What is your inherent potential?

Abbaye St Martin du Canigou, Casteil, France

Just over a decade ago, my then business partner Tim Morley and I were looking at the business world and saw that there were only a few typical ‘symptoms’ of problems that we tried to address. Many of those symptoms seem very much alive today as well.

We noticed that most businesses feel the need to change. That has not changed. Secondly, most projects that they executed seemed to have a positive effect, but never quite achieved the results that were expected. That is still a valid observation, I think. Also, many felt that the competition is catching up with them, or running further away, despite our best efforts. That still resonates with many business leaders.

Other symptoms were that many felt that they were just  treading water. Spending money and effort without actually moving forward very much. It very much felt like that outside consultants were running the business rather then the own staff. This still sounds familiar today. And, they were struggling to keep the people motivated in that environment of continuously imposed change. Were the organisations really achieving their potential?

That was in 2006. I suggest that today, in 2017, much of these symptoms and associated emotions are very much at the forefront of many leaders’ thoughts. And if not, perhaps they should be.

The way to deal with the perceived symptoms has classically been to look at what others are doing in our industry, or what we think are comparable industries. We usually engage external help to identify activities that can help to do what others do. Because the consultants have the knowledge about ‘best practice’, indeed about what others are doing. And then we create a programme of projects, each with their distinct business case, to bridge the perceived gap between where we are today and where we want to be. As true in 2006 as it is today.

The challenge in this situation is to somehow balance all these new initiatives on top of what we are today. Like building a castle on top of the mountain we live on, using architecture and modular building blocks we buy on the open market. The question is whether that balancing act on top of our mountain is worth the money and collective effort we spend. Will it give us the castle we need and feel at home in?

Perhaps there is a different way to achieve our dream home. Or at least a home we feel comfortable and safe in.

Rather than looking what ideas and practices we can import from others, we could look at what we are doing well ourselves and build on that. In 2006 Tim and I called this ‘building on your own inherent potential’. The premise is that with all the people in our organisation, there is a lot of knowledge and potential that remains largely untapped. We tend to revert to external parties for their ideas and knowledge, much more readily than look at what our own people might have to offer.

What about starting to obtain a feeling in our organisation for the extend in which we might be achieving our inherent potential? In whatever terms we would like to formulate that. Perhaps create a visual image around this potential, linked to our business objectives, that we can all identify with? So that our people are engaged and willing to achieve something exciting?

And then, perhaps, create some overall questions for your organisations around how we could achieve that potential. Wicked questions, I would suggest. Then call a wide range of our own people together and explore creative new options of how we could change our business. How we can extend the building we already have, with materials and ideas we can find and source locally in our own organisation?

Then start implementing some of these ideas in the order that we, collectively, believe makes sense for our business. Then, after a previously agreed period (a month, a quarter, a year?) review the perceived potential after we have executed these initiatives. Extend or change the narrative, the image we identify with. And then go through the same effort again. Keep asking the wicked questions around what we could do to achieve our inherent potential.

And so on, and so forth.

Acting like this, we may find that slowly but surely our castle gets built. It may look a tad higgledy-piggledy for outsiders. But it fits snugly in our own niche on the mountain, and –having built it ourselves- we feel very much at home there. It is our own home after all. It is not seen as imposed change at all. Of course, for the larger more complex parts of our building we will still need external experts to help. After all, we will run into issue that internally we have no experience with. That is OK. But on our terms, and not solely determined by the external market.

Do you feel you get the maximum out of the collective knowledge and experience in your organisation? Have you thought about your own internal potential? And, how would your inherent potential fit into the narrative of your business?