How to Save Your Business From Initiative Inertia

How to Save Your Business from Initiative Inertia | The Sterling Woods Group

Last week, we introduced the idea of initiative inertia. When you’re running your company on autopilot, you can’t make the quick corrections that are necessary when outside disruption strikes.

But if you’re stuck in a rut, what can you do to get out of it? Today we’re going to go over the signs that your business is suffering from initiative inertia and share tips to change your mindset so you can face industry disruption head-on.

Recognize the Signs

Is your organization opaque and top-heavy? Does your leadership team feel the need to weigh in on each and every decision made about the business, no matter how big or small? Is your company’s idea of strategic planning copy-pasting last year’s plan into a new document and pressing save?

It’s common for more established companies to hit a stride and stick to what they know. There are some psychological principles at work in this strategy, most organizations’ structures are not conducive to change. We covered the “why” behind this inertia in a previous article.

If any of these traits sound familiar, that’s okay, and you’re certainly not alone. But now that you’ve recognized the signs of initiative inertia in your business, you need to push for change to pave the way for new and innovative thinking.

Change Your Mindset

It sounds a bit esoteric, but the first step to breaking the initiative inertia cycle is changing your mindset. And when we say “your” mindset, we don’t just mean your own personal approach, but that of your entire organization.

One of the root causes of initiative inertia is the conformity bias: People are afraid to go out on a limb and suggest change, so the group is more likely to collectively opt for the status quo. There are a number of things you as the business leader can do to inspire new kinds of thinking, shake up your existing business model, and encourage your organization to be more receptive to new ideas.

Hit the Road

Consider organizing a leadership retreat. The change in venue alone will help people consider how and why they’re stuck in their old ways. The retreat doesn’t need to be costly; simply getting out of the office for a day can make a huge difference.

Be sure that you include leadership from across the organization to open up lines of communication. Siloed information can be a major sticking point for innovation, so getting everyone into the same room, talking about the work their teams do and the challenges they face, can inspire creative problem-solving.

A retreat is also a great way to generate buy-in from all your leaders. You can’t expect the more junior members of your team to take change seriously if you have doubters within your senior circle.

Communication Is Key

Once you’ve gotten communication flowing among senior staff, share your new thoughts and approach with the organization at large. A lack of transparency is another major cause of initiative inertia; be sure that everyone feels included in this new approach to how you’ll run the business.

Come to your team with a mission statement. This should be something the leadership team has agreed on and the rest of the team can rally around. Town hall meetings are a great way to give everyone the chance to hear about the new direction, ask the tough questions, gain reassurance, and then get excited about how this new approach will transform your business for the better.

But the communication shouldn’t stop there. Make sure the inertia doesn’t creep back in and lead to siloed information again.

Old habits die hard, so consider establishing cross-departmental groups to keep lines of communication open and the organizational change efforts alive. Include people with varying levels of seniority and different work backgrounds. These groups guarantee buy-in from employees beyond the leadership team. They also motivate others outside of the leadership circle to hold you accountable to your goals.

Start With Small Steps Towards Change

Once you’ve gotten everyone on board and have created groups to hold your feet to the fire, start getting rid of what isn’t working. Opaque and bulky organizational structures are a major roadblock to innovation. Keeping those structures in place means that any change you make going forward will be all the more difficult to enact and maintain.

This is when you look at how you run your business. Now’s the time to prune old systems and workflows that aren’t working for you. If your calendar is filled with back-to-back meetings that keep you from getting to the real work of making change, evaluate which ones you don’t need and cancel them. If you’ve been creating the TPS Report for 12 years, but no one actually uses it, then stop making it. And if you have a lengthy approval process for even minor decisions, empower your junior leadership to make their own calls so that people only come to you with the really big stuff. You’ll never get out ahead of disruptive change if you don’t have the bandwidth to consider what that change might look like.

What Comes Next?

You’ve created the space within your organization for change to happen. That’s fantastic! Now it’s time to get proactive about upending your business model. You don’t want to wait for disruption to come for you; you want to be the disruption in your industry.

Begin this process by talking to your whales. They’ll tell you what they really want from you. After you know what your whales want, you can start to build a business that’s optimized to deliver that to them.

Next week, we’ll be taking things a step further and looking at how to find your curveball: the information that breaks you out of your state of inertia and allows you to take control of change in a positive way.

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.