As humans, we grow up, reach our prime, and then walk the road of wisdom as a simple function of time. In other words, we grow old.
However, businesses don’t face the same sort of mandatory aging.
Instead, your business can, in theory, stay in top form for as long as you’d like. Here’s how you and your business can defy the laws of gravity for as long as you (and even your successors) would like!
First, a little background
I coach my clients and their top leadership teams using the Predictable Success model. The content this article builds on that same framework. You can read more about the model here Predictable Success model if you’d like. Specifically, an organization reaches its top form, the peak of its ability to scale; in a period we call Predictable Success.
If you are unfamiliar with the model, don’t worry. As we go through this article, you’ll see the phrase “stay in Predictable Success” you can simply translate that to “keep your business in top form” and get the same value and understanding.
How do you stay in Predictable Success?
To have reached Predictable Success, you have defied all the odds and statistics. We estimate less than 1% of all new companies make it to Predictable Success, so well done!
Now, you will want to stay in Predictable Success for as long as you possibly can. You may expect the strategy for maintaining this elite status to be some ultra-fancy, hard-to-understand plan with a level of complexity unrivaled by a manned trip to Mars. The truth is it is quite simple. Well, at least it is quite easy to understand.
To stay in Predictable Success, you need to hold vision, creativity, and initiative in balance with execution, system, and process.
I like to use the word tension instead of balance. I believe it’s a more honest view of what is going on. Using the word balance makes it seem like Predictable Success is problem-free. Ironically, it is this very thought process that drives an organization out of success, either pushing it back into Whitewater or forward into the next stage Treadmill.
The Four Leadership Styles
To understand why this tension is necessary, we need to briefly discuss the four leadership styles you need on your top team to keep it in Predictable Success. For more information on the four leadership style, you can read Les’s book, The Synergist and you can find your leadership style using this free quiz.
Here are the four leadership styles at a glance:
- The Visionary: Carries the mission, culture, passion, and entrepreneurial spark for your team. They (usually you) need to paint a clear picture of the horizon, stick to it, and tell everyone about it.
- The Operator: These ruthless finishers get the job done, and you probably owe much of your success to their tireless work.
- The Processor: Processors are a critical addition to your leadership team if you want your business to have the capacity to scale.
- The Synergist: The Synergist style brings the relational glue that holds a top-performing team of Visionaries, Operators, and Processors together for the long haul.
To stay in Predictable Success, your top team needs all four styles. The tricky part is this. Each style sees the world differently, and each style has different priorities and approaches to solving problems and seizing opportunities. This diversity of thought and opinion can either drive a team apart or make them great together.
The Enterprise Commitment
To help pull the team together, I would encourage your whole team to make the Enterprise Commitment:
When working in a team or group environment, I will place the enterprise’s interests ahead of my own.
To a hammer, everything is a nail. To a Visionary, every answer is a new innovative product or service. To an Operator, every answer is to stop talking and just get it done. To a Processor, every answer is to create a system or process that forever solves the problem. To a synergist, every answer is to do what is best for the people involved.
The Enterprise Commitment asks that you bring your strength to the team while recognizing your answer isn’t always the one to choose.
Working in Cycles
If you have the right team, you will find the natural rhythm in Predictable Success looks less like a straight line and more like a series of loops. In each loop, there will be three phases.
- Phase 1 is Visionary dominant. New ideas are formed and tried. Risks are taken, and goals set.
- In Phase 2, one of those ideas sticks, and the Operators take the lead. The idea matures, but with the focus on doing on getting it done, it isn’t always pretty, but it allows you to find out if it will or will not work in the real world.
- In Phase 3, the Processors take the lead. Here the new idea is either set aside as an interesting experiment or systematized for repeatability and scaled throughout the organization.
There are no clear lines between these phases, and different parts of the company will be in different phases at any given point in time. The important thing to remember is that this type of cycle and shifting balance of prominence within the team is what makes Predictable Success companies so predictably successful.
The cycles also serve as a sort of guard rail system. If the organization gets stuck in Phase 1 dreaming then trying then dreaming then trying without anything holding or gaining momentum, then the organization is likely to slip back into Whitewater.
Conversely, if the organization gets stuck in Phase 3 and fails to fire up the risk-taking and innovation of Phase 1, it will over-focus on efficiency and start to slide into Treadmill.
Focusing on enterprise-wide innovation
A key distinction between business in Predictable Success and the next stage, Treadmill, is how innovation happens within the company. In Predictable Success, everyone talks about, AND everyone is responsible for doing it. However, in Treadmill, though everyone still talks about it, innovation is delegated to a particular team or division within the company.
To stay in Predictable Success, you want to continue to encourage and consistently reinforce innovation in every department. Doing this will ensure you can continue to create new and lasting value and prevents you from merely riding out the last wave.
I have found goal setting systems like OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) and 4DX (Four Disciplines of Execution) to be particularly helpful in “systematizing” true innovation. When used correctly, virtually any organization-wide goal setting will create and reinforce individual ownership and self-accountability throughout each level of the organization from the front-line to the top leadership. They do this by creating room for individuals to try new things and fail at some (or even many) without repercussions. This broad-scale capacity for risk is a crucial contributor to sustained success for any company.
Preparing for key transitions
Transitions in the leadership, management, and top performers can potentially push a company out of Predictable Success quickly. The key here is advanced preparation. Transition planning is one of those essential tasks that we struggle to focus on due to a lack of urgency. Unfortunately, preparing a transition plan with it is urgent is a sure way to set yourself up for failure.
Here are a few examples of transitions you need to prepare for in advance:
- The Founder’s Exit: While a whole book could be written on this topic alone, for this article, a Predictable Success company must maintain a robust Visionary voice. Choosing the right successor, keeping the VOPS balance right pithing the leadership team, and building the Visionary style into the organization’s very structure all help an organization stay in top form and succeed beyond the leadership of its Founder. This is true for a non-founding Visionary’s exit as well.
- Ownership Changes: This often happens in conjunction with the Founder’s exit. New ownership can have a massive impact on a company in Predictable Success. If they push too hard or cut too deep, the business can fall back into Whitewater. However, the more common and even more problematic outcome is that the new buyer is in Treadmill or the Big Rut and the acquisition sucks the entrepreneurial zeal from the company and pulls it into the “safer” and more “efficient” territories on the right side of the Predictable Success model.
- Key leadership transitions: The hard truth of a healthy organization is that everyone is replaceable. This is hardly a license to hang it over people’s heads, and Predictable Success organization doesn’t have the time or stomach for that kind of bureaucracy anyway. Still, it is critical that the organization prepare, in advance, to fill any vacancy at the leadership level rapidly. In advance is the key phrase. Without prior planning, moving too quickly on key leadership changes can be disastrous. Put another way; succession planning isn’t only for the top leader. You might be able to get away with that kind of thinking in Fun, but it’s no way to keep an organization in top form.
- Acquisitions by your company: Another key transition to be aware of is your company’s acquisition of another business. Depending on the relative size of the acquired company, it is not uncommon for an acquisition to pull the combined company back into Whitewater for a period. From the top, tough decisions need to be made quickly regarding the organizational and management structure of the new “combined” company to get it back into Predictable Success. The best way to facilitate this transition is to walk back through the steps that got the company through Whitewater in the first place, starting with the Org Chart (you can read more about those here.)
- New divisions or product/service lines: Many transitions of key leaders happen within a company. As a new division is formed, the rights leaders must be appointed. I’m a fan of using a mixture of insiders and outsiders to lead new ventures. Again, careful consideration must be given to the new division, and the leadership vacancies left behind in the existing divisions.
Wrapping it up
If you’ve made it to Predictable Success, you’ve worked too hard to let that go to waste. As the leader, it is up to you to lead the way in diligence keeping the organization from slipping back into Whitewater and avoiding the temptation to slide into Treadmill. Focusing your energy in these key areas is like using a small rudder to steer a large ship. You can be incredibly effective without expending an excessive amount of energy.