Your company’s purpose, Ant mills, The Doom Loop, Builder AI Valentine’s day gift & Air India
20th February 2022 Evolution Partners Newsletter
“All things in nature occur mathematically.” ~ Rene Descartes
Hope you’re Thriving!
It’s been a busy week for me, with three leadership team workshops and other meetings, with one session starting at 6 am and another at 745pm. But the big news where I live is that after more than 700 days, the government will lift border restrictions on the third of March, and people will be able to travel freely. I suspect that people’s attitudes have changed quite a lot towards this in the past couple of weeks. And while there are vocal minorities for and against, I suspect that people’s perspectives fall within a bell curve, based on the empirical rule.
One of the chats I had this week was how to respond when a team isn’t achieving its priorities. Perhaps you are halfway through a quarter and can’t possibly imagine completed priorities at the end of the quarter. And sometimes, very rarely, when it’s bad enough, you need to reset halfway through the quarter and start again. Go back and ask the question, what’s the most important thing until the end of the quarter? Then the second most important thing? Then perhaps eliminate 70 per cent of the other priorities until the next quarterly offsite. But this should occur very rarely. And if you are so confused about what to do and how to prioritise, perhaps head back to the company hedgehog, the strategy and annual goals, and the core purpose. That should give some sense of the most important things.
4 hard questions to ask about your company’s purpose
Your core purpose should guide you through difficult situations. It should be simple enough and clear enough to enable you to make the right decisions in most situations. For example, Southwest Airlines’ core purpose is to “Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” That clear and compelling statement helps employees make the right decisions in many difficult situations. But many leadership teams aren’t driven by core purpose. In the HBR article 4 hard questions to ask about your company’s purpose, the authors discuss the example of Volkswagen who through much of the 20th century were focused on delivering the purpose conceived by the founder – the people’s car. They say that Volkswagen lost its way by replacing that core purpose with a BHAG that wasn’t drawn from an actual purpose and was only to be big.
From the article.
“In the early 1930s, cars in Europe were still a luxury for the rich. But in 1933, Dr Ferdinand Porsche launched the People’s Car: Volkswagen. Its purpose was to enhance people’s lives through great engineering that offered everyone an accessible, high-quality car. The purpose behind the People’s Car resonated throughout the 20th century, and Volkswagen grew and prospered.
Then, in 2007, something changed. The Volkswagen leadership set a new overarching goal for the company: to become the world’s largest automaker by 2018. And although the company reached that goal three years early, no one can doubt now — in light of the emissions scandal — that in losing its greater purpose, Volkswagen ended up losing much more than its way.”
The article suggests four key questions to ask about your core purpose.
Is your purpose specific enough to defend?
What’s fixed, and what’s up for grabs?
What’s your plan for defending your purpose despite short-term temptations?
Is the organisation’s purpose connected to your own?
When a team loses its purpose, it can get confusing and whilst it’s still working hard, it can lose everything.
And that makes me think about ants.
An Ant mill is a phenomenon in which a group of army ants are separated from the main foraging party, lose the pheromone track, and begin to follow one another, forming a continuously rotating circle, commonly known as a death spiral, because the ants might eventually die of exhaustion. In nature, each ant follows the ant in front of it, which works well until something goes wrong, and then an ant mill forms. The first ant mill was first described in 1921 by William Beebe, who observed a 370m (1200-foot) wide ant mill which took 2.5 hours for each ant to make one revolution. The pheromone scent gives ants the directions that enable them to fulfil their purpose, and much like a team, the ants, need that purpose to know the right path to take.
The Doom Loop
Of course, the ant mill reminds me of the doom loop, a painful cycle of decline that firms fall into, which is the opposite of the flywheel. As Jim Collins explains the Doom loop from his study.
“We found a very different pattern at the comparison companies. Instead of a quiet, deliberate process of figuring out what needed to be done and then simply doing it, the comparison companies frequently launched new programs—often with great fanfare and hoopla aimed at “motivating the troops”—only to see the programs fail to produce sustained results. They sought the single defining action, the grand program, the one killer innovation, the miracle moment that would allow them to skip the arduous buildup stage and jump right to breakthrough. They would push the flywheel in one direction, then stop, change course, and throw it in a new direction—and then they would stop, change course, and throw it into yet another direction. After years of lurching back and forth, the comparison companies failed to build sustained momentum and fell instead into what we came to call the doom loop. “
The doom loop focuses on looking good in the short term and posturing rather than doing the hard work needed for long-term success. When a leader or team experiences disappointing results, they react without understanding; they don’t take the time to really understand where those disappointing results came from and how both short and long-term decisions led to those disappointing results. Then, as they have reacted without understanding, that leads them to a new direction, launch a new programme, fire, hire a leader, or perhaps to a new acquisition. Those new things were born from reaction without understanding. Of course, because they were born without understanding, they don’t work, and there is no buildup and no momentum, which then leads again to even further disappointing results, and so the doom loop continues its downward cycle.
Ironically we now go full circle because the key when you experience disappointing results is to go back to your hedgehog concept including your core purpose. And consider the short and long term cause of those disappointing results.
Builder AI Valentine’s day gift
This week I came across an interesting campaign to promote and pitch to a core customer and raise awareness about your product. Builder.ai is a London based software company that helps you build apps yourself without tech knowledge. A little like Canva for apps. CEO Sachin Dev Duggal wanted to use Valentine’s Day to ‘propose’ to Air India. So over a series of days, they launched a campaign in airports and on the front page of The Economic Times where their core customers would be reading to show just how easy it is to build an app using their platform and how professional it would look. If you scan the QR code in the images below, you can see their prototype.
Sure it costs a lot of money, and we’re all wondering whether Air India will use them, but that’s not the point of the campaign. It demonstrates that their software could be an app for Air India and potential customers to think that they could build an app of that quality themselves. I’m also interested in how you could use a similar concept to attract A-players to your team in this world of talent shortages.
Check out the images from the campaign below.
This week on The Growth Whisperers podcast
Different roles in an organisation should be focused on different time periods. Each person in each role should know what time horizon they should be focussed on, and create priorities relevant to that time horizon. If you are focused on the wrong time horizon in your role, you will not be as effective as you could be.
This week we discuss the time horizon that each role should be focussed on, and why that really matters.
What time period should your role be focussed on?
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