Mobilizing an organization is like trying to start a social movement. To some extent, the work of the leader is predictable. As CEO, we have to create an ambitious, yet doable vision. We have to get the right people in place with all the right tools and processes. We have to enroll them in our bold vision and engage them in doing what needs to be done. Working together, we have to build enough momentum to drive it home. That much is predictable.
What isn’t predictable, especially in a corporate environment, are what things will kill momentum during execution.
Corporate Momentum Killers fall under four broad categories: friction, energy vampires, errors in judgment and black holes. Many of these will not appear until we start to move into action.
A company really only begins to move when people are passionate and excited about its ambition. To minimize friction from the get go, choose an ambition that aligns with the essence of the company and honors its core values.
Deeply entrenched beliefs about the company’s priorities can stall forward motion. People can still be loyal to old missions that have outlived their time, so put those projects to rest. Tell people the “why” behind your new strategic choices.
People tend to resist change. Apportion the changes you are introducing to the organization.
People can also be loyal to “the way we do things around here” (a.k.a. culture). Extensive culture change initiatives are costly. Instead of tackling culture change head on, deftly update the corporate values and recalibrate the standards of behavior to better support the new ambition.
Unnecessary layers of complexity will also create friction. Dedicated resources ridding the company of its excess bureaucracy can increase everyone’s capacity to move with more ease and speed.
Even when we address organizational friction, we may still find we have sources of interpersonal drag in house. Constant complainers will be overtly rebellious in opposing what we are up to and how we are going about doing it. With recalcitrant resisters and silent sloths, it will be their actions—or inaction—that speaks volumes about what they believe and that sabotages the company’s forward movement. Then there is the leader playing a key role whom no one listens to and whom no one is really following. All energy vampires must either be transformed or set free—the leader without followers going first.
Errors in Judgement
Interpersonal drag aside, there will always be a certain amount of organizational inertia we have to cut through as we mobilize. The challenge here is that we have to run the company while we change it. And the fast pace of business will often pull us to make one of two fatal mistakes: either we try to do too much in the first year or we try to introduce too much change all at once.
Make sure your organization is fit enough to run well—first—before you try to run it fast.
The last thing we want to do is to throw the organization off balance, especially just as it’s starting to pick up speed. Design wisely here: look closely at what the organization is capable of, where and what the gaps are, and how long it will take to fully power up. Use that information to inform the pace of organizational changes and the sequencing of Mobilization initiatives.
Enter Momentum Killer’s Hall of Fame. Black holes have no momentum. These collapsed “stars” absorb everything around them and give nothing back. They generate a sense of hopelessness and defeat.
A black hole can take your whole company down.
Black holes include:
- A purpose or ambition that doesn’t honor the company’s history, its character or its culture
- A strategic choice that has everyone applying all their energy to something the company could never do in time
- A leader playing a key role in Mobilization who isn’t intensely aligned with you and what the organization is up to
- A decision that introduces too much change all at once and that creates chaos and confusion.
All black holes represent, at some level, a poor choice. Either we have incorrectly assessed our organization’s current capabilities and the real risks in execution. Or we have misread the situation or the person. These errors can be painful to recognize. They can be even more painful to deny.
In all cases, move from awareness into action. Cut your losses. Declare a new ambition. Choose a new goal more aligned with the company’s capabilities to fulfill the value agenda. Retool top of house as necessary. Address confusion and adjust the rate of change.
The ability to discern that an organization’s execution is being impacted by a Momentum Killer is an important CEO competency. Even more important is the ability to use Momentum Builders, specific tools designed to focus people’s individual and collective energy, to increase business readiness. The rest of the articles in this Momentum series will explore how these tools help increase engagement and alignment, mitigate risks in execution, and support value creation and capture.
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