Creative Destruction.


Whether you are acquainted with the term "creative destruction" or not, you are likely acquainted with its effects.  

It is the practice of intentionally tearing something down in order to build it back up fresh and new.  In recent weeks, I was reminded of this concept when I learned of an organization that hired a new leader to come in and "clean house."

If you are considering this type of move as an organizational leader, you are likely feeling frustration.  It could be a business unit that is not performing as expected, it could be that a regulatory hurdle has shifted your market landscape, or it could be that find you are playing referee and breaking up fights.  Whatever the reason, you'll find yourself thinking.... "Wouldn't it be better if we just started over?!"

Creative destruction can be a very effective means of resetting the culture of a struggling organization, but the risk is high.

If you are going to employ this type of approach, here are some key concepts to keep in mind:

  • Make it swift - Don't drag it out. Don't leave team members wondering what's next or if they are next.
  • Mind the gaps - During this kind of overhaul, there will be lots of confusion about the whats and whys.
  • Watch for the anarchists - When you usurp the status quo, be prepared to battle agendas of old or those who were waiting for the opportunity to rise up.
  • Don't forget the "build-up" part - Unfortunately, there are too many examples of leaders who are effective at usurping the status quo, but who fail to help reconstruct.  They are good at the destruction part, not so good at the creation aspect.
  • Communication is key - Remember, communication is two-way.  Send and receive.  It will be a tumultuous time and how you integrate feedback off the messages you send will be significant. 

Anything else I should know?

  • You probably won't last - If you are the one leading the destruction don't expect to be there long.  There are always exceptions, but the probabilities are not in your favor.  Even if you hold to the concepts above it's not likely that you will make many friends. You will likely spend much (if not all of) your relational and positional capital on the reset. 
  • It's expensive - It's always less expensive (short term and long term) to work to bring an under performing team into alignment than to face a large churn brought on by the chaos.  Creative destruction is also expensive emotionally and relationally.......the opportunity cost is high.

Parting thoughts

In some rare instances, an organization becomes so stuck and locked into status quo that the only way to get things back on track is to blow things up.  This assumes a number of things like:  The team is too toxic to fix, there is a perspective/belief that no one can get fired (govt agencies, higher-ed, non-profits, etc.), or the worst.... no one believes "better" is possible.

From our perspective, we suggest using the impetus for destruction and ensure you have exhausted all constructive options first.  More often than not there is a 20% investment option available that will get you 80% of the results you are looking for.  

Creative destruction is like the nuclear option.  It's the last card you pull.  It's efficient at breaking things up, but the fall-out will be substantial and lasting.  So, weigh carefully the decision to pull that trigger or not.  If you decide to pull the trigger, these thoughts will help you minimize the casualties and get to reconstruction swiftly.