Contrary to popular belief that success begets further success, it often produces failures. This is why visionary leaders and organisations with unparalleled track records seem to abruptly fall by the wayside. As Mike Myatt, author of Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual puts it, “The reality is that past success, in and of itself, does not necessarily serve as an indicator of future success”.
Success does not breed success as a rule. In fact, after achieving great successes, organisations tend to reach a plateau where they stagnate or stall. Even top-achievers slide back into a downward spiral, plummeting into the depths of non-entity. For instance, a talented employee performs outstandingly well fuelled by sheer genius and hard work.
The organisation rises to the top and the employee attains high-powered executive status. However, soon the employee runs the company to the ground and both lose the elevated position. And success lives up to being a predictor of failure!
Successful people often turn egotistical – superciliously imagining themselves to be invulnerable, infallible and indestructible. Deeming themselves to be the best, they become rigid and hard-wired in their methods, thinking and behaviour. The overriding belief that they know more than others makes them shut their minds and refuse to hear what others have to say.
Successful organisations too become stubbornly fixated in the old thinking (it did work in the past, you see) and fail to spot new trends and opportunities (something they excelled at before success hit them). In fact, emerging changes, innovations and challenges assume intimidating proportions and are hastily dismissed as impracticable.
Employees in such organisations live in a denial mode and refuse to open up to new learning. Mr. Ramesh Loganathan, Vice-President and Centre Head, Progress Software attributes, “The value coming from our team was limited to just the tasks and much lower than what the teams were capable of. Also, there were ample opportunities for interesting solutions and enablers that can be used across our product portfolio - these opportunities were not realised as the teams were not in a ‘thinking mode’.”
Often, managements too, unwittingly surround themselves with yes-men who will stroke their egos as they bask in reflections of success. No thought is spared to progressing to new levels or sustaining creative thinking.
An educator and coach comments, “As is human instinct, we become comfortable with these actions; with every success, we reinforce an ingrained pattern of thinking or normal method of doing business.
In most cases, this is within reason and perfectly acceptable. The problem occurs when our patterns of behaviour become so ingrained that we become creatures of habit, individuals who fail to recognise and adapt to a changing environment, who become resistant to change based on our past successes (wins).”
It’s an archetypal case of success going to the head and dulling the senses. Such organisations prefer to rest on their laurels and think that their past successes will render further glories. What turns prejudicial is that clinging to the past and basking in the glories of yore seems much more comforting than the realities of today. Nobody wants to think about the future. Mr. Randeep Singh Sisodia, Director - HR, Amway India observes, “Nearly everyone in the corporate world buys into the axiom that ‘the only thing constant is change’, yet few work on it. Hence, many times innovation becomes a one-time activity and post success, one goes into complacency.” He continues, “It is natural for successful people to fall into the trap of basking in their past glories!”
Employees start misreading the signs - opportunities and challenges are misconstrued as threats. Over time, they inflexibly base decisions of current business situation on past successes and refuse to adapt to the changing scenarios. By neglecting continuous improvement and innovation, they inadvertently prime themselves for failure.
To sum up, Prof. Gary Hamel and late Prof. C. K. Prahalad accurately identify two reasons why top companies fail, “Inability to escape the past and inability to invent the future.”