain growth in the long term.
In principle, there is no reason for any organization to decline from the position of Predictable Success. In practice, many organizations begin to swing too far toward dependance on process and policies. Creativity, risk-taking and initiative decline in response, and the organization becomes increasingly formulaic and arthritic.
Working for the organization at this stage in its development can feel like being on a Treadmill: a lot of energy is being expended, but there’s little sense that forward momentum is being achieved. There’s an overemphasis on data over action, on form over content. Good people start to leave – many of whom have been with the organization for some time. Even the entrepreneurial founder(s) (if they’re still there) may be becoming frustrated and threatening to leave also.
Treadmill is a dangerous stage in the organization’s development: if it is checked in time, creativity, risk-taking and flexibility can be re-injected, taking the organization back to Predictable Success. Left unchecked, however, the organization will decline further into The Big Rut.
At this stage, process and administration have become more important than action and results. Worse, the organization loses its ability to be self-aware, and cannot diagnose its own sickness and decline. When an organization reaches The Big Rut, it can stay there for a long time, on a very gradual, slow decline.
Eventually, for all bureaucracies, there is a last final attempt to resuscitate the organization, whether by the appointment of bankruptcy practitioners or by being acquired. Either way, the organization will not survive in its present form.
After a brief Death Rattle (when illusory signs of life may be seen), the organization dies in its present form.
The Visionary is one of four leadership styles which together enable any organization, division, department, project, group or team to get to (and stay in) Predictable Success.
Most Visionaries possess similar traits: big-thinkers turned on by ideas, they’re easily bored with minutia and are consumed by the need to create and to achieve.
Visionaries are often (although not always) charismatic. Engaging communicators, able to motivate people to bring their best in every endeavor, they inspire deep loyalty in others, and frequently a small, tight team or ‘posse’ will develop around them, a group of committed individuals who share the Visionary’s…well, vision – and who want to help see it realized.
Even if you’re not a Visionary yourself, you certainly know a few, and meet them at work – they’re the passionate, ever-hyperlinking, ‘30,000-feet’ big-picture types who arrive back from most weekends and vacations with yet another bright idea, the ‘glass-half-full’ optimists who believe (and frequently demonstrate) that there’s always a way through every problem.
You can recognize a Visionary through a few behavioral traits:
– They abhor routine.
– They adore discussion and debate.
– They’re comfortable with ambiguity.
– They like risk.
– They trust their own judgment – and use it often.
– They aren’t wedded to past decisions.
Visionaries are an essential element in any high-performing group or team, but they can be disruptive if not managed correctly – and of course, Visionaries dislike being ‘managed’. In ‘The Synergist‘ you’ll learn how Visionaries can be successfully integrated into any group or team, and how their highly valuable skills and undoubted passion can be harnessed for the benefit the enterprise as a whole.
The Operator is one of four leadership styles which together enable any organization, division, department, project, group or team to get to (and stay in) Predictable Success.
Operators are the ‘do-ers’ in any enterprise – they’re the practically-minded folks that get stuff done.
Operators work well alongside Visionaries, and in a sense, they’re mutually dependent – a Visionary needs an Operator to translate his or her vision into day-to-day tasks – and then to get those tasks completed. An Operator, on the other hand, looks to the Visionary for the big picture, for motivation and inspiration in the tough times, and for the flexibility and lateral thinking to change the enterprise’s direction if things aren’t working out.
Because of their task-oriented disposition, Operators are often hard to spot in an office environment. Easily bored by meetings and unimpressed with simply putting in ‘face time’, Operators don’t like to sit around idly, and can usually be found in jobs that keep them on the move.
You can recognize an Operator by certain behavioral traits:
– They’re action-oriented.
– They improvise to get things done – and move on.
– They ask forgiveness, rather than permission.
– They work prodigious hours.
– They often work alone.
– They don’t like being micromanaged.
Unless you’re working for a full-blown bureaucracy, no group or team, no organization or enterprise can ever achieve its goals without Operators. However, the Operator is not naturally inclined to play well in teams and in meetings – they’d much rather be out on the front line, getting stuff done.
In ‘The Synergist‘ you’ll learn how Operators can be involved positively in any group or team’s activities without feeling either over-managed, or that they’re being pulled away from the front line for too long.