As any runner knows, there are good days and bad days. Some days you feel like you can run forever, while other days every step is a struggle. For a running coach, sluggishness in a runner is a sign that something isn't right. It could be anything from a lack of sleep to an injury, but whatever the cause, it's important to find out what's causing the ambivalence and lack of confidence. Otherwise, the runner is at risk of quitting altogether. The same is true of organizations. When leaders become tired and lose heart, the whole organization can become sluggish.
As organization theorist Samuel Bacharach once said, there are only two reasons why organizations become sluggish: they're either clunky or myopic. To break it down a little further, an organization is clunky if it's inefficient - meaning, it takes too many resources to get things done. This could be because the company is using outdated technology, or because its processes are needlessly complicated. On the other hand, an organization is myopic if it's short-sighted - meaning, it's not focused on the future. Instead, it's fixated on the present, and as a result, it doesn't invest in long-term growth. Of course, most organizations are a little bit of both - they're clunky and myopic to some degree. The key is to find the right balance between efficiency and innovation. If an organization can do that, then it stands a chance of surviving and thriving in today's ever-changing landscape.
I've always believed that the key to sustaining momentum in any organization is finding the right balance between tight and loose control. On one hand, you need to have enough centralized control to ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction and that things are getting done efficiently. On the other hand, you need to have enough looseness in the system to allow for creativity and innovation. Too much of either one can be detrimental. Organizations like Walmart are known for their tight centralized control, and organizations like Zappos are known for their extremely loose, free-wheeling system of management. I think the best leaders are those who are able to strike a balance between the two extremes.
Just as a running coach needs to find the root of the problem to help a runner, leaders need to find the source of their organization’s sluggishness. Once the cause is identified, it can be addressed and hopefully resolved.
Signs of sluggishness can be difficult to identify and even harder to address, but they should not be ignored. If your organization is suffering from any of the symptoms of sluggishness, don't wait until it's too late. Address the issue head-on and take steps to revive your company culture.
By Dean Miles
Keywords: Business Continuity, Mental Health, Startups