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When a business loses its way and starts to decline – irrespective of size or age – the core reason is almost always some version of numbness.
Numbness to the customer, numbness to change, numbness to feedback – any or all of these are usually lurking in the not-yet-obviously-failing company, the usual suspects, silently spreading a lukewarm, sometimes comfortable rigor mortis through the skeleton and organs of the company.
First, perhaps, in the fingers and toes (interaction with the customer), now, slowly still, in the arms and legs (supply chain, in and out), then, perhaps a little faster, to the heart and the brain (vision and leadership).
How can this happen to once proud, once vibrant companies?
How can a business be the passionate expression of a vibrant vision one day, and a zombie-like husk, a pale comparison of its more successful competitors the next?
Well, the main answer is that it doesn’t.
Happen in a day, that is. Businesses don’t (generally) suffer the kind of blunt trauma incident that might put a human into a coma instantaneously.
Instead, in a business, the numbness, as we’ve seen, starts quietly, unannounced, almost certainly unrecognized, in a small backwater, or somewhere far from oversight.
Then it grows – as institutional numbness always will (it being a parasite of bureaucracy, which drives out initiative, creativity and risk-taking), quietly coursing through the veins of the organization until it finally chokes the heart and shuts down the brain, leaving a shell of a business that cannot innovate, cannot compete, and is destined to die.
This process can take a lifetime (literally), or a generation, or a decade.
My observation is that generally, eighty percent of the damage is done over a 3 – 5 year period – a short time, relatively speaking, but still glacially slow enough for the process to go unnoticed until the damage is almost irreversible.
"When a business loses its way and starts to decline – irrespective of size or age – the core reason is almost always some version of numbness" - Les McKeown, Founder and CEO, Predictable Success
How do you guard against numbness?
In my next post I’ll share the single most effective way to inoculate your business against creeping numbness – a surprisingly simple, yet very rarely used process (feel free to jump the gun with your own ideas in the comments below).
In the meantime, just flex your fingers and toes a little.