Your company is built on a very strong foundation. Is that always a good thing? The bridge on the river Choluteca was a gift to the people of Honduras from Japan in the year 1996 (though an older one had existed since 1930s).

Given the extreme environmental conditions of the region, the Japanese ensured the quality of construction, the reliability and the engineering were all best-in-class.

It was built to withstand the hurricanes and high winds plaguing the region. In short, the new bridge was built to last.

The bridge lasted, indeed. Take a look at the pictures. In 1998, the massive destruction wrought by Hurricane Mitch changed the course of the river itself and it no longer flowed under the bridge. Overnight – as it were – the new bridge suddenly became irrelevant and useless.

It stayed rooted to the same place and in mint condition. Built with a strong foundation, it wasn’t swept away like the adjacent roads, buildings and almost every other bridge in the vicinity. It wasn’t economical either to move the bridge to match the river’s new course.

When strength turns into liability

Many companies are like this bridge – with reliable and repeatable processes, people from the ‘best’ universities and market leadership that characterize them. They are built on what are seen as strong foundations, including a ‘sustainable competitive advantage’. They pride themselves on their unique business models, their products and their people and their leadership and what have you!

When wrecked by market hurricanes

But such strong foundations have left many firms unable to change when the market changed its preferences. Examples abound – Nokia, Kodak, Sears to name just three. They all had a formidable reputation, and were industry leaders – be it in manufacturing or design or marketing.

However, this imbued a mindset of being anchored to what worked in the past. That mindset became a handicap. Their leaders were just not committed to change with the market because of their attachment to the older ways that worked. They had long worked diligently, with an adoring market and an approving intelligentsia. These in turn deepened the foundation and made it inflexible.

Married to the past

A firm’s foundation depends on three investments – physical, intellectual and emotional. Physical investments can be sold or transferred when no longer needed. But, you only have to witness the difficulties firms face with mergers and acquisitions to understand that intellectual and emotional investments are stickier. Such stickiness works both ways: it establishes and reinforces culture, while at the same time, it makes change nearly impossible when the market shifts.

So, what should firms do?

How should firms organize themselves to become more responsive to shifting markets? What is that aspect of culture that is ‘good’ for them and yet needs to be jettisoned in order to become more responsive?

What should they do, in other words, to not end up being like that bridge over the river Choluteca?

Note : This article was originally posted on LinkedIn

Ramesh Dorairaj

Ramesh Dorairaj is consultant, coach and an author. He has 27+ Years of Experience consulting for Fortune 500 companies worldwide. He has groomed 50+ leaders. Has participated in 2.5 Billion $ worth of successful deals.  He is a Certified Executive Coach at Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching, Certified Sales Coach and a Certified Proposal Coach.

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