Why Business Shouldn’t Always Just ‘Go With the Flow’

I spent the day working on a five-year strategic plan with a board of directors. The board is comprised of C-suite executives from Fortune 1000 companies—knowledgeable, experienced and smart. So why hadn’t they previously asked the tough questions about the organization’s future? Like, how do you define success? Or are new trends something we embrace, ignore or push back on?

These leaders accepted the “flow” of the organization rather than challenging the fundamental business model. They had made recommendations for incremental improvements but were running the business based on historical success not the anticipated future state.


Probably because the organization was operationally effective, implementing the business model that was developed decades ago. There was no fire to put out. And yet, year-over-year performance was modest. Trends were challenging the historical measures of success and were defined as “bad” when maybe they were just different and future success would be just as robust but defined differently.

Sometimes for companies to be their very best, they have to redefine how they view the world. The truth is that the world is changing all around us, and those of us who don’t reset our compasses lose our way.

This company had not yet become lost. In fact, by many it is regarded as a star performer. But the star was fading a bit. And the board was quick to engage in some tough conversations. And now the future is bright again.

What Does It Take?

It takes the willingness to closely examine fundamental beliefs about what constitutes success. It could be the product you make, the market you sell to or the marketing promise you make—to figure out the pressure points that rub the market the wrong way. In this case, the group flipped the switch on a “bad” trend and figured out how to make it work for them instead of against them, giving them added traction instead of a grinding battle.

Some may define that kind of change as “shutting the front door”—stopping forward progress momentarily because we are going down the wrong track. But the good news is that door reopens with even more business potential.

And it is a figurative “door.” Those companies that don’t react to market changes soon enough—or at all—may find themselves faced with a real “closing” that requires new management to re-open.