03 November 2009

The danger of "We know!" - Part 1

As a consultant, I meet folks in business very frequently that are pretty much convinced along one or more of the following lines:
  1. "We already know about our business." By this owners and managers mean to express the sense that they already understand how their business works and what it will take to make the business better.

  2. "There might be some room for improvement, but the returns on any improvement we could make would be so small, it's not worth the effort." This statement or mind-set by owners and managers is a restatement of the so-called "law of diminishing returns."

  3. "Our business (or industry) is unique, so we have to work this way." This is an argument suggesting that a consultant, being an outsider to the business or the industry, can't possibly bring any valuable insight. Furthermore, even if he or she does, we probably couldn't make the recommended changes anyway.
On far too many occasions, when I meet such owners and managers, I am simultaneously witnessing an organization that started off great, grew rapidly, and still has the entrepreneurs that started the firm in the driver's seat. They are also, quite often, over-the-hill.

I'm not talking about the owners or managers being over 40 (or over 50) years of age. I'm talking about the fact that their once booming organization is now in a state of coasting on its earlier success or even in the early stages of decline. Sometimes management hasn't even recognized that fact yet. They may be thinking that they are just in a temporary slump, that things will inevitably pick up again, and their firm will regain its earlier vigor.

Sadly, the chances of such a revitalization are usually slim.

While it is unequivocally true that a consultant can never learn everything about an enterprise that the owners and management know from all their years in their industry and in their own business, it is equally true that there are more things that are similar about human organizations than there are things that are different between human organizations.

Among the key things that are TRUE about all human organizations is that they all rely upon the same three scarce resources:
  1. Time
  2. Energy
  3. Money
Furthermore, contrary to popular opinion, managing the first two -- time and energy -- is more important than managing the third (money). This is true simply because if you had unlimited time and unlimited energy, you could have all the money you wanted or needed.

For this simple reason, focus is everything. As organizations grow and expand, the entrepreneurs who manage them start to lose focus, and they do not have within their knowledge or skills a set of tools to help them focus again on those few simple things that will revitalize their over-the-hill firms.

Having gained, perhaps, many years of experience in their industry and with their own firm, they frequently find that their experience really does not contribute that much toward discovering effective responses to the new challenges their firm now faces. What is missing is a method for discovering a new theory or framework that clarifies how their grown and expanded organization now works -- or doesn't work -- at making more money.

[Next time: Why is it so difficult for owners, executives and managers to discover how to effectively change their companies for ongoing, vital growth?]

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2 comments:

Cool Papa said...

Richard,

This is a great post and very well written. I'd like to include it on the group website. Let me know.

RDCushing said...

Feel free to re-post this to the group website (with credits, of course). Thanks, Cool Papa (Bill)!