Ella Matson Lindsay Recalls the Holocaust
NATURAL LAWS AND LONGEVITY
Why is it that with all our technical advances, with our unparalleled capacity to learn and store knowledge, with the coming of reengineering, balanced scorecards and Quality management—why is it with all this going for us we are unable to build organizations that can hold up over time? One wonders if any system can survive more than a few decades…
Interestingly enough, the most enduring systems are found in nature. The oldest life forms on this planet are California’s redwood trees. Ecosystems of mountains, forests, streams, meadows, insects, and animals are amazingly resilient. These systems can survive physical calamities, destructive weather patterns and other major environmental shifts and endure for centuries unless humans intervene and attempt to “civilize” them. What these natural systems have in common with your organization is that they are both living systems, meaning some of their key elements are living, breathing entities. A review of the natural laws that govern the survival of living systems offers profound wisdom for understanding organizational longevity.
Let me take a moment to elaborate on the concept of natural law. A natural law expresses a universal truth that governs the makeup of something or some dynamic process. An example from the world of physics is the natural law of gravity. Jump off a cliff and you will fall to the ground below. Natural laws are not subject to our desires or beliefs; we are always subject to their rules. In other words, natural laws govern our interactions whether or not we are aware of them, agree with them, or follow them. We must align ourselves with these laws to arrive—and remain—in a desirable place.
But how do you know if something is truly a natural law, or merely someone’s value or preference? A practical way to determine the difference is to look at the universality and timelessness of the value. If the value leads to success in a wide variety of circumstances, in diverse cultures, in all ages, then it qualifies as a natural law. Values, on the other hand, may serve us well in specific situations, but won’t be successful in others.
A review of the characteristics and attributes of living systems can help us identify natural laws that also apply to organizations. Because the following seven characteristics are always present in living systems that survive over time, I believe they also qualify as natural laws:
1. Ecological order—each element of the ecosystem must fit into the order of things. Living systems are all part of a larger network of elements. They either fit into this ecosystem in a way that maintains balance of the greater whole, or they perish.
2. Purpose—everything else is subordinated to the highest purpose—survival for self, group and species. Natural instincts lead to self-preservation, the law of the pack, and preservation of the species. Failure to be concerned with anything beyond self ultimately leads to ecological imbalance and death.
3. Steady state—survival is maintained via steady processes that follow a proven, functional routine. The steady state is a pattern of habits that assures daily survival and stores energy for meeting critical challenges. Without a steady state, the system uses more energy than it can obtain from the environment.
4. Mobilization—threats to survival and the steady state are sensed and met. The dynamic of mobilization is a two-edged sword. It certainly protects the steady state. On the other hand, it can actually attack a force that would cause constructive change to occur.
5. Complexity—systems develop more complex, specialized functions. We humans often misunderstand this law. In nature, greater complexity generally leads to expanding skills or functions and a greater ability to adapt to the environment. In human organizations, greater complexity usually translates into creating steeper hierarchies and narrower spans of control.
6. Synergy—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; synergy comes from new relationships. When static elements come together in different ways, synergy is produced. Synergy is the creative force that shapes the beauty of nature and the survival of a species.
7. Adaptation—processes change as necessary when environmental changes threaten survival. Effective living systems subordinate processes to purpose. They are able to grow and adapt in remarkable ways when new environmental conditions require them to do so.
THE SURVIVAL CODE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
These seven natural laws govern all living systems—from sagebrush, to mud swallows, to bison to human organizations. They identify for us the characteristics an organization must possess if it would endure for more than a few decades. Following nature’s script:
- ¡ An organization would always plan what it does in the context of the most important needs and expectations of its major stakeholders.
- ¡ It would develop a sense of purpose so that each member would instinctively act to fulfill it and to protect the organization from anything that might threaten it.
- ¡ It would develop high quality work processes that consistently deliver high quality outputs.
- ¡ Daily problems would be solved competently by those closest to their source.
- ¡ It would grow over time in its skills and flexibility so that environmental changes could be handled without major trauma.
- ¡ The teamwork and use of resources would be so synergistic that it would enjoy competitive advantages over others in terms of quality, unit costs, cycle time, innovation and problem solving.
- ¡ Whenever the environment introduced new complexities, the organization would be able to draw on all of the other attributes to re-strategize and redeploy its resources to remain in an advantaged position.
The following table spells out the Survival Code for the 21st Century:
1. Ecological order—each element of the ecosystem must fit into the order of things.
2. Purpose—everything else is subordinated to the highest purpose—survival for self, group and species.
3. Steady state—survival is maintained via steady processes that follow a proven, functional routine.
4. Mobilization—threats to survival and the steady state are sensed and met.
5. Complexity—systems develop more complex, specialized functions.
6. Synergy—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; synergy comes from new relationships.
7. Adaptation—processes change as necessary when environmental changes threaten survival.
|ORGANIZATIONAL SURVIVAL CODE
1. Strategize in the context of your major stakeholders’ most important needs.
2. Develop a sense of purpose so that each member instinctively acts to fulfill it.
3. Develop processes and systems to consistently deliver high quality outputs.
4. Solve problems at their source.
5. Grow in skills and flexibility so you can handle whatever changes the environment serves up.
6. Develop true partnerships with all stakeholders to enjoy competitive advantages in quality, unit costs, cycle time, innovation, and problem solving.
7. Re-strategize and redeploy your resources as circumstances require to maintain a competitive advantage. (Doing this requires all of the other processes.)
We live in a global market that offers—and demands—more for less.
This means organizations have to do what they do better, faster and cheaper than ever before. It also means they have to adapt to a myriad of changes with minimal trauma and distraction. Because it is a global market, an organization’s competitors are no longer just around the corner. Competition can come from any corner of the world from any size enterprise.
At the same time, those who work in and with these organizations also want more for less. They want more income, more personal freedom and more challenge and excitement in what they do. And the global market now offers them multiple options for satisfying their needs.
MORE WITH LESS?
Trying to meet everyone’s expectations of “more with less” is no easy feat. Leaders have been trying to do it for some time with very mixed results. Consider this track record:
• Only 30% of companies with Quality programs say they are successful. Most Quality programs last only two or three years.
• Only 20% of those with self-directed teams say they are getting better results.
• The success rates for reengineering and mergers are equally discouraging—ranging between 20-30% success.
• Only 30% of new incentive plans, such as gainsharing, achieve their desired outcomes.
• The effectiveness of downsizing efforts is even more bleak. An American Management Association study of 700 firms who downsized reported that 86% had seen employee morale collapse, 66% saw no improvement in efficiency and only 50% improved their profits even as long as five years after they downsized.
These developments are but the latest data points in a more significant bigger picture. Looking more broadly at the world of organizations, consider what the following organizations all have in common:
• Cambria Steel
• Guggenheim Exploration
• Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal
• Pressed Steel Car
• Intercontinental Rubber
• Schwarzchild and Sulzberger
• Central Leather
Each of these institutions was one of the top 100 U.S. firms in 1909, but none exists today as an independent entity. They are either out of business or a minor player in some larger corporation. Some were quite large in their glory days (Central Leather was number seven on the 1909 list). Unfortunately they were not able to maintain whatever it was that made them successful. In a few management generations they have disappeared. These seven are certainly not unusual: of the top 100 U.S. industrial firms in 1909, only 14 are still in the elite group today. Only 23 are still around at all!
On the other hand, think about what the following corporations have in common:
• U.S. Steel (now USX)
• E. I. Dupont De Nemours
• Eastman Kodak
• Standard Oil (now Exxon)
These companies were also in the Top 100 in 1909 and they (or the organization of which they play a leading role) are still there based on the latest Fortune Magazine list of the top 500 Industrial firms. But even those in today’s top 100 are anything but secure. Each of the five companies listed above has been undergoing serious business shakeups and downsizing in an attempt to remain competitive in the global market. And other giants such as General Motors, IBM, and Sears have experienced severe economic problems in recent years as profits have been down and thousands have lost their jobs. They are straining to do more with less just like everybody else.
The struggle for life isn’t something peculiar to large corporations. What about the small enterprises that enter the global market’s competitive field every day? Research indicates that approximately one million people in the United States start their own business each year. Unfortunately, by the end of the first year at least 40% of them will be out of business. And more than 80% of the small businesses that survive the first five years will fail in the second five. Is this what the global market will be known for: creating countless shooting stars who burst onto the scene and then fade as rapidly as they appear?
These alarming trends aren’t just in businesses either. Budget cutters are trimming whole departments in government. Schools from kindergartens to universities are closing down or scaling back significantly as the educational structure reshuffles.
Why is it that with all our technical advances, with our unparalleled capacity to learn and store knowledge, with the coming of reengineering, balanced scorecards and Quality management—why is it with all this going for us we are unable to build organizations that can hold up over time? This will be discussed in PART 2.
By Dave Hanna
Often in today’s organizations we refer to those at the top of the hierarchy as “leaders.” The title is respectful, but not always accurate. Members of the hierarchy have authority to act. This does not necessarily make them leaders.
What is it that separates real leaders from those who merely have the title “leader?” The best way I’ve found to understand the dynamics of leadership is to picture yourself in a situation where someone comes to you with a special request: “We are facing a serious problem! I will need you to give everything you have over the next several weeks to help us solve it. I’m afraid you won’t sleep much or be able to spend much time with your family until things are back to normal.”
Would you follow this person with enthusiasm?
Before answering this question, let’s put a face on the one making the request. Which of these individuals would you follow enthusiastically?
- Steve Jobs
- Bill Gates
- Barack Obama
- Meg Whitman
- Hillary Clinton
Each of these individuals has (or had) a formal leadership position in an organization. But just because they have subordinates doesn’t necessarily make them a leader. Bosses have subordinates; leaders have followers. That’s been the bottom line throughout the ages.
By this definition, each of these individuals is also a leader. Some people have sacrificed or are sacrificing much to follow their lead.
But the question to you is a very personal one. Would you be willing to forego sleep and family relationships and give everything you have for several weeks for any one of these leaders? The seeds of leadership are found in the relationship between them and their followers. Colin Hall, CEO of Wooltru Ltd. in South Africa, puts it this way, “We’ve forgotten that leadership is really about followership. We’ve never had the followership of 85 percent of the people in this country. We’ve had compliance, but we’ve never had followership. Leadership is about earned followership.”
Now consider your relationship with each of these
individuals. What are some of them missing? Or what do some have that would cause you to volunteer your best efforts to support them? The bonding agent is trust—a trust that can only be earned by trustworthy people. Trustworthiness is a function primarily of two factors:
• Commitment—are you committed to the same purpose as the leader and are both of you willing to make personal sacrifice for that purpose? Commitment is what the leader is.
• Competence—can they deliver on their promises? This causes us to look at the leader’s skills (technical, strategic, teamwork, etc.) to see if they can effectively mold individuals into cohesive and competent teams. Competence is what a leader does.
Again, the critical test is how you perceive them to measure up in these two areas. And this is the same test for your own leadership. Those who work with you are also assessing who you are and what you can do. Can you confidently expect them to follow you?