John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Crashing or Coasting?

Crashing or coasting?

Depends on if you are on the outside looking in or the inside looking out.

Unfortunately, you see it a lot in business. It’s almost a predictable arc–rising, leveling and, like a star, eventually imploding.

It starts with breaking through initial barriers and onto the scene. Followed by rapid and dynamic growth for a sustained period until it becomes an institution of sorts. Then there is a plateauing. An uneasy period where management becomes more concerned about maintaining market share than growing it…because, frankly, it already has about all the market share it can ever get.

And then there is a disconnect. Slow at first and only noticeable to those looking for it. But then noticeable to a growing number of others. But not to management. Until the decline has begun. Sometimes management notices and faces the problem then and tries to reverse course. Other times a new management team is brought on because the current team is unable to see the problem clearly or navigate out of the crisis they inadvertently created. And if neither of these take place, there is the crash. Sometimes its soft; sometimes hard. Sometimes swift; sometimes slow. But the crash is inevitable.

In the final stage the company is no longer nimble. No longer responsive to customers. It takes them for granted. Instead of trying to see ahead and anticipate market demands and adjust early to them the company instead rests on its laurels and tries to prevent the natural changes from happening within the industry—ironically, the same changes this once great company used to break into a leadership position by being more responsive than their former complacent competitors. The former agent of change has become the agent for the status quo.

They resist change during this phase not because change will hurt better delivery of their products or services to customers but because change has become an inconvenience for management. The company is no longer “client centered” but “self centered.” And they have long forgotten the day when they counted on their once larger competitors to believe that self-importance was a successful long-term growth strategy in business. It never is.

They will eventually remember this truth. That is inevitable too. But sadly that is almost always “after” the inevitable crash–not before.


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