Popping The Toxic Bubble: The Secrets Of Successful Business Change
It’s like a bad marriage where both spouses lack the needed perspective to see how their dynamics keep poisoning the well. They’re in a toxic bubble that will eventually doom the relationship if they don’t try to break out of it.
Businesses can find themselves trapped in the same kind of toxic bubble. Leadership often can’t see the forest for the trees — and their staff, who might detect disaster in the wind, are often too afraid to speak up. Bureaucracy becomes more important than purpose. Protocols trump profits. That leads to moments when management makes a bad decision — and when they’re called on it, they too often double down on their mistake to prove themselves right, rather than reverse course. Egos become the archenemy of common sense. A successful business change has no chance of happening.
These kinds of toxic bubbles can be maddingly hard to escape, simply because companies are made up of people, and most people are naturally resistant to change. The result can cripple, if not doom, a business. Here’s how the describes how good companies go bad:“The problem is not an inability to act but an inability to take appropriate action. There can be many reasons for the problem — ranging from managerial stubbornness to sheer incompetence — but one of the most common is a condition that I call active inertia…Active inertia is an organization’s tendency to follow established patterns of behavior — even in response to dramatic environmental shifts. Stuck in the modes of thinking and working that brought success in the past, market leaders simply accelerate all their tried-and-true activities. In trying to dig themselves out of a hole, they just deepen it.”
All of this represents symptoms of a far bigger disease. And once this disease infects a company, it becomes extremely difficult to cure. It reinforces the walls of the bubble until they have the strength of steel.
Here’s a prime example of what happens when a company’s culture becomes fear based.
In 1998, Nokia was the top cell phone manufacturer in the world. Then, nine years later, along came the iPhone — and if there was ever a game-changer in a business sector, the iPhone was it. Nokia, with good reason, immediately hit the panic button, but failed to take substantial action to secure its future. Soon their sales fell off a cliff. The company lost 90 percent of its market in the next six years and ended up being acquired by Microsoft in 2013.
Tim O. Vuori, assistant professor in strategic management at Aalto University, and Qui Huy, professor of strategy at INSEAD Singapore, conducted a qualitative study of what happened inside the company to make it fall so hard so fast.
“Nokia’s ultimate fall can be put down to internal politics. In short, Nokia people weakened Nokia people and thus made the company increasingly vulnerable to competitive forces. When fear permeated all levels, the lower rungs of the organization turned inward to protect resources, themselves, and their units…”
I developed my RAPID process to pop these kinds of toxic bubbles and provide organizations with a fact-based outcome-driven methodology that can be easily replicated when a company gets stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels. Only when the emotion is drained from the process can this kind of problem-solving create successful business change.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He was right. But sometimes it’s hard to get past the fear or our own shortsightedness. That’s why having an objective problem-solving process in place like RAPID is all-important to popping your organizational bubble and finding a true path to business growth.