Thursday, March 14, 2013

The calm AFTER the storm

By: Alon Cohen EVP/CTO

Many articles discuss the relationship between company culture and leadership, and its strong correlation to the success of those companies.

One aspect of company culture that I want to discuss here is the sense of urgency that a company might or might not have. Sense of urgency to finish projects ahead of time, to deliver faster and to be the first to market. Some might call it competitiveness. There are, however, different types of competitive organizations and competitiveness, almost like our own good and bad cholesterol. The first type exist in organizations like Microsoft where the competition is between different teams and between employees inside the company, as attested by some of my friends who used to work there and a few articles. That internal competition in many cases impedes teamwork. 

The second type is the good one. It is the type of competitiveness which is projected outside the company. It lets the company be competitive as a team against outside threats and it provides companies the push to succeed. One aspect of that competitive drive is the sense of urgency.

Sometimes, however, even a good sense of urgency is not sufficient. I have noticed that many times a company will work towards a goal and achieve it ahead of its competitors. Results may look good and everyone is happy to come to work. In fact the company is so happy and self-content that it becomes complacent. The company keep comparing itself to its old self and forgets that now the game has changed. At this point every competitor is scrambling to do the same and even better if they are analyzing the product, identify places that can be improved and fix them in their own upcoming product. 

If you extend that “calm after the [release] storm” period, you basically give your competition time to recuperate, and you make it easy for them to get back into the game. The longer you stay calm the more chance they have to close the gap and maybe even win the race to the next goal.

Minimizing that period of complacency is critical to the company’s future. The company needs to be happy with its achievement but only for a very short while. It must set new goals, and start racing towards its new goal. It must also set its latest achievement as the new baseline and set goals to beat that yet again.

It is mentally hard to race against yourself when you know the competition is still behind. It is almost as mentally challenging as the “Individual time trials” in the Tour De France, in which cyclists pedal solo and are timed against the clock instead of against another rider.

Take for instance Microsoft. They released windows mobile in the early 2000 and as if they forgot they worked on it, they never followed through with it. Were they calm and complacent? Probably as usual. This gave Apple and later Google a chance to not only close the gap, but even win the market completely.

Apple on the other hand kept the pace up and kept the development and production pipelines warm as was proven by the rate at which they innovate and came out with new iXXX products, with new form factors and new software updates.

It is those companies and entrepreneurs who keep challenging themselves and keep outdoing themselves, that eventually collect the big rewards. Remember the old saying "the fact that you are not paranoid, does not mean there is no one chasing you".

What do you think?