You only need one to succeed

Successful businesses, projects, endeavours need one thing.

And they get to choose – or, actually, they usually default to one.

It’s the reason startups walk all over the established (until they become established), why one organization leaps ahead while another flounders, and why some projects can be turned around even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

If you’re starting a business or project, it’s worth considering the following choices – and be honest with yourself. Thinking you can do one and not being able to lead to failure. Not seeing when one has stopped working and changing is another sure path to failure.

Your choices/default options are:

  1. Be, or engage, a charismatic/inspiring leader – usually seen in successful startups and works well until growth and scale are needed or happen. Also look for this style in project and business turnaround environments. As organizations grow and the charismatic leader gets further from the original team the effectiveness usually fades and the leader is baffled and bewildered and the troops get increasingly disillusioned. There are exceptions of course but they are rare. We all know stories of charismatic leaders so no need to call them out – but note while many people think they are charismatic; what we think about ourselves doesn’t matter. What matters is what other people think and what they’ll do in response to our leadership.
  2. Establish a worthy mission people want to be part of – works from startup to large. In these organizations, people feel as though they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, something they understand, something they feel good about and are proud of. Often these organizations don’t even have to pay top dollar. Medical companies, public sector organizations and many others fit this bill but if they try, most organizations can work out a worthy mission, build a story around it and keep people engaged and committed. This is the area engagement surveys try to measure. At the charismatic stage, no one ever thinks to measure it – it’s working.
  3. Provide something (apart from a leader or mission) employees want – works at all levels but is the toughest to set up and maintain. Usually results in high turnover but if done well can create long-term loyal alumni. Unless the salary/remuneration is very high forget it as a lever. Though very high salary works, so does reputation (I was good enough to get in), access to influential networks, and evidence of long-term benefits to those who’ve been there before. Some of the top consulting houses do this very well.

Of course, rarely, an organisation has all three and there is no stopping them. But for most, one of the three suffices.

In the absence of any of them, or a tired clinging to one which used to work, the path is strewn with frustration, disenchantment, people ‘ dialling it in’ and increasing bureaucracy to ‘protect the organization from the very people who should be creating the results. The next step is fear based and conflicted based organizations and that at stage productivity is low and people spend most of their time talking and fantasizing about beings somewhere else.

It’s not hard to tell where an organization sits in the picture. Usually no more than a walk around and a conversation with a sample of people. The challenge comes in accepting the truth and being willing to do something differently.

I’m all about projects/programs/initiatives/ endeavours – and the first thing we at RNC do when setting up a project from scratch or turning it around is to make the choice, build the story and get it out there.