People learn from their experiences. When certain tactics work, they are employed again and again. When certain behaviors provide desired results, it is easy for them to become habitual. And once they are habitual, they may not be examined or held up to the light to see if they are still meeting expectations. They just become “the way we do things.”
There is an old saying that “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.” Some might interpret that to mean that if it has always worked in the past, it will work in the future. However, that may not really be the case any more.
As we all know, everything changes. Conditions outside an organization are in a constant state of flux. Disruptive competitors take market share. Economic conditions impact buying habits, and entire industries can be turned upside down or rendered irrelevant. Watch what happens if the Ukraine blows up.
Those inside organizations must remain alert to what is happening externally, and hopefully remain ahead of the trends or massive changes. To do that, they have to be prepared to change things up internally. They cannot continue to do things as they have always done them , even if they have worked well in the past. It is not just a matter of different actions, but of new strategies and the tactics used to execute them.
There are phrases that companies used to espouse (and many still do) as their competitive advantage- innovative solutions, customer service, quality, etc. In today’s world none of them should be a value proposition- they are all “table stakes”- the price you have to pay to get into the game at all. A company cannot survive and flourish if it doesn’t offer all of them. There will always be customers who are only concerned with the lowest price, and they may not care as much about those other key concepts. But among low priced alternatives, those that have customer service, innovative solutions and relative quality in their DNA will win out. Walmart, Costco and Target survive while Kmart, Ames, Clover, Korvettes and others disappear.
The lesson is that no matter what category a business is in, it has to continuously evolve to be sustainable. It has to build into its DNA the values and competencies that in previous years were considered optional.
The same holds true for individuals. Key employees and leaders must have the ability and the willingness to grow and evolve. Narrow subject matter experts may have a place in some companies, but more often even these folks must successfully communicate and collaborate with others across the organization in a meaningful way. Those that speak a single “language”- finance, IT, sales, etc. will be isolated from the bigger picture and will find themselves obsolete.
Thus, the definition of success has to change. It does not mean just hitting personal revenue or cost-cutting or management goals. It means helping the organization achieve its overall goals and helping others in the organization achieve theirs. The sales executive who beats goals at all costs but wreaks havoc in administration and finance will not be tolerated. She will have to understand the impact of each sale on the organization. She will have to understand how different types of sales impact the different departments in the company. The HR leader is going to have to hire for and offer development for different competencies than in the past- business acumen, creative and critical thought processes. If organizations are going to rely more on technology to reduce their workforces, workers are going to have to be versed in many new areas.
It can no longer be assumed that a company that has been in existence for a long time has a sustainable success formula. Nor can a company take comfort in the fact that it has lots of employees who have been there for a long time. All of that speaks to experience, but on its own, that experience may be old and stale and generations behind. A “thought generation” may be as short as one or two years- that is how fast new technologies and discoveries can change how business needs to be done. Organizations need to stay conversant with all of those generations, and the old timers need to stay current or become irrelevant in a heartbeat.
So, there is no “doing what you have always done…” anymore. There is Vision, Strategy, Values and a constant evolution of how they move the organization forward and keep it relevant and desirable as a place to work and as a provider to customers and clients. For some this is exciting and a positive challenge they can embrace; for others it is exhausting and a struggle they may not be able to maintain. If your organization falls into the latter category, you need new blood, new generations of thinkers and doers who see the future and are racing toward it, not from it.