You are a leader of an organization that has an established business, with a good reputation in the market. However, you are seeing the signs of aging in the company – not just the gray hairs of the once-young go–getters, but more importantly, in terms of the slowing growth and increasing threats to your business model.

You also know that organizations tend to have a shelf-life, and very few seem to have escaped the rigor mortis that builds up as they grow and become unwieldy to manage. Most are eventually replaced by nimbler companies that revel in the zeitgeist.

The script is staple – great idea, good management, meeting or creating needs effectively, growing at an incredible pace, and then comes cost management, optimization and a cautious approach that builds up a bureaucracy that slowly kills the organization till it gets acquired or files for bankruptcy.

Studies report that bringing in leaders who dispense “tough” love, turn-around artists, financial engineers, and gurus – they all work, to a point, with few spluttering and stuttering signs of a revival – but in most cases, these don’t appear to work in the long term. In fact, they seem to weaken the organization further.

If we can think of the human body as the stereotype of an organization, then a lesson can be learnt on how the body kick starts growth.

The body contains stem cells that were essential building blocks, with the ability to grow and organize themselves into vital organs, especially during the growth stage. Stem cells are in abundance during birth and infancy – and the count reduces as the body ages and the organs mature.

In fact, there are firms that now sell Stem Cell Storage – by freezing the umbilical cord at one’s birth, so that they can be revived and grown into any organ that is needed to be replaced at a later stage in life.

So, the question is, given the likelihood of your organization’s demise (especially if you have seen the slowing growth, or decline) – where are your stem cells – those people, and informal coalitions that can help regenerate a business line or branch off into an adjacent areas successfully?

First, identify your stem cell potentials – most of them will not be from your current list of direct reports. They may not even be on your radar. But here are the things that will make them easy to distinguish as your first list of probable candidates:

  • They will have some reputation as independent thinkers. They will provide new insights into existing problems and will offer startling alternatives to conventional wisdom.
  • They will have, most probably, pissed off some of your bureaucrats and bean counters
  • They will not do well in highly structured engagements, and will prefer to work in assignments that offer freedom to think
  • They will chafe at the organization trying to get them to indulge in goal driven behavior. They do not want to be rewarded for following the playbook or making some number. On the other hand, they will demand to be recognized for creating things of lasting value.

Second, enable a coalition of these people. Remember, most of them would be opinionated – but intellectually curious to learn from someone else. These folks tend to prefer working in small groups, but can work exceptionally well with a group of people whose method of thinking (though they may not agree with their ideas or thoughts) resonates with theirs. Create a forum, preferably an informal one at first, to get these people together. Give them a broad direction – rather than a goal. For example, ask them –“ How will you change the way we are working to meet the challenges we are seeing in growing this market or segment?” – rather than,” how will you improve my bottom-line by 125 basis points?”

Let them group themselves, give them a time frame, and follow up regularly to demonstrate your interest in their work.

Third, bring in your execution team to help them execute ideas that they were able to successfully defend. This is important – most of your “stem cells” will do exceedingly well, when they have a second in command who is a good executioner.

These three things that you can do to preserve nourish your stem cells will go a long way in ensuring the continued prosperity of your organization.

Note : This article was originally published 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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