The Prisoner of Success

I meet a lot of these people. Diligently working away at strategies, with methods, that just don’t work any more. It’s clear to everyone but them that they don’t work any more, so why do they persist?

It’s because what they’re doing isn’t so much wrong, as not right any longer.  It used to work; in fact it is what made them successful, and that’s why it’s so hard to stop doing it. Here are some of the more common “no longer right” strategies and methods:

“Massive action solves any problem” No it doesn’t. If the organisation structure is not fit for purpose or the product is obsolete massive action will, at best, have no effect. More likely, it will be like kicking your car when it won’t start.

“It’s all about the people.” When you only have 5 of them, this is probably true. When you have 500, it isn’t. At that scale, it’s all about the people, the products, the strategy, the organisation structure, the management information systems and some other things I could think of given another few minutes. What is the number of people above which success is no longer “all about” them? Definitely 50, often as small as 15.

“Heroic action by me, the boss, solves all problems”. Not above a certain scale. If a £1m business has a 10%  revenue shortfall, it’s plausible that one person of great ability and energy could find the missing £100,000. If a £10m business has a 10% revenue shortfall, that same person will not be able to find the missing £1m.

Here are two questions worth asking yourself:

  • which, out of your methods and strategies, seem to be working less well than they used to?
  • what, over the last twelve months, has ceased to be true for you?