Built to Last: Rally Champ Organizations

In work with our client-partners we often come across artifacts of previous consulting projects. It’s worth digging into a couple of examples. In the first case the client spent hundreds of thousand of dollars on culture and strategy work from a big management consulting firm. You’d recognize the name. The consultants did their study, gave their recommendations, and left behind an incredible, beautiful, exhaustive report that takes hours of pouring over to appreciate the intricacy and detail. The recommendations are precise. The formulas are built on benchmarking from thousands of other companies. The reassuring message of the thorough report is, “just follow these instructions and everything will be okay.”You can’t argue with the logic.

If the organization was a car, the promise of the management consulting firm is that if you do the right engineering you’ll build a self-driving car, the picture of efficiency. Tinker enough and all your problems will be addressed by the underlying algorithms. Just hit the autopilot button and enjoy the ride. 

The second case comes from a client who hired a big leadership company who gets teams in a room together and do a corporate version of group therapy. You’d recognize the name. The output is a simple, consistent story of what a leader is, and what leaders say and do. Everyone in the company who wants to advance reads the books sold by this consultant and uses the language that’s been adopted at the top. The recommendations are precise. “Just be a healthy leader and everything will be okay,” it says. You can’t argue with the logic.

If the organization was a car, the promise of the leadership training consultant is that if you become a good enough driver you can maneuver your car anywhere you want, more efficiently, and without getting into relational wrecks.

Leadership prowess and the trust you build with your team will help you manage away all your problems. (Pay no mind to the fact that you’re driving a 1988 Mercury Topaz.)

This may surprise you, but I have no issue with either of these approaches. The problem is that each is blind to the other, and neither a self-driving car, tooling around the streets of Tucson, or a polite and skilled driver, perfectly maneuvering their ‘88 Topaz through the ‘burbs will end up on the podium in the race we’re participating in. The shifting landscape of the marketplace can’t be boiled down to a list of finite factors to adjust organizational algorithms around. The real world is not a test track or quiet neighborhood. We’re on a curving, tree-lined racetrack with constantly changing surfaces and ramps designed to show just how much hang time we have the nerves to risk. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but we’re in a rally race, aren’t we? No AI-powered Prius or well-mannered Mercury is going to finish the race in one piece. What we need is the organizational version of a 2020 Subaru Impreza WRX STI VT19x Rallycross Supercar in the hands of an ice-in-the-veins half-crazed, singularly-focused professional race team that drives with lightning-quick fingers and toes melded to machine so interdependently that you can’t tell where the car ends and the human begins.

The best driver doesn’t get to the podium without the best car, and vice versa. Organizations who win the race need top-of-the-line systems obsessively tuned by an expert team. The best drivers in the world need responsive and tight machines to do their best, and just like the tires, brakes, steering, suspension, and powertrain of a race car are constantly upgraded and replaced, we need organizational operating systems that are always being upgraded to deliver the right sensations and data to best-in-class leaders. High quality leaders and high quality structure and strategy; we need the value offered by both types of consultants!

The world’s best leaders understand the cyclical nature of organizational systems. The policies, budget systems, people practices, marketing messages, and training programs of organizations are invisible forces that shape the day to day decisions of everyone in the organization, including the leaders. And it’s equally true that by implementing structures, systems, and strategies the same leaders influence how their own behavior will be shaped. 

So choose! Acknowledge that (1) the track of business in 2019 is more like a rally race than any other track, (2) the organizations that move us along the track determine our behavior, and (3) we get to choose what we drive. 

How does your car and team measure up? Consider the following questions and choose to build and drive the organization that can take your team to the podium. 

  • Do you have the most responsive and helpful systems in place?
  • How do your people practices, strategic framework, and decision-making cadence help or hinder your performance?
  • Do you have a healthy, skilled team at the wheel?
  • Do you paint a crystal clear vision for what it means to be a leader in your organization?
  • Does your current recruiting, development, and coaching processes help or hinder creating a team that can maneuver your organization to the podium?
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