Survival of the fittest. 5 ways to thrive in business.

20th century capitalism was built on the foundations of survival of the fittest.  As a social scientist I have always been intrigued by how belief systems evolve and structure our education, politics and economy. Survival of the fittest is very much alive in the traditional 20th century definition.  Though this theory doesn’t really stack up.  Since the average age of a fortune 500 firms or equivalent is only 40 years, and most companies are bought, merged or fold within the first 10 years, there is not much evidence of survival.  The belief that competition accelerates strength, survival and dominance is prevalent in business.  Yet, as we approach a period of economic recovery, growth and global playing field survival of the fittest is also evolving, or rather returning to its original context. darwinWhat we are seeing now, in a world that evolves and changes at a rate that we can not really comprehend, is that the old goliaths, the institutions and powerhouses of the 20th century are being overtaken by innovative, creative and change loving companies and entrepreneurs. What are the qualities needed today to survive and thrive in the 21st century?   1. A sense of belonging and identity.  The oldest firms have a sense of belonging and engagement with their employees.  Think Coca-Cola, Unilever and Shell.  They have consistently maintained their identity, values and core purpose.  Everyone, all of the tens of thousands of employees worldwide feel a sense of cohesiveness with the company and the brand.  They feel a sense of belonging to something big, a tribe.  We now see this with some newer strong organisations like Dyson, Macdonald’s, Apple and Google.  No matter which office you work in or what department, you understand the values, goals and identity of the organisation in which you “belong”. 2. Visionary and Long termism.  Companies that are serving their short-term goals and shareholder commitments, trying to hit this years targets and looking at the short-term strategy, generally don’t survive.  Those organisations that look at the long-term fair far better and are visionary are able to ride the storms without compromising on their core values or resulting in panic. Collins and Porras conducted a study to understand longevity and found visionary companies put a lower priority on delivering shareholder wealth or profits at all costs. They found the most “Visionary companies display a powerful drive for progress that enables them to change and adapt without compromising their cherished core ideals.” 3. Co-operation.  Ego, fear and competition are the foundations of most organisations.  You may not initially see it, but when you scratch the surface you see the culture based on KPI’s, performance targets, departmental objectives and pay reviews based on… well who knows most of the time?  In these cultures it is every man, manager and department for themselves.  The risk team are in competition with the product teams, who are in competition with the finance teams and the sales and service teams are in conflict and that is even before marketing get involved.  Each are working towards the overall goals of the business, but concentrate their efforts on their own individual target.  Within teams, there is competition and one upmanship.  It creates politics, distrusts, report writing, business cases and waste. Just as in nature, organisations that drop the ego and nurture each and every individual in the pack or tribe survive.  Everyone has each others backs and supports each other to succeed.   To get her though we also need to turn to nature and see that the survival of the fittest also requires…. 4. Leadership.  Well to be fair this is leadership and management skills.  Great leaders give vision, values, direction and goals.  Strong, authentic leaders have integrity and are followed due to trust and belief.  They are supported and have continuity based on followship as a result of giving comfort and reassurance to consumers, investors and its staff.  In successful tribes, packs and prides the Alpha leader is not continually churning, there is consistency.  However they also allow others to flourish, understanding succession planning and passing on their knowledge to the next generation.  Heritage, wisdom, mentoring and coaching is at the core of organisations that survive the changing environment. 5. Adaptability.  When you have all of the other pillars or foundations in place then an organisation is in a great position to weather most storms.  The ship knows is destination, there is a strong captain at the helm, the crew members know their roles and work together cohesively and they belong.  This strong basis allows all crew members to be innovative, creative, trusted and respected to be an expert in their own field.  Their contributions are heard and valued and mistakes are not berated but forgiven. The ability to foster an environment to thrive and survive needs continual development in a continually changing environment.  The captain and crew all adapt, learn, change and pass on knowledge to survive.  And survive they will…

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