By Andy Lothian
The only truly reliable source of stability is a strong inner core and the willingness to change and adapt everything except that core.
In “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,” best-selling author and business consultant Jim Collins draws upon a six-year research project at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, studying 18 truly exceptional and long-lasting companies in relation to their market competitors. The key question he was interested in answering was, “What makes the truly exceptional companies different from the comparison companies and what were the common practices these enduringly great companies followed throughout their history?”
He identified several answers – having audacious goals, having an unusually strong culture, innovating consistently – but his most striking (and simple!) conclusion was that successful companies have a strong core. Just like individuals with a strong core, organizations with a strong core have a true handle on their fundamental identity. It is this understanding of who they are and what they stand for that allows people and businesses to maintain what makes them tick while adapting in response to shifting priorities, pressures and professional environments.
Here are three facets of an organization’s core to consider when developing an approach to both people development and business development.
Addressing your organization’s purpose is the first step in identifying the core. Once it’s decided upon, the purpose should guide all strategic plans and people investment decisions. An organization’s purpose should serve as an internal compass, keeping everyone pointed toward his or her intended directions. It should also give a bold affirmation of your reason for being, conveying what your organization stands for in historical, ethical, emotional and practical terms.
The purpose also helps the workforce understand itself to be more effective in achieving intended results, thus creating business breakthroughs. Part of this learning process involves helping people stop trying to be everyone and instead focus on being the best version of themselves. This principle has profound results at the organizational level, too. Companies that know who they are – and who they aren’t – don’t have to chase customers, trends and competitors, because their core provides a sense of stability. That stable core allows leaders to make informed decisions about what’s best for the organization.
The leadership team is a company’s most important asset and its worst liability. That’s the conclusion of a study by the International Institute of Management. Many senior managers are concerned about the cost in time and money of investing in soft skills development. One of their biggest concerns is the possibility of spending money training people, only to have them leave the company. But, what happens if you don’t develop your people, and they stay? Might that not be even more of a problem?
A central part of developing people is supporting their ability to work well in teams. Building a sense of camaraderie among different personality types requires both self-knowledge about your own learning and working preferences and knowledge of others on your team. Managers serve a key role in coaching team members to better understand themselves and determine how to mesh well with other team members. Personality assessments can help address this challenge, providing tools and hints to more capably approach the task.
The last 12 to 18 months have been remarkably volatile in terms of economic, diplomatic and technological milestones: a tumultuous U.S. election; Brexit; an ongoing refugee crisis; and growing concerns about data security, artificial intelligence, regulating drones and self-driving cars, to name just a few developments. Often, organizations have an entire organizational development team dedicated to responding to change, but sometimes not adjusting your plans may be the best thing to do, even during times of drastic uncertainty.
When the 2008 financial crisis hit, for instance, Insights Learning and Development was about to invest in a new multi-million-dollar office. In the end, informed by the company’s commitment to people investment and growth, it was a good decision. These are tough calls, and there’s no prescription for an easy answer. Be sure your organization considers both long-term company values as well as short-term changes when making big decisions.
When senior managers join with HR leaders to devote their attention to the integral components of purpose, people and plans, they ground their business in an unshakeable stability that can withstand the inevitability of change from the outside business environment. Like successful people, successful companies know who they are and are willing to adapt themselves to the needs of their environment. In today’s changing business landscape, the ability to maintain true to their core will be the difference between organizations that are built to last and organizations that burn out fast.