As businesses scale, their leadership challenges become more complex. The complexity grows with the rate of change of markets, technologies, and with the number of people and organizations involved.
Processes and practices that work in the beginning break down as the number of interrelationships that are needed to develop and sustain expands exponentially.
Typical responses to these breakdowns are to establish command and control systems centered around a single leader or leadership team. This approach can quickly stifle the creative capacity the business needs to scale.
HP is a good case study. In the mid-1980’s HP’s growth slowed significantly. There was a combination of factors, reduced capital spending by customers, competitive pressures on U.S. manufacturers, and significant changes happening with the adoption of new technologies.
HP responded with a major transformation. Over several years the company shifted from a company driven primarily by technology to one more closely focused on the markets it served. Core businesses focused on solutions with divisions, field marketing, and sales aligned to serve evolving customer needs.
Product development processes were streamlined, and manufacturing processes consolidated and simplified. And across the decade, HP improved quality by 10X.
In parallel, the company launched a leadership training initiative to strengthen and extend the HP Process of Management. I was a first level leader at the time and helped facilitate the HP Process of Management courses on my site.
As a company scales, it’s essential is to generate collective leadership mastery to create the desired outcomes for all stakeholders. This requires companies to fully leverage the leadership capacity of everyone involved. HP had to engage 82,000 employees to achieve its transformation.
Unfortunately, most leadership development efforts today focus on individual leaders through short programs. Attendees are exposed to new ways and new skills and may practice a few times with other attendees.
What they rarely receive is how to integrate the new learning into their specific business context, nor the support of learning and practicing together with the people around them. Without the specific context and the shared learning and application, the skills and insights gained quickly disappear. It’s simply too difficult for individual leaders to shift the needle significantly on their own, without support.
The opportunity is to grow leadership within the specific context of the business, and to cultivate the collective leadership mastery needed to scale a great organization. This is what made the difference for HP in the 1980’s, and helped it re-accelerate its growth.
This requires dedication in time, money, and energy to developing leaders, teams, and a collective leadership culture that transforms the business as it scales. Organizations that do this establish a generative leadership field that enables them to rapidly adapt and create with new realities as they emerge. Very few organizations pro-actively address these needs even though the investment has great rewards.
Teams that grow their collective leadership capacity while addressing the critical needs of their business transform themselves and the business.
To learn more, download this free resource, Building Great Teams: Overcome the leadership challenges to reach & sustain high performance.