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What keeps organizations stuck in the present?

What keeps an organization stuck in the present (or struggling to get out of the past)?:

  • Holding on to sunk investment — Organizations hold tight to the big systems and assets they have invested in, often limiting their ability to move elsewhere, but also framing their thinking about what they can and should do.
  • Tradition — For example, social organizations such as the Boy Scouts or Freemasons have deep-set traditions that factor in their ability to even conceive of change. 
  • Inability to change the business model — Corporations and nonprofits face limits on their ability to evolve or jump to a new revenue or business model, for example to scale up or down their revenues, sales or donor volume, etc.
  • Defined by others — For example, the United States Air Force struggles to take up roles in cybersecurity. It is defined historically and in the public eye by its role for 70 years operating military aircraft. Similarly, organizations are often defined by Wall Street. A blue chip firm isn’t supposed to suddenly act like a start up, plunging into a new marketplace, or taking its operations and investment in a new direction.
  • Market drifting away — For example, cable outlets such as ESPN may have a steady-state view of their markets and an interest in continuing to push for market share and viewership, even as entertainment viewing has moved to mobile devices, non-real-time viewing
  • Fear of change/inability to imagine positive change — Not having a positive vision of what’s ahead, or at least a sense of taking intentional action to try for a positive future leaves organizations locked in current, often defensive behavior.
  • Pollyannism — Excessive optimism — the habit of thinking things will come around or that there are no threats that really matter. A simple human tendency or temperament, this can also be an affliction of whole organizations.

What to do about it — How to get un-stuck

1. Inventory how your organization is stuck. Pull together a few colleagues who you think are ready to think differently. Together, inventory the way your organization is “stuck”. Consider each of the items above. Which applies to your organization. How?

2. Identify critical forces of change. Make the case for change. Decide what those critical forces mean. Do they compel you to make changes? What is stopping you?

3. Pose sobering, critical “what ifs” for the organization. These should be powerful changes that would require the organization to change. What do they imply you need to do differently?

4. Get beyond key biases. Tell each other what they are. List them. What are they rooted in? See more here.

5.http://Setting aside biases Armed with these self-assessments, open up the conversation about needed change. Go at it. Don’t backslide!

Other prior posts with some good insights on this:

Image: Han Solo in Carbonite, William Warby, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution license

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