Monday, August 23, 2010

Staying Humble & Successful

Arrogance diminishes wisdomArabian Proverb

One of the critical but rarely addressed challenges facing a leader of a highly successful company is how to keep people hungry.  It is human nature for a group of people to feel invincible when they have experienced success for an extended period of time, and it is the incumbent upon the leader to fight the urge and keep the team humble.

Signs that a company is beginning to develop a superiority complex can include any of the following:
  • ignoring customer input when developing new products and services;
  • a drop in improvement activities;
  • increased costs through quality problems, longer leadtimes, and higher warranty expenses;
  • a noticeable decrease in the willingness to learn by team members.
There have been some highly publicized examples over the last several years of companies that fell from grace because they seemingly lost touch with what made them successful in the first place.  The biggest problem with this type of behavior is that a decline in revenue and earnings may not show up for years after arrogance has made its way into the culture, and by the time it is realized, it may be so ingrained that correcting it becomes a major effort.

Prevention is the Key

Like many business issues, the best way to address organizational arrogance is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.  Although sometimes difficult, taking positive steps to keep people humble and focused on satisfying customers is critical to remaining successful.  Some of the areas to address include the following:

Customer Focus:  Stay focused on the customer and coach people when they appear to lose sight of the customer's needs.  Question decisions and plans to assure that they were made with the customer's needs in mind.

Purpose - Purpose - Purpose:  Assure that the company continues to operate in a way that supports its fundamental purpose, including mission, vision, and values.  Look for signs that the mission is becoming unclear or changing and, when necessary, take action to get it back on track.  Although scaring people is not advisable, it is important to make sure that everyone realizes that the company is always vulnerable and letting up is never an option;

Continual Improvement:  Make certain that improvement activities within the company never stop.  At no time should people believe that a processes and systems are perfect and do not need improving.  A telltale sign that improvement activity is waning is arrogance toward other divisions or companies.  When people no longer feel they can learn from others, it's time to act.

Although seemingly simple, actions to keep the company humble and believing that overconfidence can be destructive is an ongoing and sometimes complex responsibility of leaders.  Companies are constantly looking to exploit weakness in competitors, and if your company has been the superstar in the industry for many years, the spotlight will be especially bright on you as others look for ways to take your place at the top.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Thanks for your post! I think you touch on an important concept when you mentioned companies that lose sight of what made them great to begin with. Often times success breeds and feeling of entitlement which fosters complacency. It is important to frequently go back and analyze original successful practices and where we have departed from them over time. Thanks again! - Brian
P.S. check out my blog at Bits of Business