Do you ever wonder if we are in the age of corporate insanity?
Have we gotten to the point of no return toward logic and reality?
Have we just given in to learned helplessness?
Einstein said that the definition of insanity was trying the same thing over an over again and expecting a different result.
Corporations seem to do this frequently. They try the same old things over and over again expecting different results each time. It is as if they are using the same beat no matter type of song they are playing.
Cutting Costs or Just Throats
A recent example of learned helplessness in organizations is the use of layoffs to prop up profits and drive stock prices. Even though it has been proven time and time again that layoffs do not work companies still use them as a method to cut down costs.
(For those of you unfamiliar with Learned helplessness – A term developed by Martin Seligman, pioneering researcher in animal psychology, to describe what occurs when animals or human beings learn that their behavior has no effect on the environment.)
Of course when business is lost, costs need to be cut. For most organizations the majority of costs are in people. Therefore, the quickest and easiest reduction is to cut them. But, that has been proven to reduce productivity, creativity and loyalty to the organization. Then when the economy picks up, which it always does, valuable employees leave as quickly as possible.
Can you feel the stupid?
But, in the defense of these companies, this is common wisdom. It is like bloodletting used to common practice among physicians. Now it seems ridiculous, but at the time it was an acceptable and even promoted practice.
What to do then?
Look for a way out of the learned helplessness pattern and grow the business. That’s right; actively look for ways to get more and different customers. Successful companies grow their businesses and take market-share in down economies. There is no way to cut or reduce expenses to grow the business. You can’t cut your way to profitability…ever.
Here is an easy way to break out of this learned helplessness cycle:
1. Find out What is the State of the State
An organization can only improve when it knows the truth about itself. It is important to look for an organizational and customer assessment or survey that will give a sense of how engaged the organization and customers are to the strategy.
2. Give Managers the Tools
Leaders need to give managers the tools to drive engagement and find new ideas for increasing revenue and containing costs
Front line leaders are the key to driving success and growing the business. It is IMPERATIVE to give them the tools in a practical, easy-to-use method. This same tools should be used to drive alignment and find new areas/ideas for growth.
3. Push Accountability for Growth Down to the Lowest Level
Don’t try to make all the new ideas come from one part of the company. No one department has the lock on creativity (another example of learned helplessness.) Organizations that grow, like 3M did with Post-Its, look for ideas from everywhere.
Give everyone ownership to innovate and grow. It will drive passion and increase loyalty.
Don’t fall into the trap of cutting to save the organization. Focus energy on increasing customers, growing market-share and keeping the customers you have. The rest will take care of itself.
Anil Saxena is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
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- Why Learned Helplessness is the Fast Track to Disaster (blogs.forbes.com)
- Learned Helplessness (krugman.blogs.nytimes.com)
- “Complaining Learned Helplessness” and Voter Turnout in 2010 (psychologytoday.com)