From inertia to drift

There are successful companies that suddenly turn into dull companies. One day, seemingly out of the blue, the press no longer talks about them with the enthusiasm they once did. Their results, even if they are not bad, do not rock the way everyone expected. Even if their reputation is still good for the mainstream, their code has lost its fresh and game-changing tone. People working at these companies still believe theirs is one of the best companies in the country, but then they spend the day complaining about it. Everyone in my generation longed to work there, but nowadays they’ve become an oppressive hierarchy that does not attract powerful talent… What’s going on?

The history of such companies is exactly the same as many other large organisations that were started up by a small group of people with a purpose, who really believed in the idea round which the company was created. Absolutely focused on making things happen, people gathered around the idea. They worked hard, they multitasked, they didn’t even think about organisational charts. The company started to show profits. New people with the same purpose happily joined the project. And that’s the way the company or—more precisely—its people, reached milestones and wrote new market rules. Time went by and the company woke up one day unable to move. Nobody knows how it happened, but the truth is that procedures, levels and investor-oriented KPIs replaced the people who made the company grow. Suddenly, people became a simple commodity. Untalent started to settle down in the company. The organisation is big, huge. At the very beginning, inertia covers everything. But, in a VUCA environment where everything is exponential (including the speed at which things happen), inertia evolves to drift earlier than expected. Nothing could stop the unavoidable: even if the P&L is checked and rechecked nervously and someone tries to activate all the saving levers, the successful company is becoming an average one. The countdown starts. It might not be a countdown to devastation, but just to the descent from the Olympus of the megabrands (with the big losses that may be involved).

That’s the way a rock star company becomes a dull company. Betting for untalent and thinking that the company will keep on rocking is just an exercise in silly corporate arrogance. Neither the cleverest investor nor the most ambitious plan implemented by one of the prestigious Big 4 could rescue a company that—one day—decided to treat people as a commodity.

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