by Bob Domenz
“The most fatal illusion is the settled point of view. Since life is growth and motion, a fixed point of view kills anybody who has one.”
— Brooks Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for the New York Times
What is stagnation? Imagine a slow-growing toxic mold that eventually takes over your company, stifling your culture, development and progress, and retarding your ability to grow. In business, as in nature, stagnation breeds disaster. Lack of movement allows harmful antibodies to gather and breed. To avoid this, forward motion must be a constant, like a shark that has to continuously swim to stay alive.
All companies are at risk of becoming stagnant, and most every company has, or will, become so at one time or another. It’s a sneaky thing — often companies end up this way without even recognizing it until it’s too late. Even Apple, the most celebrated and referenced brand and business in history, stagnated for years before rejuvenating itself and transforming into the epic example the world admires today.
How to assess if your company is on a path to stagnation
Based on a decade-plus of experience helping companies reverse or avoid this path, we’ve identified seven telltale signs that a company is in danger of becoming stagnant:
- Lack of clear purpose and goals beyond financial targets
Are sales targets and revenues your only measure of success? Do you have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), such as dethroning a competitor or revolutionizing an industry? If you asked 20 managers and employees “What is our ‘purpose?’” would you get a consistent and impassioned answer?
- Waning leadership enthusiasm
Do your employees see a passionate and engaged leadership team? Do you see it? Does the leadership team engage in spirited and constructive debate with one another, or are they hesitant to say what they really think?
- Disengaged employees
Do you ever hear statements like “that’s not my job” or “that would never work here”? Can your employees articulate what the organization stands for and is trying to accomplish — and how they are helping? Do you have a culture that is uncomfortable for employees who are not aligned with your culture?
- Lack of innovation
How long has it been since you launched an innovation to your customers or within your business? What does your innovation pipeline look like today — are you excited about it?
- Infrequent significant “wins” and celebrations
What have you celebrated as a business lately? How often have you celebrated in the last 12 months? When was the last time you celebrated a specific employee’s or team’s success?
- Routine and procedure eclipse curiosity and enablement
Is your organization more focused on internal issues than customer needs? Does the page count of your policies and processes outnumber the “pages” of ideas on your whiteboards, easel pads and notebooks?
- Brand neglect
How long has it been since you’ve formally…
- Evaluated and articulated your value proposition, brand positioning and messaging strategy?
- Benchmarked your brand against the competition and new entrants in adjacent industries?
- Assessed if you are delivering a differentiated image in the marketplace and experience to your customer?
Businesses can get stuck when these signs become visible or are out of alignment. For example, if there are clear financial goals but no purpose, people may lack motivation and feel disengaged. If there is clear purpose but no processes and recognition of accomplishments, people may become frustrated. The first step to avoid stagnation is being aware of the signs.
The second step is taking the time to look in the mirror and formally and objectively assess where your company stands. Regularly evaluating the seven signs will help ensure your business and brand stays off the path to stagnation — and on the path to growth.
Bob Domenz is founder and CEO of Avenue, a Chicago-based marketing strategy and activation firm that partners with B2B leaders to transform their businesses and brands, and launch new products. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org