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The 10 Dodgy Notions Blocking Your Business From Evolving

After a decade of advising scaling firms, I’ve seen some of the best leaders overcome obstacles that could make or break a business. Overcoming these obstacles is what keeps the momentum going. But I’ve also witnessed the same type of leader trip up on seemingly obvious issues, completely derailing their transformation efforts.

Often, what separates success from dismal failure comes from predicting problems before they arise, having a contingency plan, and consistently challenging flawed assumptions. False beliefs that limit ambitions, distort priorities and encourage boneheaded decisions.

These limiting mindsets manifest in subtle but profoundly damaging ways across entire companies. Squashing initiative. Strangling innovation. Smothering morale and momentum. 

So, what dodgy notions should you root out and rewire at both the leadership and team member levels? Here are the ten prime contenders I frequently encounter stymying organisational change programmes:

The status quo must be optimal

Long-serving execs often presume existing systems evolved through sound logic to reach maximum efficiency. Thus, any significant change risks dismantling hard-won functional excellence built over the years.

The trouble is, the world moves fast. Even well-oiled operations need periodic renovation and revamping to stay fit for shifting customer needs and market conditions. 

Refrain from assuming your status quo is still ideal (or even adequate) for the road ahead. Be ready to question everything, even parts of the business that are humming along just fine. It’s all too easy to develop a closed mindset believing “we’ve cracked it”. Forget the assumption that decisions must be made only when 100% crystal-ball certainty has been achieved. Jeff Bazos suggests that only 70% of information is required, and looking for anything above this is simply a waste of time.

We must follow the plan

Multi-year strategic roadmaps provide necessary direction during uncertainty. Overreliance on your master blueprints kills flexibility in responding to new opportunities.

I’ve seen leaders miss game-changing moments because they refused to deviate from their hallowed corporate plans, even when the case for capitalising on external events or fresh customer insights makes rational sense. I think we missed the shift to cloud at Peer 1 by about 2 years. Still, I speak with CEO in firms with DCs telling me about a move away from cloud back to on-prem or DC hosting – in their dreams, perhaps.

Regularly validating your route still leads towards the ultimate destination. Conduct regular analyses of the changing market. Be ready to tweak or even tear up the plan when contexts and customer needs shift.

Don’t rock the boat

Stability and predictability breed confidence in staff and stakeholders. Yet changing conditions demand regular boat rocking to stay competitive. You need to challenge norms to avoid floating into irrelevance continually.

I appreciate that all leaders worry about the risks of disrupting steady business flow. But playing it safe often proves riskier in the medium term than controlled risks feel in the short term.

Foster a culture of accepting productive provocation; we often discuss psychological safety. If this is something lacking in your workplace, you need to prioritise fixing this issue before trying to fix anything else. Make it okay to respectfully question everything that has happened before and is due to take place in the future.

If it ain’t broke…

Processes that once worked smoothly inevitably develop kinks and inefficiencies over time. But leaders often resist meddling with operations that still function just about fine. 

This complacency allows waste and suboptimal customer experiences to creep in. Meanwhile, your competitors will find ways to woo (and win) your customers at a lower cost.

Adopt a “continuous improvement” mindset towards all systems, both broken and unbroken. Measure and optimise each conversion funnel stage obsessedly. Sweat every tiny detail.

All change has risks

Company-wide transformation initiatives are bound to carry implementation risks if handled by the wrong person. Fumbled communication, inadequate skills development and inconsistent leadership can all doom rollouts.

But so does failing to change when it’s clearly required. Ensure your risk assessments weigh the dangers of acting against the often more significant dangers of not acting at all. 

Include opportunity costs and competitive consequences for rational balancing—factor in the risks of frustrated talent leaving or angry customers switching away.

We must have a consensus first

Collaboration and widespread buy-in undoubtedly ease periods of major transition. But consensus building also risks design-by-committee paralysis or ineffective compromises, leaving everyone dissatisfied.

All the while, your business burns platforms, enrages customers, and cedes ground to competitors. 

Sometimes, a CEO must set a bold direction and then inspire others to believe later. Command decisive action, then bring people with you – not vice versa. Do not create an environment of “do as I say, not as I do”.

Tough conversations avoided and dithering on decisions are all to be found in a failure retrospective.

    Don’t add complexity

    Many transformative ideas involve added workflows, tools or responsibilities that increase operational complexity. But leaders often reflexively shelve ingenious ideas and initiatives for fear of the extra intricacy and time of adaptation.

    Accepting additional complexity will unlock gains in intelligence, innovation and impact in the long run. Teams can devise a new way of working to achieve ambitious growth goals, and processes can be streamlined to accommodate new workflows and tools.

    Evaluate new systems based on their ultimate value, not just the incremental training effort they demand early on. Think hard about longer-term benefits rather than short-term growing pains.

    Big bang change is best

    An organisation-wide clean sweep revamping structures, systems and strategy in one monumental initiative sounds great in theory. However, such volatile shock therapy risks severe business disruption and team member disorientation.  

    Take an iterative, “minimum viable” approach to change that builds capabilities steadily while maintaining operations. Pilot updated ways of working before cascading initiatives across departments. Move fast by all means – but in controlled increments.

    Bent Flyvbjerg’s great book How Big Things Get Done shows us 99.5% of all projects are late, over budget and under-deliver on benefits. If you need inspiration on how to drive successful digital transformation, then listen to my interview with David Rogers on the Melting Pot where we chat about his latest book The Digital Transformation Roadmap.

    Culture can’t change

    Company culture is a set of shared values, beliefs, and norms that shape how people behave within an organisation. It is often described as the “personality” of a company, and it can significantly impact team member morale, productivity, and innovation.

    Company culture is often difficult to change, as it is often deeply ingrained in the organisation’s history and values. However, it is possible to change company culture if there is a strong commitment from leadership and a willingness to invest in the process.

    One way to change company culture is to challenge the status quo. This means questioning the organisation’s and its employees’ assumptions and beliefs. It also means creating a space where new ideas and perspectives are welcome.

    Another way to change company culture is to lead by example. This means leadership demonstrating the behaviours that you want to see in others. It also means the CEO holding themselves and others accountable for upholding the organisation’s values. I am not going to tell you this is easy.

    Changing company culture is not easy, but it is essential for creating a productive, innovative, and enjoyable workplace. By challenging the status quo and leading by example, you can create a culture that is conducive to success.

    You can only wear so many hats

    When you start a business with six of you around a kitchen table, you’ll all wear several hats. At Peer 1, we joked that no one was allowed to have more than six job titles. If they did, we knew we needed to hire someone else quickly, as we were growing fast. 

    Once you reach between 30 and 100 staff, the thing that can hold companies back is the CEO hanging on to their old functional role. Full-time CEOs have two only jobs – to create and sell the vision for the business. Anything else gets in the way. Don’t become the bottleneck that stops your business from scaling.  

    This is where coaching support becomes invaluable. I help founders and CEOs to let go. With my support, they focus on what they must do to stay at the helm. Only the other day, I was talking to an investor in a business that had sacked their CEO. This person couldn’t see the writing on the wall or get out of his own way. Until he lost the board’s support, he had no idea he was on thin ice. Stories like this are tragic and avoidable.

    Get help to enable you to see your blind spots. Even Olympians have coaches.

    So, there are your top ten limiting mindsets stymying organisational change efforts even in highly successful companies. I appreciate some may ring uncomfortably true! But awareness is the first step towards shifting perspectives.

    Keep interrogating prevailing assumptions across your leadership and workplace. You’ll likely unearth some bonkers notions hiding in plain sight. Challenge these vocally and repeatedly.

    With open and evidence-based discussion, you can loosen the grip of flawed beliefs. This mental spring clean opens up the capacity for transformative thinking. 

    Get stuck into dismantling those dodgy preconceptions hampering your business evolution today! The freedom to establish innovative new organisational truths awaits…

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    Written by business coach and CEO mentor Dominic Monkhouse, read more of his work here. Read his new book, Mind Your F**king Business here.

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