In these times when under pressure from customers, competitors, technological innovation and even employees, the businesses must reinvent themselves, it is tempting to look elsewhere for a ready-to-use model that one only has to duplicate at home.
An exercise that has its limits: we can copy processes, an organizational model, ideas, but as with an organ transplant, it often happens that the recipient organism rejects the transplant. The practices implemented by a company are valid in a given context, with a given culture, a given history… Copying them in a different context means taking the risk at best that it does not take, at worst that the remedy is even worse than the disease.
Managerial copy/paste does not work
But we keep looking elsewhere. There is no shortage of candidates for the “role-model” title: Google, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, AirBnb, Facebook, Zappos, Tesla…. and others tomorrow.
The result of the transplant can be of three kinds:
1°) “It will not work so we don’t do”. In fact, those who hold this type of discourse are often right…but for the wrong reasons. They do not judge the relevance of what has been done elsewhere or try to understand the “why”, which would lead them to find a different “how”. They just don’t want to change, or don’t understand the need to change.
2°) “We tried but it didn’t work”. Typical case of copying and pasting in complete ignorance of the differences in context.
(3) “We have had some success”. The most frequent case when copying in bulk is that the law of large numbers means that at some point there is something that has worked elsewhere that will work for you.
Two lessons to learn before you go and watch this entrepreneur or guru blissfully deliver an inspirational speech on the stage of a conference or copy/paste what has been done.
Do not copy the dish, but dissect the recipe….
The first is to always ask yourself “why?”. What problems were being addressed? Maybe it’s a problem you didn’t have (so you’re paradoxically going to create one), or maybe it’s the result you plan to achieve but, to achieve it in your context, you’ll have to do it in a radically different, even opposite way, because the levers that are yours (culture, history etc.) are not the same. Sometimes you even have assets at the beginning that the company you envy did not have… Do not copy the dish, but dissect the recipe…
To what extent is the leader willing to get dirty for change to happen?
The second is to know the level of commitment of the leader on the subject. I’m not talking about management, but about the leader! If the leader is you, wonder how far you are willing to go to see this change work. Are you ready to get really involved ? To face criticism? To defend tooth and nail the people who will carry your projects against those who will fight against change? And if you are “only” a project manager or director, ask yourself how far your direct manager and the ultimate decision-maker are willing to get involved to unlock situations and allow you to move forward. Having a clear mandate is one thing, having the means and superiors ready to get their hand in the dirt for you or covering yourself against all odds is another.
Because, speaking of managers, you have surely noticed that for all the companies mentioned above there is generally an emblematic manager or founder we associate a vision with, a way of doing things, managerial practices. A lot of of anecdotes that contribute to his personality and leadership, which make his ability to inspire. This is what often makes it possible to associate such a managerial practice, such as the way meetings or emails are managed, with a leader as much as with his company.
There is no disruptive model, just disruptive leaders
The truth is that there is no perfect business model that would work everywhere and even less a clear path to follow to get there. Each company has its own vision and path. But one thing seems obvious: if things happen, it is because there is a leader who wanted it that way. Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Tony Hsieh…They implemented what they wanted to see at work by being the first promoters and actors. There is no disruptive model, only disruptive leaders.
And this applies at all levels. We all have innovative, new, disruptive initiatives in mind, seen here and there. Did they survive the one, whether he is project manager or director, who embodied them and carried them? Rarely. We often see things end up running out of steam when the key to success is promoted to another position and leaves his place to another who is content to just run the machine.
For a project as ambitious as changing the company, example, vision and impetus can only come from above. Luckily, CEOs generally stay longer in their positions than other corporate functions.