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Saturday, October 22, 2016

Lessons I learned from limping organizations!

It is not often that important life lessons are drawn from the runners up or losers in a race. It would seem ironical that instead of focusing on the successful, this article suggests that there is much to be learned from the “laggards” and failings of the not so successful organizations. By sharing lessons from the not so successful and the failings of the rest of the runners, we can actually improve the average performance of all the runners in the race. These findings may not be enough to win the race, if there is such a thing as a race, but they will enable every other organization to examine its performance and empower leaders to focus on priming their organizations for stellar performance.

The first quality of failing organizations is a weak resource base. Organizations that have very little in their coffers are very weak and powerless. These organizations can say a lot of things but are unable to do very much. These organizations may have great plans, but without resources these pipe dreams are nothing but hot air. An organization must make it a primary business to build resources to the point that it can do what it says it wants to do. Unless you are a turnaround artist, and turnaround artists are always backed by well resourced sponsors (or they have the sense to build a solid capital base before making costly changes), you are not going to hack it. Many times leaders go into limping organizations thinking that a fresh leadership team with sufficient charisma is enough to secure future success. The issue of resources and resource sources, capitalization/recapitalization must be addressed first before any meaningful leadership activity can make a difference.

The second thing that hit me in every case of failing leadership is that membership of those organizations abandon their leaders (for whatever reason). The fact that the leaders have been abandoned means the organization remains a mere shell of an organization. While this may sound bad and unreasonable of membership benefiting from the services of leadership, it is not as bad as having no cash or resources to run the day to day operations of a business. Nevertheless, abandoned leadership becomes the scapegoat and target of agents and agencies outside the organization. In fact abandoned leadership is “magically” held responsible for all the “past and future” failings of the organization. This unfortunate state of affairs is deplorable because while the organization exists for the membership and the benefit of service receivers, leaders are blamed for its failings. It is assumed that it is leaders who are responsible for the delivery of outcomes in total disregard of service providers, the environment and the contribution of the receivers! If you find an organization with abandoned leadership this is not the organization to join or takeover, unless you have the capacity to take over the business without injuring your person. However, organizations with abandoned leadership are very cheap to buy and extremely expensive (loss making) to sustain or revive! From a leaders point of view there may be too much at stake!

One of the glaring components that you will find in limping organizations that could do better is the continued existence of an outdated business process. The process may have delivered sterling results in the past, but has been overtaken by the times, technology and techniques of the day. The challenge with this feature is that it requires a complete organization overhaul to have the business conform to the current trend, methods, and available ways of doing business. Archaic business processes my are effective, but they tend to be inefficient and incapable of winning new business or market share. If the business you are taking over has a weak economic engine, it will take time and a large amount of capital to fix.Most times the only way this can be done is by replacement.

The last quality you should consider before taking over a limping organization is to consider its vision, mission and “natural evolution”. I remember booking a training venue in a limping hotel and the sales agent telling me “this organization has been sold several times over, but it has been unable to get away from its political roots”. The organization was founded by a politician who used it to hold political meetings. Many owners later the managers were unable to “uproot” it from its political tradition into a business conference venue. The organization had built a culture that had become a fixture with its physical assets. Anybody taking over the hotel with a new vision was bound to come against its tradition. However, while tradition can be a very mean thing to change, some organizations come into existence for all the wrong reasons. Either they were coerced into existence or formed to get over an obstacle. Once the obstacle is overcome, these organizations lose their reason for existence and become wandering nomads boasting of some historic success that they can always point to. Such organizations are hard to lead because they have a very selfish vision. They look inward and rearward instead of outward and forward. They are selfish rather than selfless. They serve their own interests rather than the interests of others. It does not matter what kind of leader takes over this limping organization it will always return a second rate performance!      

While organizations may become and continue as limping organizations for various other reasons, lack of resources, abandoned leaders and lack of vision tend to be the last nail that seals the status of the organizations future. Young, inexperienced and enthusiastic leaders cannot be blamed for trying their hand at leading such organizations desperately in search of new leadership; however, nobody would dare risk giving these “new” leaders a chance to lead a successful organization. What matters perhaps is not that leaders should avoid such organizations, but that leaders taking over limping organization with intent to turn them into leading organization should know how to go about it. A limping organization cannot hope to get on to the winning track without the requisite resources, a supported leadership team and a service oriented mission.

Allan Bukusi   

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