We all know now that there’s no such thing as an organisation that is too big to fail. The oft quoted examples of Woolworth’s, Blockbuster, HMV and Northern Rock are the go to guys whenever anyone wants to demonstrate this point. The same people will also lament the key decisions, the forks in the road, that led to these institutions downfall. Next time someone does, ask them, if Woolworth’s or HMV had offered a music download service, if Blockbuster had been the first to offer movie streaming, if Northern Rock had concentrated more on their savings customers – what would these companies look like now?
Let’s take Blockbuster as an example. If they had decided that selling popcorn, sweets and pop wasn’t going to save their business; if they should lead the reinvention of the movie rental business for the stay at home postal and streaming service – what would the world look like now? Well given their brand and market presence undoubtedly they’d have signed up customers to their online service and in doing so they’d have accelerated the decline in their retail network- though admittedly, not by much. They’d have become a business with one division in rapid growth and another in terminal decline. And like any sensible business in this position they would have hived off the loss making arm into a separate entity. Fast forward a few years to a situation where the loss making company finally calls it a day and appoints the Administrators to wind up the business with the loss of jobs for the workforce and money for the creditors, such as the landlords. And what of the poster boy of the brand, the overnight success of rapid growth and marketplace innovation? Well, given the relative ease of entry into the marketplace that company has just been sold to the global, multi-playing behemoth – earning the shareholders a nice payday – yet rebranded to eventually disappear from our conscience .
So the parallel universe that “management consultants” earn their fortunes on need not necessarily end up being any different – the change is a constant, evolve or die mantra of which only a fool would stick their head above the parapet to disagree with – is it just the emperors new clothes?
Well, let’s look at the alternate option; who are the companies that survive because they stick to their principles and trust that by doing so they have a place in society or recognise where the end of the line is and manage their inevitable decline? On the whole these are the small trader – the family business handed down through the generations or the sole trader who knows their retirement signals the end of their own local institution. They build their business, they reap the rewards, they plan and accept the end.
So what can the corporate world learn from the mortals? How can they satisfy the demands of their shareholders and keep the CEO in their job?
Well the first lesson has to be to recognise that they don’t have to be immortal. You’re only worthwhile if you add value. If you’ve built your business as a master butcher don’t kid yourself that you still exist, just now you sell dog food. Secondly change doesn’t have to be constant; if you’re good at something keep being good at it – evolution not revolution. Thirdly, if the Finance Director tells you if everyone stops breathing the air will last longer – don’t agree with her logic, suck in as much air as you can in the time you have left to enjoy it. Fourthly, if you’re good, you got there because you have good people; look after them. Fifthly, try to get better at what you’re good at and to become good at new things too. Stop doing the things no one wants though, even if you’re still good at them. And finally, remember, that no business is too big to fail.
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Bryn Robinson-Morgan is an independent Business Consultant with interests in Identity Assurance, Agile Organisational Design and Customer Centric Architecture. Bryn has near 20 years experience working with some of the United Kingdom’s leading brands and largest organisations.