“If your reaction to any type of disruptive change is ‘We don’t need to do anything right now,’ the future would like to have a word with you!” – Futurist Jim Carroll
Weak leadership involves postponing the inevitable, denying reality, and avoiding disruptive trends through the deferral of action. I see this a lot in the situations I find myself within.
Case in point: years back, I had a call from a senior VP of a major company in the retail industry. She thought that it would be extremely helpful to bring me into their upcoming corporate leadership meeting – with so much change in retail they need to be challenged in their thinking! With clients like Disney, The GAP, Pepsi, Godiva, and more, I certainly have a track record for doing just that – I spend a lot of time speaking to the massive and fast trends sweeping the world of retail.
Fast forward. She wrote back one week later, indicating that their CEO didn’t think it was a good time to be doing this type of forward-oriented strategic review. As in, ‘stay the course.’ ‘Stick with the status quo.’ They didn’t need to be challenged right now went his thinking; they had a strategy and needed to see it through. They might think about doing a deep-dive future session next year. Something like that. She expressed some frustration at this view!
Here’s the thing – I get a lot of situations like this! Where someone on a corporate team knows that the organization needs to be challenged out of their complacency — but then it goes up the ladder, where senior management puts a stop to the idea. I’m never sure why, but I know what the result will be.
This particular organization went onto my ‘fail radar,’ and it is obvious that today, they are struggling with reality. I’m witnessing in real-time the stumbles and failures and missteps they are making as they fail to align to obvious future trends. Not because they didn’t bring me in — but because they clearly are driven by a culture of indecision Remember this likely reality – 50% of the companies that you see around you today likely won’t be around you in but 10 short years. Particularly in retail! The executive who called me? I can see via LinkedIn that she left just before the pandemic.
Why does this occur? With 28 years of effort in advising organizations on trends and the future, I’ve become quite adept at spotting the culture of slowness that kills initiative:
- actions are based on lifelong lessons that no longer apply
- variation in routine is abhorred
- the strategies they have in place are often outdated by faster trends
- they are structured by command and control structures that don’t allow for agility
- outdated HR practices reward mediocrity
- individualism is punished
- risk is something to be feared, not embraced
- collaboration is absent
- corporate culture breeds change-resistance anti-bodies
- they discount the big thinkers who are changing their industry – they think they know better!
- they have allowed a leadership style of deferring decisions to overtake all activities
- a belief that their company and product are invincible, and that their continued success is inevitable
It’s an interesting time to be in business. Disruption, fast-paced business model change, technology! It’s all real folks – you can’t avoid it.
The future belongs to those who are fast, and yet many are structured for slow.