“Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” – Winston Churchill Merriam-Webster defines the word continuity as an, “uninterrupted connection, succession, or union.” We at ICOSA define the word continuity as allowing projects to build on one another instead of starting over each time. By reusing and rebuilding infrastructure and resource management systems, collaborative organizations have a vantage point, and can ascend faster to higher levels of productivity. With endless possibilities of how to grow, expand and transform, this collaborative cycle could tap into the infinite. We also look at continuity as preserving best practices that bring strong results in a changing world.
Lessons of the snail
The snail is a symbol for evolving strategies, tactics and solutions for sustainable improvement. Its spiral growth symbolizes that with each passing we should get stronger. The spiral shape of the snail’s shell helps us remember that adaptation is a continually cycling process.
In order for an organization to build wisely for the future, it must first reflect on what it already has established. Smart organizations build on established infrastructure, resources and vision from the past as the basis for the next round. The snail reminds us not only to master other skills-building interconnections, gathering resources, creating vision and transforming theory to practice but continually improving these processes gradually, day by day.
Unfortunately the sad reality is that many start-ups will fail. Shikhar Ghosh, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, remarks on the failure of companies by saying, “If failure means liquidating all assets, with investors losing most or all the money they put into the company, then the failure rate for start-ups is 30 to 40 percent. If failure refers to failing to see the projected return on investment, then the failure rate is 70 to 80 percent. If failure is defined as declaring a projection and then falling short of meeting it, then the failure rate is a whopping 90 to 95 percent.”[i]
Considering this, if a company is effective, but not efficient, its focus should be on implementation of continuous efficiency improvement measures. But how can a company really measure continuity?
There are several ways. First, measure what matters—industry, size, geography, complexity, standards and those that are best-in-class. Or link qualitative and quantitative measurements with strategic profitable goals throughout the organization; or by linking incremental, measurable goals that are associated with tasks and events; or by plotting the historical lagging indicators as well as forward-leading indicators.
Jim Collins proposes that we face continuous uncertainty and that we cannot control, or accurately predict, significant aspects of the world around us. Furthermore, what he calls the “doom loop” is really a “vicious circle that unsuccessful companies fall into, rushing first in one direction, then another, in the hope of creating a sudden, sharp break with the past that will propel them to success. Some attempt to do this through acquisitions, others through bringing in a new leader who decides to change direction completely, sometimes in a direction incompatible with the company. The results are never successful. The difference between the two approaches is characterized by the slow, steady, methodical preparation inherent in the flywheel, as compared to the abrupt, radical, and often revolutionary, rather than evolutionary changes within the company.”[ii] Most good things take time to develop and emerge properly. If you try to speed up the birth of a baby bird, or help the butterfly hatch from the chrysalis, you will generally cripple them and the process.
Companies failing after 10 years
If an organization wants to reach the top, and stay there, it will require constant improvement of every system. Organizations have to consistently move forward, creating something new, something bigger and something better to keep its stakeholders interested.
W. Edward Deming believed in 14 points, two of which are continuity driven. The first is to “create constancy of purpose toward improvement of product and service, with the aim to become competitive and to stay in business, and to provide jobs.”[iii] Deming also purports that companies can “improve constantly and forever the system of production and service, to improve quality and productivity, and thus constantly decrease cost.”[iv]
In 1981, Ford Motor Company incurred $3 billion in losses while sales were rapidly declining. Deming was recruited by Division Quality Manager John Manaoogian to kick-start a quality undertaking. Deming questioned the company's culture, and the technique its managers used. To Ford's surprise, Deming talked not about quality, but about management. He reported that management actions were responsible for 85 percent of all problems in developing better cars at Ford. In 1986, Ford came out with a profitable line of cars, the Taurus-Sable line, thus making it the most profitable American auto company and for the first time since the 1920s surpassing General Motors. Ford’s Chair Donald Peterson told Autoweek Magazine, “We are moving toward building a quality culture at Ford, and the many changes that have been taking place here have their roots directly in Deming’s teachings.”[v]
Nothing is constant. Change is inevitable. Many managers are more comfortable building a new organizational structure than deciding when the old ones must go, and it is the function of company leadership to develop solutions that continually work for the common good.
Continuity of strong companies
In 1990, Richard Pascale wrote that relentless change requires businesses to continuously reinvent themselves. While the creature characteristics, which have been discussed in previous ICOSA issues, are sure to aid an organization’s efforts, they are not what truly drive growth. Downward trends, due to inevitable diminishing market demands, are certain, unless they have a plan for continual growth and development.
Kaizen is a Japanese word that focuses upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering and business management.[vi] The Kaizen strategy calls for never-ending efforts at improvement involving everyone in the organization—managers and workers alike. Great leaders inspire people around them to become better. And people want to do their best because of their leadership.
The best businesses—the ones that continue to survive, even when massive market shifts affect their industry—are ruthless about improvement. They find new ways to educate their customers, employees and partners. They look at their processes, policies and systems and ask themselves: “How can we make this more efficient? What don’t we need anymore? What do we need now?” And they don’t fall into the “We’ve always done it this way,” trap, which causes companies to struggle and fall.[vii]
Nothing fails like success
Continuity is the key to creating an appreciation of value. “Nothing fails like success,” claims Richard Pascale, which means that what was strength yesterday becomes the root of weakness today.
Whether we like it or not, our world has reached a frantic pace of consumption; that which is first innovative and exciting, quickly becomes outdated and obsolete. With each new generation comes new perspectives, new standards of service and higher demands. Without the ability to expand and update products or services, the natural tendency of an organization is to spiral downward. To stay in demand, an organization must constantly innovate, infiltrate and regenerate.
People problems become more time consuming; technology problems become more complex; management becomes more difficult. Circulation strategies require ever-widening resources and thinking; facilities are ever-expanding and more expensive; markets are elusive and ever-changing and products require an endless battle against margin creep and staleness. Oftentimes, companies lose sight of what exactly it was they set out to do.
Guidelines for successful continuity include:
- Never stop growing; always stretch yourself.
- Work on areas of weakness that don’t come naturally.
- Learn discipline by practicing sound fundamentals, over and over again until you can act naturally.
- Sustain a consistent effort over an extended period of time.
- Although there are interruptions and delays, never lose sight of your goals.
- Don’t live in a shell (even though snails do).
- Unless you try to do something beyond what you have mastered, you will never grow.
- Be a gracious loser and a perpetual student.
- Remember the power of process, the power of repetition, and the power of endorsement.
Continuity is hard work. “Almost nothing works the first time it’s attempted. Just because what you’re doing does not seem to be working, doesn’t mean it won’t work. It just means that it might not work the way you’re doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn’t have an opportunity,”[viii] declares Bob Parsons, executive chair and founder of GoDaddy.com.
Time and the acceleration of change can work for or against us. The repetitive animation of a twisting spiral is a reality check that reminds us that successive growth becomes successively more difficult and can cause a downward spiral in an organization. It is one thing to reach the top: it is quite another to stay there. And the most difficult and most neglected is continuity ensuring relevancy and longevity.