At the heart of every thriving company lies a blueprint, much like the DNA in living organisms. This corporate DNA, composed of core values, dictates every decision, interaction, and strategic move the company makes. As DNA guides the traits and behaviors of organisms, so do a company's values, which shape its character, business approach, and stakeholder relationships.
Yet, as time unfolds, the company's values can shift from being its guiding light to mere decorative elements on office walls just like a mutable DNA.
Why does this transformation occur?
The Mutable Lifecycle of Company Values:
The mutable Values DNA of the company typically follows an S-curve of evolution guiding the transformation.
Values, often, are the brainchildren of founders. Visionaries with passionate ideas imbed their personal ethos into their budding ventures. At this stage, a company's culture mirrors its founders' beliefs. The uniqueness of a company isn't just about "what it offers" but "how it delivers."
Apple's drive for innovative design under Steve Jobs and Amazon's customer-first approach led by Jeff Bezos are prime examples of such foundational values in action.
The Growth Surge - The First Inflection Point:
At this juncture, values become ingrained in the company's very essence, influencing public perception. Market shifts occur; consumers align or distance themselves based on a company's values, thus molding its trajectory.
Companies that integrate their values across strategic, tactical, and operational decision-making are often met with success. Apple soared into a growth frenzy post the '80s, after the market applauded Jobs' innovation. Contrarily, Theranos, with its questionable ethics, collapsed. Fairphone, striving to produce ethically sourced phones, struggled against external supply chain challenges.
Few companies navigate past this stage and enjoy the steep growth of S Curve. However, they also soon encounter the Stagnation Challenge.
The Stagnation Challenge - The Second Inflection Point:
Time is a double-edged sword. As companies expand and leadership changes, original values can fade, becoming mere slogans. The market situation also changes when new customer values emerge. This is when old values start mutating, but the company hasn't consciously acknowledged the new values.
What was once a company's hallmark becomes indistinct and can cause growth to plateau and employee engagement to dwindle.
This phase is pivotal. For instance, Apple, after sidelining Steve Jobs in 1985, veered towards short-term gains, only to realize, by the '90s, the need to return to its innovation roots and to call Steve Jobs back. In other instances of failures, we have a long, famous list of multinationals like Kodak, Blackberry, Nokia., Sears, and Blockbuster.
How should companies navigate these inflection points before its too late?
Reflective Action at Inflection Points:
While founders ignite the initial flame, the custodianship of values demands perpetual care. It mandates regular introspection and, at times, reinvention. Such companies not only maintain their distinctiveness but also sculpt legacies of lasting impact.
The inflection points are also intervention points for reevaluating company values. At these crucial junctures, companies should:
Reassess Value Integration: Question if core values still echo in every company action. Employees, often, offer the most candid insights here.
Review Value Relevance: Leadership must ponder if existing values resonate in a changing world or if newer values need to be embraced.
Strategic Value Realignment: Before carving out future strategies, a deep dive into the company's value system is essential, ensuring it acts as the strategy's bedrock.
In essence, a company's values, much like DNA, undergo evolutionary shifts. By recognizing and embracing these shifts and intervening at the right time, companies not only survive but thrive in ever-evolving markets.
We will delve deeper into these measures in our next article.
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