I read an interesting article today written by Angus Loten on WSJ.com entitled, “When Cost Cuts Fail…Drastic Measures”. It explored how a series of small businesses re-invented themselves on the fly in order to address major, adaptive challenges they were facing in their markets. While troublesome on some levels, these small organizations were on the brink, and thus had little choice of action left to them in order to survive, it also pointed to powerful examples of mindful leadership, insightful strategic calibration, and a demonstration of what adaptive teams can do in a crisis. None of the solutions that saved these organizations hinged upon social media, the internet, or many of the other techno-gimmicks that are awash in the media today. They turned to their fundamentals. Fundamentals that drive and sustain business even in the most volatile of times.
I often speak about the fundamental drivers of breakthrough performance. Sparking breakthrough (or in this case, turnaround) performance is like lighting a fire. A fire requires heat, fuel, and oxygen in order to burn. In business leadership provides the heat, strategy the fuel, and culture is the oxygen. When these three elements are authentically aligned, a cumulative force of commerce emerges and creates a momentum, seemingly all of its own.
Adaptive challenges, as first introduced in Heifetz and Linsky’s book, “Leadership On The Line”, Harvard Business School Press, 2002, point to situations in which we do not have all the answers. Challenges we’ve yet to face before in our careers and business lives. Most of us grew up during times of technical challenges, straight forward problems in which we did have the answers because they tended to be re-occuring challenges that followed the normal business cycle of expansion and contraction. Who would have ever thought we would have longed for the good ole’ days of a nice, 1980’s style recession? The halcyon days of business as usual seem to be a fading memory.
This is why these three, critical elements must be consciously tended and continuously cultivated today. Leadership must operate from a level of greater awareness; not only of one’s self, but of the firm and the market conditions ahead. Strategy must be mindfully structured, challenged, and continuously tested and re-validated against the shifting tides. Culture must foster creativity, teamwork, and a strong sense of “we’re all in this together”. It is only from that level of cohesion that dramatic, adaptive change can occur and quickly and efficiently secure traction.
The other thing to keep in mind, something that came to the fore while reading this article, is the adaptive changes these companies successfully executed were relationship driven. They went out and connected, engaged, and motivated new customer segments through their physical presence and persistence. No magic bullet, no social media, perhaps a bit of online marketing and communication to their target prospects to maintain visibility, but these examples pointed to addressing the fundamental principles of business. Good for them!
© 2011, Terry Murray