When you’re significantly changing organisations, products, or services, strategic choices and directions will inevitably be challenged. The strangest thing from my perspective is that senior leaders seem to overlook or ignore this. The project is over there, resourced with people and funding; you should just get on with it and deliver! Why are you asking questions, aren’t you up to the job?
There will almost certainly be decisions along the way that will lead to the unpicking or undermining of today’s revenue, profit, or organisation. You innately assume your senior leaders will not only be prepared to work through these questions with you, but actively want to; but the questions may be considered uncomfortable.
Using a location analogy, we are not rearranging the furniture; we are changing the shape of the room, and there’s every chance that some of the furniture won’t fit any more. For example, when you develop a revolutionary new product, there is a strong chance that it’s going to compete with existing products. This results in the essential question of how to work through and make the hard calls, to answer questions that cannot be pushed to one side forever.
A Kodak Moment
History is littered with examples of companies letting go of significant market positions, because they couldn’t bring themselves to cannibalise their existing products to take advantage of new inventions. Kodak is a good example and one of the most recognisable – in fact, ‘Kodak Moment’ has taken on a new and unflattering meaning. Their executives ignored the potential of digital cameras (which they invented) because film was one of the most profitable areas of their business. Today you probably can’t remember the last time you bought film.
Environment of Group Think
There can be an environment of group think – yes, even amongst executives – which is the antithesis of innovation and entrepreneurship, and prevents gutsy strategic calls. Those who work in the corporate world can be doing so because they like the lower risk option of being employed, having a regular income and a clear status.
If strongly held, these preferences innately conflict with risking the business and sacrificing the short-term for longer-term gain. After all, that short-term outcome will affect the profit and share price of the organisation. Time may be devoted to exploring and debating new and exciting opportunities and scenarios, but the energy and commitment to the hard decisions necessary to pursue higher risk/reward options happens much less often.
Choosing the Right People
You need to distinguish between those of your executives who are willing to embark on the personal change and journey your program will require, and those who aren’t. This will increase the likelihood of you looking to the right executives for support and guidance, enabling better management of others in their capacity as stakeholders.
Understanding the skills and experience you need to deliver your program, and seeking these widely, will avoid the need to rely on senior executives inappropriately.
Developing a supportive peer group network across the organisation will broaden your awareness of the skills available and increase your ability to access them.