How to save your company from extinction

Most organizations aren’t prepared to deal with change, says a recent survey by ADP and Environics.

Of the 100 HR professionals surveyed, just 38% strongly agree their company is well-equipped to adapt quickly to the changing needs of the workforce. And only about a third (35%) strongly view their company as a market leader.

Why? “Most companies still use a 20th century approach to people management,” said Greg Secord, ADP Canada’s president, at an event to launch the survey results.

Read: Global employee engagement levels plateau

Culture is an important factor in how HR professionals see their company’s potential. They identified “culture and employee retention” as the most or second-most critical factor in their organization’s success, followed by leadership development.

Jeremy Gutsche, CEO of and author of Better and Faster, agrees culture is key in building and maintaining a sustainable enterprise. “Your culture is more important than anything,” he said. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Read: Aligning corporate culture to benefits strategy

Falling behind
Why do some companies adapt and succeed while others fail? “Some of the most iconic brands—some of the most successful companies in the world—missed ideas right in front of them,” said Gutsche.

The average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company used to be 75 years, he noted. Today, it’s 15 years—and falling. “The reason why is, organizations are not structured to adapt.”

Citing companies like BlackBerry, myspace and Smith Corona as examples, “they retreated from opportunities that would change the world,” said Gutsche. “And that’s something that HR could have changed.”

Read: What are the 50 most engaged workplaces?

He believes this failure to evolve stems from our agrarian roots. “We are pre-wired to repeat and optimize whatever led to last year’s harvest.”

Companies often fall into the traps of a “farmer’s mentality,” explained Gutsche, becoming complacent, repetitive, and protective of their brand and its successes. Instead, they need to cultivate a hunter’s instincts:

  • Be insatiable (hungry for new ideas and challenges).
  • Be curious.
  • Be willing to destroy.

“When we’re successful, we repeat and optimize until perfection—and, unfortunately, until irrelevance,” he added.

Read: How enchanted objects will transform our world

Out with the old…
To break the cycle, Gutsche said companies need to focus on six key patterns:

  1. Acceleration – Rethink what people actually want.
  2. Cyclicality – Step back, look for clues and then act fast. “Trends seem really obvious in retrospect,” he noted.
  3. Convergence – Increase your odds of winning by aligning to multiple trends. People often think innovation is about the Eureka moment, but it’s actually “all of the little things that line up,” Gutsche explained.
  4. Reduction – Simplify and specialize to meet a particular need.
  5. Redirection – Rather than fighting an unstoppable force, re-channel the momentum.
  6. Divergence – Opposing the mainstream fuels success, so ask people what they hate about your industry and how it could be more customized. “The larger an organization is, the more they become predictable,” said Gutsche. “If you realize that and you diverge, you are able to become successful.”

“Your breakthrough is closer than you think…but recognize that your organization’s success is what blocks you,” he added.