The 5 biggest handbrakes on momentum
FROM SONY TO MICROSOFT, ADIDAS TO ALCOA, AND BILLABONG TO LEGO, MANY A BRAND HAS LOST THEIR MOJO AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER. RESEARCH SURVEYING HUNDREDS OF BRANDS AND BUSINESS LEADERS OVER THE PAST SIX YEARS SHOWS THAT A SIZEABLE 34 PER CENT OF RESPONDENTS DESCRIBE THEMSELVES AS HAVING LESS MOMENTUM NOW THAN THEY DID FIVE YEARS AGO. THESE ARE BUSINESSES WITH SOUND FINANCIALS, PROVEN REVENUE MODELS AND SOLID VALUE PROPOSITIONS, AND YET, THEY HAVE STRUGGLED TO MAINTAIN DYNAMISM, VITALITY AND GROWTH OVER THE LONG HAUL.
I vividly recall the conversation I had with one particular CEO whose business had faced four straight years of decline. ‘How do we get our mojo back?’ My client asked with more than a hint of desperation – it had been a brutal few years. While his leadership team and I spent considerable time addressing this question and formulating a strategy for reviving the company’s fortunes, an equally important question should have centered on why and how they lost momentum in the first place. In my work as a business strategist and consultant I have found five common factors that contributed to the stumble or demise of almost every iconic business, brand, institution or idea throughout human history.
1 – The intoxication of success
In the late 1980s senior vice president of the Bank of America, K. Shelly Porges, observed, “The greatest challenge we have as we become successful is not to rest on our laurels, never feel like we’ve done it. The minute you feel like you’ve done it, that’s the beginning of the end.” The pages of business history suggest that Porges is on the money. Success can be a dangerous thing. It tends to erode a healthy appetite for invention and innovation. Success creates a sense of satisfaction with the status quo and spurs complacency, which dulls our motivation to grow and to keep learning.
2 – The tyranny of tradition
Frank Vermeulen, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School, points to the fact that over time, humans naturally develop processes, routines, habits and traditions that we repeat habitually long after we forget the original reason for their existence. This would be fine, of course, if the world around us stood still — but it doesn’t. Things around us are changing faster than ever before and we must run faster and faster just to keep up. While we may naturally be creatures of habit, those who are committed to building and maintaining momentum must resist every urge to get stuck in patterns and routines from the past. After all, what has served us well yesterday may prove to be a shackle tomorrow.
3 – The baggage of bureaucracy
Red tape, over-regulation and bureaucracy are the unholy trinity of inefficiency. Few other things have the potential to sap individuals and organisations of momentum faster. In order to maintain momentum, organisations need to engage in ruthless pruning of red tape. This may be unpopular, but it’s necessary to achieve long-term agility, responsiveness and momentum.
4 – The fatigue of monotony
Most businesses and individuals start off with an inspiring vision for the future. Over time as things settle into a routine, however, sober realism begins to replace optimism. The inspiring ‘big picture’ gets crowded out and lethargy, despondency and numbing monotony become the default. Naturally, there are always going to be days and seasons where we feel a bit dry and uninspired. However, when this becomes the norm, watch out. Purposeless productivity is soul destroying. Emotionless motion is exhausting.
5 – The seduction of immediacy
In our modern ‘seize the day’ age where the pressing concerns of the current financial year, quarter or funding cycle can dominate our thoughts, it is critically important that leaders avoid short-term thinking. Momentum is never an overnight thing. It takes time to build, whether we like it or not. You can try and shortcut it, but all you’ll do is shortchange yourself in the long run. As James Kouzes and Barry Posner argue in their book ‘A Leader’s Legacy’, that we must be wary of becoming hostages to the present.
Success can be a dangerous thing. It tends to erode a healthy appetite for invention and innovation.”
While the process of losing momentum is often incremental and unconscious, it is also predictable and measurable. My hope is that these five points offer echoed warnings of the traps that have derailed the momentum of countless other organizations and institutions over the years. After all, momentum is a powerful force to guard and preserve at all costs —once it is lost and working against you, turning things around can be an enormous uphill battle.
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