Five delusions holding business back

If you can’t see what’s really in the mirror, you’re likely to lose out in business
From strategic planning to managing their staff, companies are following false dogmas.
We're now several weeks into January, and many people’s well-meant New Year’s resolutions will have already fallen by the wayside. But how refreshing would it be if our businesses committed to ridding themselves of some common – but disastrous – delusions in 2015? Here are five that business leaders should shake off.

THE CHANGE DELUSION

First, we’re deluded about change. Most businesses hold onto ingrained offerings and practices – we can’t help ourselves but stick by what already has been built, seeking to maintain our current position rather than innovate for new opportunities. We tend to focus on the incremental improvement of existing offerings, coming up with new versions of old strategies rather than aggressively seeking disruptive change. If still in doubt about the change delusion, you need only think of what has happened to companies like Kodak, Blockbuster, Nokia, and Blackberry.

THE CUSTOMER DELUSION

Are most businesses truly customer-centric? Is the driver creating value for customers, or is it increasing sales? It’s a subtle distinction, but a critical one. We are in the middle of a customer revolution that is changing not only the way companies produce, market, sell, and deliver products today, but the way they create and deliver customer value. Yet most propositions are still developed in isolation from customers. Customers are still too often perceived as targets and passive recipients. So the second delusion to shed this year is that it’s enough to be product, sales or marketing driven. Companies should be co-creating offerings from the outside-in, together with customers.

THE PLANNING DELUSION

Many businesses are deluded when it comes to the much-exploited term “strategic planning”. Somewhere along the line, strategy became little more than a box-ticking exercise, failing to take almost any business forward. How can we seriously expect meaningful strategies to be created during a ceremonial planning session once or twice a year? And how can we assume that distinctive strategies can be formulated mainly by the leadership team? We hold onto conventional planning processes that are futile in today’s rapidly changing and competitive world. So businesses must commit to breaking the old habits of monopolised and periodic planning. Those that don’t simply won’t survive.

THE PEOPLE DELUSION

How do employees deal with increasing work demands and the flood of information? Given all the text messages, the 200-plus daily emails, the meetings and conference calls, the simple answer is they don’t. Two out of three employees feel overwhelmed and are disengaged. It shouldn’t be surprising that most strategic change efforts fail when a critical mass of people can’t or don’t want to exert the required extra-energies. Companies must look to create an environment where people are proficient (can), aligned (know), and are committed (want) to realising strategic change.

THE LEADERSHIP DELUSION

Who is ultimately responsible for the above four delusions? The ultimate delusion relates to our beliefs about “leadership”. Thousands of books have been written on the topic, and there are dozens of academic philosophies or concepts. How can we argue against, for example, appreciative, mindful, or values-based leadership? We can’t. But we have forgotten that leadership is ultimately about direction. The Anglo-Saxon etymological root of the word means path or road. Leadership has to be about realising a preferred direction. But many leaders are besieged, snowed-under, inundated, and paralysed with trying to manage the daily demands of organisational life today. Longer-term strategic leadership has lost out to short-term operational management.
Dr Marc Stigter is an international strategy adviser and co-author with professor Cary Cooper of Solving the Strategy Delusion (Palgrave Macmillan).

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