In their now classic business book, “Built to Last”, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras write about the critical habits of highly successful companies. One of the key habits mentioned in the book is the ability of companies to Stimulate Progress while they Preserve the Core.
The Ideology Behind the Stimulate Progress and Preserve the Core Key Concept
At the heart of this key company characteristic lies the concept of core ideology. Core ideology comprises an organization’s values and purpose. As you well know, Values are the fundamental beliefs that guide the company’s behavior and decision-making. Purpose, on the other hand, is the organization’s fundamental reason for existence beyond just making money. These enduring principles provide stability and continuity, even as the external environment evolves.
The authors then go on to introduce the idea of “the genius of the AND,” which challenges the conventional notion of “either/or” thinking. It encourages leaders to find a way to achieve both progress and preservation, rather than choosing one over the other. This concept is the key foundation of their stimulating progress while preserving core culture idea.
They go on to say that leaders must find the right balance between embracing change and innovation (progress) while staying true to their organization’s fundamental values and purpose (preservation). This balance requires constant vigilance and adaptability.
Practical Applications of the Stimulate Progress and Preserve the Core Key Concept
For our purposes, Stimulating Progress refers to change, growth, innovation, and experimentation. Preserve the Core is about consistency, heritage, and institutional memory. Although these two features in the organization are described as working hand in hand, many people find it hard to implement because they intuitively feel as though they conflict with each other.
How can you make progress if you are preserving the past?
What do you act on?
What do you leave out?
What are the right things to preserve and what things are potentially holding you back?
I like the way the authors illustrate the concept of stimulating progress as a branch off the tree. If it goes well, then the company should put more and more resources to the idea. If not, it can quickly be trimmed, without effecting the growth of the tree.
To turn this concept into an actionable tactic, leaders must be visionary. They need to anticipate future trends and adapt their organizations accordingly:
- Consistency in Values: While strategies and tactics may evolve, core values should remain consistent. A commitment to integrity, respect, or customer-centricity should not waver. This consistency provides employees and customers with a sense of stability and trust. Even as employees seek to change, grow and innovate, these values should be non-negotiable.
- Encourage Innovation: Leaders should foster a culture of innovation within their organizations. Encouraging employees to think creatively and take calculated risks can lead to breakthroughs without compromising core principles. Encouraging is one thing, recognizing and rewarding appropriate risk taking can embed this type of behavior in the culture. Leaders can provide clarity by defining what “appropriate” means.
- Embrace Change: Change is inevitable, and leaders must not be afraid to embrace it. However, changes should be made with a deep understanding of how they align with the core values and purpose. Also, leaders need to remember that people are more committed to things they participate in creating. If there’s a change to a process used by the front line, then front line employees should be involved in designing the change early in the process.
Striking a Balance Can Lead to Success
Innovation powerhouse 3M exemplifies the balance between progress and preservation. Their commitment to innovation is embedded in their core values, allowing them to adapt to changing markets and technologies while staying true to their purpose of solving everyday problems with science.
In the book the authors do a great job of reconciling these ideas showcasing organizations whose leaders have mastered the art of stimulating progress while preserving the core culture to stand the test of time. By remaining adaptable and forward-thinking, yet grounded in their core values, they achieve sustainable success.