Last week on the blog, I introduced the concept of organizational inertia and took a look at some of the reasons that it happens in more established companies. Today we’re going to talk about the main symptom of organizational inertia: It’s what we term “initiative inertia.”
What the research shows is that it has nothing to do with resources, time management, or market share. The cause of initiative inertia is a faulty mindset.
I’m going to ask you to take a look at your own business. If you’re facing initiative inertia, what important opportunities are being held back because of your aversion to change?
Meet the Symptom of Organizational Inertia: Initiative Inertia
While organizational inertia is a company-wide issue and mindset, initiative inertia is the way that we see the effects of this larger force playing out on the individual projects you have implemented within your business.
The same forces that cause organizational inertia are at work on a smaller scale. People are unwilling to make changes to initiatives because they are afraid of failure. Or perhaps there’s not enough organizational transparency for them to see how to properly implement the change. And the decision-makers overseeing the given initiative play off of each other; each individual’s hesitations in enacting a new project come together to create larger fears about change.
When you see initiative inertia settling in across all areas of your business, then you know that you are at serious risk for being upended by disruption.
What’s Causing Initiative Inertia In Your Own Backyard?
The root of initiative inertia is a fear of change and a system that makes enacting that change difficult. When your business has been up and running for a while, it’s easy to think that you should stick to the model that’s already brought you some success. Why make a change when you could risk breaking something that’s working perfectly well right now?
Just because you have a fear of change doesn’t mean that change won’t come and find you. When external disruption occurs—as it has in so many industries as technology continues to evolve rapidly and enable things we could not have imagined even ten years ago—businesses that are stuck in a rut are not able to switch course quickly enough to keep pace.
If you’re not constantly taking an audit of the work you do, the systems and processes you have in place, and are working to streamline your approach and create bandwidth to meet any changes—planned or unforeseen—then you may have inadvertently created a situation where you’re extremely vulnerable to outside forces.
Why is Inertia Dangerous?
The issue with inertia, both on an initiative and organizational level, is that you have essentially handed over control of your company. You’re no longer in the driver’s seat; instead, you’re waiting for the market to force change upon you. Rather than driving change with new ideas and innovations, you’ve taken on a passive role.
Even if this approach has worked in the past or is working for you now, it won’t last forever. Your business will face disruption at some point, and you’ll find yourself in one of two positions.
The disruption may be so rapid and immense that you’re simply not able to keep pace. It’s like trying to out-swim a wave once it’s already begun to crest over your head. There is no way to get ahead of massive disruption once it’s already reached the breaking point.
Alternatively, you may face a smaller disruptive change that you’re able to overcome with the status quo approach…for now. This may be even more dangerous, because it will lull you into a false sense of security. The next time you’re faced with a bigger wave of disruption, you will be blindsided by the hit your business takes.
The Real Cost of Inertia
The real cost of inertia is wasted time, money, and energy. Waiting until the last minute to do anything means an increased cost and a lot of stress. Who hasn’t waited until the day before to send a birthday or holiday gift, and then had to pay an astronomical overnight shipping fee to ensure that the package makes it there on the special day? The same is true within your organization. If you are able to weather the external changes that come from disruption in spite of a less-than-forward-thinking mindset, it will come at a cost to your organization.
The greatest cost of inertia is the potential downfall of your business. If the change is too great and your business is too listless, you may lose everything to disruption. This is a heartbreaking outcome for someone who’s poured their heart, soul, and capital into a business.
The opportunity cost is just as damaging as the very serious real costs of inertia. You may have a great new idea that could be worth millions. But you can’t get to it if you’re busy tending to legacy initiatives that generate only thousands.
So what can you do to ensure that your business doesn’t fall victim to this all-too-common issue? Next week, we’ll look at the steps that you can take to change your mindset, shake up your company, and make the space for change to happen.
About the Author
Rob Ristagno, Founder and CEO of Sterling Woods, previously served as a senior executive at several digital media and e-commerce businesses, including as COO of America’s Test Kitchen. He started his career as a consultant at McKinsey. Ristagno holds degrees from the Harvard Business School and Dartmouth College and has taught at both Harvard and Boston College.
Rob is the author of A Member is Worth a Thousand Visitors: A Proven Method for Making More Money Online. He regularly speaks at key media conferences, including at Niche Media events, Specialized Information Publishers Association meetings, and the Business Information and Media Summit.