Success can make you slow as you earn the right to much bigger problems
In my 2006 book, Speed Lead, I wrote about how “success can make you slow”. You have to be a great company to become global, to need virtual team working and matrix management. Terrible companies never grow that big.
However, the very success that allowed you to grow, also means you have earned the right to a much bigger set of problems. Doing anything at scale is harder than doing it in a smaller organization. The more integrated your organization becomes, the more people need to be involved, the more you need to collaborate across distance, cultures, time zones and through technology, and the more complicated your organization structure usually becomes.
Experienced managers often look back to a supposedly “simpler time” – a golden age – where meetings were more efficient, decisions were made more quickly and the overhead was lower. They were, but then your business was much more simple and probably less successful.
So, does success inevitably lead to institutional sclerosis? Just as there are relatively few organizations that ever-grow big enough to experience these kinds of challenges, there are relatively few very large organizations that survive for many decades.
Success at this new level of complexity isn’t about repeating the things that made us successful in simpler times. In leadership for example, the rules change when you are leading matrix and virtual organizations. You can’t rely on “management by walking around” or on leaders knowing everything that is going on in their area of operation. Control needs to become more distributed across the organization or response times and decision-making become slow.
This can be a challenging time for leaders who became successful at an earlier stage of growth. The hard-won skills and approaches that made them so successful in the past can now be counter-productive. The consultative, team based style that worked in single site or single country organizations may actually be unnecessarily slow, expensive and complex when managing at global scale.
When complexity increases, for example, when you introduce a matrix structure for the first time, it’s important to go back to your ways of working, skill building and change management capability and make sure they are adapted to this new level of complexity. Things have changed in the way people lead and collaborate and our way of working needs to change to keep up.
Replicating the same skills and ways of working in a more complex structure is a recipe for failure.