The Enemy Within
The best of strategies can be thwarted and undone by the presence of an enemy within the ranks. Even worse, an enemy within can sow the seeds that result in destruction and ultimate annihilation.
As a company, you may well have an enemy within.
Much of our time as TomorrowToday is spent helping companies and in particular leaders, to pay attention to the future; to ‘look out the window’ and understand the disruptive forces shaping not merely the future but their future. The TIDES framework is what we use to bring about this understanding and shape a coherency to the necessary but difficult task that is ‘looking out the window’. It is work we have done worldwide across multiple industries and in doing so we have come to a powerful realization and warning for corporate leaders everywhere: you might well have an enemy within.
Looking out the window and developing sustainability around ‘how to think like a futurist’ in order to understand, survive and ultimately thrive in the midst of disruption and change, is only half the story. You can do all this and develop well thought through strategies to make inroads into the future yet the enemy within can undermine and undo it all. What we have discovered is that when you turn around and face ‘inside’ having been looking ‘outside’, there will be some things that will need to change if you are to adapt and follow-through on your strategic intent. It is the internal resistance to change that becomes the ‘enemy within’ and no matter how clearly you have seen the future, failure to deal with the internal enemy will prevent you from making any meaningful progress. The enemy within is often well disguised and gives the appearance of being on-board with the change that is required. Alternatively, the enemy within might immediately be apparent but have such a strong hold over internal areas of the business, that confronting and defeating it requires great courage and determination – and there may well be a high cost to be paid. Either way, the enemy within has to be identified and confronted in order to implement your strategies successfully. It is that simple; it is that difficult.
So who or what is the ‘enemy within’?
The enemy within can be found anywhere within your organisation and whilst it might be embodied by specific person or group, that is not what is meant when we say ‘enemy’. There are four specific areas or terrains within your organisational culture that the enemy within can be located. In each of these areas the enemy within might take the form of policies, processes, procedures, mind-sets or behaviours that are the internal enemy to the essential change or adaption that is required.
These four areas within your company are:
- Decision rights: Where do the decision rights reside within your company? Who has them and who doesn’t have them? How do they get executed?
- Information: How is information disseminated throughout your organization? Who has the information and who doesn’t have it and why? Who needs it and how do they get it? Information is the lifeblood of any organization.
- Motivators: How do you incentivise both formally and informally the behaviours and activities within your organization?
- Structure: What structure is in place that serves your existing strategy?
There is a high chance that if your company is to thrive into the future and respond to the landscape that you have viewed from looking out the window, one or more of these four areas will need significant change. The inability or unwillingness to change where change is needed becomes the ‘enemy within’. All too often leaders gain clarity concerning the future and what is required, turn around to face ‘inside’ to deliver that picture or message, only to discover the presence of an overt or covert resistance to the adaption that the new landscape will demand.
- “But we have always done it this way – this is what we know”
- “But that is not our policy ”
- “But we have just installed…”
- “But that will mean that we have to…and you know that can’t be done”
- “But none of our competitors are doing it”
- “But how will we control it?”
- “But that will never happen to us”
- ‘But what does that mean for me / my team / that department or division?”
- “But what about…?”
- “But we have never done something like that?”
- “But how do we know that will work?”
…and so the endless ways that the resistance is articulated becomes the voice of the enemy within. These “buts” emanating from one or more of the entrenched areas mapped out, are the stay bullets fired that can very quickly become a steady and deadly hail of bullets used to fiercely resist any change and defend the current position. Knowing what to guard and who are the guardians is one of the most astute of leadership capabilities and tasks. Leading change is the leaders responsibility.
Any clear look out the window reveals that things will have to change internally. If the world is changing we will need to do things differently. The world is changing. This becomes the leader’s responsibility to stand at the intersection of what is happening ‘out there’ and what is happening ‘in here’. Understanding, interpreting and bridging this complex intersection is the leader’s role and task. As a leader you need to know that there will be internal resistance. There always is although the resistance can be very subtlety disguised and as a result, hard to detect. It is often much easier to deal with when the resistance is out in the open and obvious. However the four areas – decision rights, information, motivators and structure, provide deep concealment to the enemy within. They represent terrain in which it is easy to hide and often difficult to clear.
According to Koerstenbaum, your primary responsibility as a leader is to deal with the organisational culture. All too often leaders neglect this area and leave it to Human Resources or external ‘experts’. You will be familiar with the well-worn cliché that, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast every day’. It is true. Yet too many leaders ignore this most important of responsibilities. The four areas that clock the ‘enemy within’ are all to be found in the terrain signposted ‘organisational culture’. The need to adapt to a fast changing external environment means that we need companies that are nimble and quick. That will require leaders who understand the requirements of what it takes to thrive in the 21st century and what kind of organisational cultural characteristics they will need to allow the constant adaption to take place.
So, as a leader, as you think about the ‘enemy within’ here would be some helpful question for your consideration:
- As you ‘look out the window’ what is it you see?
- What will be the implications for your business – for your stakeholders?
- What are the questions you should be asking but aren’t?
- Where can you go for answers?
- Of the four areas (decision rights, information, structure & motivators) where is change needed?
- Who are the guardians within you business & what are they guarding?
- Who are the paradigm shifters within your business & what are they saying?
These questions represent a start at least. The quality of the questions asked will determine the quality of your strategy into the future. Make sure then that you are asking the ‘right’ questions and know that as you do so (ask the right questions), there will most certainly be an ‘enemy within’.
Prepare for battle.
Acknowledgement: The four areas specified were first encountered in the excellent book, Results by Gary L. Neilson & Bruce A. Pasternack