Is your company a dinosaur? I'm not asking how long your company has been in business. I'm asking whether your company is staying ahead of a changing world. The dinosaurs failed to adapt quickly enough and went extinct, and the same can happen to any company today. Here are three signs that your company is a dinosaur, along with some suggestions on how to evolve:
1. Dinosaurs Get Stuck
Success can be a dangerous thing, especially if you decide that your current strategy will work forever. Recently, paleontologists excavated a set of fossils where a whole pack of predators chased a plant-eating dinosaur into a patch of quicksand and sank. The strategy that worked so well for them before failed them when the terrain changed.
In today's world, the terrain can change in the space of a single innovation, and innovations are coming faster and faster. Former household names like Kodak and Sears have had to change business models that they used for more than a century now that we have digital photos and online shopping.
Even innovators need to keep up the pace. In 2008, everyone was addicted to their Blackberry. Who wouldn't want a full keyboard on their phone? Everyone who uses Siri, it turns out.
I don't want to say that you should change just for change's sake. It's important for everyone in your organization to be on the same page, not just for what's happening this week, but with your organization's values. If you don't have everyone working toward the same end goal, you might as well be thrashing in quicksand, and that only makes you sink faster.
2. Dinosaurs are Cold-blooded
Jeff Bezos had a great insight:
I tell people that when we acquire companies, I'm always trying to figure out: Is this person who leads this company a missionary or a mercenary? The missionary is building the product and building the service because they love the customer, because they love the product, because they love the service. The mercenary is building the product or service so that they can flip the company and make money.
In my experience, you want your leadership to encourage your employees to be missionaries, not mercenaries. Mercenary employees do work hard to grow a company -- right up until their stock options mature. Then they're off looking for the next golden opportunity, taking their experience, training and productivity with them.
When your company focuses on more than just the bottom line, though, it develops missionary employees. These employees have ties to your company culture, believe in your company's values, and look to your company's future with as much excitement as you do.
It takes time to establish the direction you want your company to go, and even more time for your employees to internalize that vision, coordinate with each other, and develop a culture centered on your values. But it's worth it to keep your company from getting comfortable with a mercenary mentality.
3. Dinosaurs are Unchanging
You've heard the old adage "practice makes perfect." It's probably more accurate to say "practice makes permanent." Instead of drawing a line in the sand with fixed and rigid best practices, I find that it's better to focus on best principles, especially when you consider the changing nature of the workforce.
In the first quarter of 2015, millennials became the largest generation in the workforce, and they will have lived and learned through the most rapid expansion of technology in human history. If you show millennials a floppy disk, they'll wonder why you 3D printed the save icon. Mention a folder, and they'll head straight to their computer desktop, or, more likely, unlock their smartphone.
At a dinosaur company, millennials will run into best practices, carved into stone tablets back in 1986 after an influential seminar. They might question why they need to print out the documents that they're just going to open digitally later. They might wonder why they need to spend eight hours warming a chair in an office when they can accomplish their work just as well anywhere they can find a good Internet connection.
This isn't saying that all company regulations are a bad thing. But I've found that basing a company policy on easy-to-understand principles works better than handing down rules from on high. Your policies should set company goals, communicate them to your employees, then let them work it out with each other. Frequent feedback sessions from management to employee, from peer to peer, and from employee to management help everyone understand what needs to change, and then work together to improve.
In both nature and the corporate world, success depends on changing at the right time and in the right way. When you take your company in the right direction, hire and mold dedicated employees, and develop policies that give your company enough space to grow from good to great, you're creating an organization that can stay ahead of history.