A few days ago, I wrote a post about how senior leaders in organizations don’t often care about newer concepts when the legacy widget is still selling well. Broadly, that would be a “safety-inclined” model of business. That rolls up with “We’ve always done it that way” and/or “Get along to go along.” There are pros and cons to working at such a place. The main pro would be stability, because if that legacy widget keeps selling pretty well — think, I dunno, Bloomberg terminals — then you probably can have a job for a decent amount of time. (There are no true guarantees around jobs, no. Bob Iger could theoretically be fired tomorrow.) The con is that these companies are boring and lifeless as hell to work at, every potentially cool new initiative dies in the flood, and everyone with decision-making authority tends to only discuss the core product, safety, compliance, and staying the course. Ironically, these are organizations where HR is closer to having that “seat at the table.”
Then you have organizations where growth is top of mind, which has become kind of the new business model approach of the last 10–20 years, to the point that profitability matters way less. Growth-focused places have pros and cons too (doesn’t everything?) The pros are: Very exciting, different opportunities, different chances to contribute, different plans in motion, seems high-energy, etc. Cons: People can easily fall prey to “Shiny Object Syndrome,” and a “growth at all costs” extreme risk-taking mindset, usually backed by pressurized debt, hasn’t always been great for organizations and people either. Uber, for example, would be a “growth mindset” company to many, and now they’re laying off peeps left and right.
So there’s no perfect approach, no. But there’s a little bit more nuance here.
My friend Si
I became friends over the past few years with a consultant, executive coach, and workshop leader named Si Alhir. Great dude. He has packaged much of his proven consulting and coaching experience into workshops that focus broadly on:
- Being more responsive to the market
- Understanding challenges in your landscape to your business and technology
- Why aren’t your ideas growing like you thought they would?
- Why does it seem like your team is frustrated and exhausted?
Look at those four bullets. It’s a good summary of the issues with modern work, honestly. Leaders must be responsive to their markets, right? But as they try to do that, a lot of times what happens is ideas don’t take hold or new initiatives kind of flop.
A lot of those issues come back to this safety-inclined vs. growth-inclined mindset question. A safety-inclined culture has a lot of concerns around pursuing “the new.” A growth-inclined culture pursues the new beautifully, but can sometimes be scattershot in that pursuit.
As with everything in life, there’s a balance. A dance, if you will, that integrates safety and growth.
The dance as a workshop
So what my man Si and his people (and I’m in that camp) do is this → facilitate workshops, and those workshops start from perhaps the most important place a workshop can start from (and this is why we became friends):
No bitching; focus on enabling the people to do what needs to be done.
I’ve sat in probably 45 “culture change” or “business adaptation” workshops in my life. They almost universally becomes bitch fests. I sat in one, at McKesson in 2013, where 7.4 hours in someone blurted out: “What the hell are we even doing here? What’s the point?”
These workshops that Si and company lead focus on two important questions →
- Can you adapt, sense, and respond to the business climate around you?
- Can you innovate bottom-up but drive stability top-down?
While so many focus on the first bullet, this second bullet is crucial. I’ve written before about this idea of “collective creativity,” which goes a long way towards explaining the flaws of hierarchy. Thing is, hierarchy (formal and informal) isn’t going anywhere for another few decades (centuries?), so we need to learn to live within it.
One of the problems with hierarchy to many people is that innovation floats down (or gets pushed down) in the form of “SVP Dave says we’re doing this now, so hop to it.” But stability (i.e. “You work for me”) is also coming down. Seemingly nothing is going up. In this workshop model, you can see how ideas and innovations can be allowed to float up … but stability still can go down, and stability can be almost an anchor for that innovation.
It’s some light bulb type stuff.
Want to do one of these in person?
Cool. There is a live workshop October 9–10 in Parsippany, New Jersey. (East Coast WHAT WHAT.)
Here’s the link to sign up →
If you use the code “CBAOCTTED,” without the quotes, you get a little break.
Eventually we’ll start piping some of these workshops digitally too, so that others who can’t get to NJ on those dates can enjoy. And hey, if you have more question, need more detail, or want to talk about doing this workshop internally for your organization, reach out to Si (firstname.lastname@example.org). But for now, we’d love to see you there for a no-bitch, enable-me-and-let’s-roll look at your model. Are you compliance-first and safety-driven? Or are you ideas-flowing and growth-driven? And do you understand the pros and cons of each, and how hierarchy and the broader fitness of your organization plays in? And how are you going to make it all real for a better workplace and a thriving business.
These are important questions in 2019 business, and we often ignore them to run and look at the balance sheet, which is dumb. Balance sheet stuff is a lag indicator. These questions are lead indicators. Get in front of it now.
See you soon, ideally.