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What Would Our Successors Do?

Published on October 9, 2018
Robert Hackman
Strategic Sales and Marketing, Change Management | Consulting & Coaching

A Simple Criterion for Change.
By Robert Hackman | 4C Consulting

“We don’t want visibility,” a longtime manager said. The process to which he was referring made servicing customers more difficult and less dependable, instead of making it easier and more reliable. He was responding to hearing one of the benefits to be gained through a change to one of their existing systems.
Rather than improving the ability to navigate a highly demanding and dynamic environment, the existing system reduced these capacities. The process increased the demand to react to problems in the moment and diminished the ability to plan and respond to them ahead of time. As a result, similar dramas between sales and operations were repeated daily.
Have you ever experienced this? Has something like this ever occurred in your organization? A process is obviously not functioning effectively and yet management does not acknowledge that any issues exist. The frustrations experienced are accepted as necessary and therefore no alternative solutions are entertained. The system is in management’s blind spot.
What prevents beneficial change?
What keeps process flaws from being recognized and eliminated? Frequently the answer is “success,” despite and not because of an existing system.
The company was one of the most successful within the markets it served. Its overall success blinded their managers from seeing specific problem areas that needed to be fixed, thereby enabling them to be ignored.
Absent success, leaders and managers typically remain open to alternatives out of necessity.
What Would Our Successors Do?
The key question to ask in these situations is “What would our successors do?” In other words, how would an incoming leader respond? Andy Grove, then President of Intel, famously posed this question with the CEO as they were trying to decide whether the company should exit the memory business – the very business on which the company had been founded.
He and the CEO both agreed that if they had been new arrivals to the company, without attachment to existing businesses, strategies or processes, they would make the difficult decision to leave memory market and focus its energies, time and money on developing the chip business.
The successor question provides the required cognitive and psychological distance to challenge existing strategies and methodologies to determine their usefulness and relevancy. It provides the necessary clarity for the highest quality decision making.
A sure sign something needs to be changed or improved is that problems, generating disruption and impairing the ability to achieve desired outcomes, are encountered on a regular basis.
Workarounds are a resulting symptom created to complete work in the absence of effective systems. These workarounds mistakenly become considered part of a designed work process and not a bolt on to correct a broken one. The most broken systems require multiple workarounds.
Implications from not changing or eliminating outdated strategies, systems, or structures include:
1. Lost productivity.
2. Decreased reliability.
3. Diminished engagement/associate turnover.
4. Lost business/slower growth.
5. Reduced profitability and more.
The opposite of what is desired.
Therefore, Company Leaders should:
1. Commit to adopting a simple and reliable criterion for change – “When something is significantly different from how it would be if they were setting it up today, then it needs to be changed.”
2. Regularly review their processes, people, and structures to determine how well they work and the degree to which they remain aligned with core strategies and values.
In Grove’s case it was a pivotal strategic decision point for the company. However, this same question can and should be used by leaders and managers as a lens through which to examine all aspects of how they run their businesses, particularly those that impact customers. Which ultimately impact revenue growth and profitability.
Successes combined with organizational habits create blind spots. Keen observation, a commitment to asking the best clarifying questions, and a relentless commitment to problem solving helps eliminate them.
In many cases, getting help from outside a company is critical to improving leadership’s perspective, enabling leaders to recognize opportunities as well as diagnose problems and implement solutions. This can be achieved by bringing in advisers, hiring outside talent or a combination of both.
Key Takeaways:
1. The best companies regularly examine their strategies, processes and structures to ensure they are optimally aligned with business functions, strategies and core values.
2. They continually assess what work gets done and how they do it, regularly considering alternate perspectives through outside consultants and new hires.
3. They gain the psychological distance required to commit to a Simple Criterion for Change. Ask “What would our successors do?”and then decide accordingly.
Robert Hackman is the Founder and Principal of 4C Consulting, a Consulting and Executive Coaching business centered around helping leaders align their Sales and Marketing strategies to achieve more reliable revenues and grow their companies. Better Alignment, Better Results. He can be reached via the 4C Consulting Website at, via email at or text or voice at 484.800.2203.