The common case of strategic neglect

By: Matt Stocker


Cars don’t end up on the scrap heap by accident. The rust that started as a couple of specks over the wheel arches. The chipped windscreen that was never repaired or replaced. The engine that hasn’t been serviced in years.

These cars have owners who, like Penny, decided they’d take what they could get from the car now without thinking about the value it could give them in the future—if they just looked after it a little better.

The decision may not have been a conscious one and the driver was happy as long as the car started each morning and got them to where they needed to be. Until, of course, the occasional cough, splutter and engine complaint turned into a hefty bill from the garage or, at worst, a failure to start every single day! A car that once held value and purpose has suddenly become a car useful only for parts.

The thing is, the organisational equivalent of this is happening up and down the country every single day. These organisations still work. They still start up every morning. But check engine lights are on.

The loss of a long-standing and loyal customer. Failure to win a new contract. High staff turnover or increasing absence.

But the organisation still works, so why should anybody worry?

Companies, management teams, and staff sometimes focus so much on starting the business every morning, they forget the organisation itself needs a little bit of tender loving care.

Gradually, the strength of a business model weakens, the market shifts, the brand becomes outdated, and the proposition gets muddied.

Eventually, a competitor draws alongside your rusty, clunky, unreliable business with their sleek, polished and purring motor, and you realise with horror that you can no longer compete. As they pull away, your organisation is smoked and left for dust.

Although Sheldon is known for his pedanticism, in the case of the check engine light he has a point. Several episodes later, Penny says: “The check engine light is fine. It’s still blinking away. It’s the stupid engine that stopped working! It cost me almost $1,200 to fix it!”

Don’t be Penny within your organisation. Decide to keep up with technology. Ensure your strategy and business model remain effective. Make good use of effective performance measures to spot trouble before it starts. Have a strong vision. Invest in your people. Develop your products, service and brand.

Do this and your organisation will remain competitive for the long haul. The Sheldon’s of this world will never be able to say, “Did you once again ignore your check engine light?” and you will never repeat the immortal words of Penny, “No, Mr. smarty-pants. I ignored the fill gas tank light!”

Article by:

Matt Stocker

Matt is founder and director of Stocker Partnership, a strategy and innovation consultancy. As a strategist, designer, innovator and geek, he's known for his creative thinking. Matt thrives in challenging environments and loves to push the boundaries of possibility. He's a big picture, visual thinker who is always running 5 to 10 years ahead. Find out more

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