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One of the core strategies often employed by organizations, engaged in a ‘back to the basics’ movement, is to commit to dusting off their ‘core competencies’, giving them a good shake and affirming to the organization ‘these are what made us great, so let’s start doing this again.’ Whether that set of core competencies is building cars, designing software, writing legitimate mortgages or playing the best of classic R & B in the area, it is the foundation in which greatness is established, supported, reinforced and sustained across the spectrum of time. While this focus is essential to organizational transformation, it is equally important to note that the symbolism of returning to ‘core competencies’ also means the shredding of ‘core in-competencies’, both of which have to be done with all deliberate speed. It is a recognized fact that as an organization experiences higher and broader levels of success, there is a tendency to expand the territory by moving into areas that are disconnected from the core and, eventually, become their own set of skills and behaviors. Success fosters its own hammock of comfort that when slowly stretched over time between arrogance and cavalier blindness, the result is an uncomfortable balancing act in which the slightest wind will cause it to flip over.
Core in-competencies start out as subtle, minor annoyances that float along the bottom of the screen saver. They are, generally, seen as unobtrusive behavior attached on the periphery of the organizational culture and as unimportant as a wayward sock stuck to a bundle of matching laundry. Over time, the discarded, unmatched socks become their own bundle of laundry that piles up in the middle of the organization disguised as bad habits in need of a place to be ineffective. An organization experiencing a run of success will find ways to cover up these festering in-competencies by trying to integrate them into the core as one more task that needs to be done. In time, the organization is now assembling cars and assembling furniture, designing software and designing men’s ware, writing mortgages and writing textbooks, playing classic R & B and playing classic Sinatra, all the while convinced that it is performing both equally as well and not moved to ask, “Is this business, our business?” Meanwhile, employees find a certain degree of comfort with routine in-competencies and use that to evaluate their own levels of productivity and effectiveness. Years later, what started out as a novel idea has evolved into an absurdity of epic proportion. The raw examples, creative accounting, FMLA, predatory mortgaging, MEAP scores, Management meltdowns and others, all suggest that there is an internal reevaluation and subsequent cleansing of all those behaviors that do not promote the core welfare, well-being and wellness of an organization that has gone beyond the scope of its original intent.
For organizations caught in a globally, volatile market disruption, in which the first strategy is retrenchment, how do you get rid of something that has attached itself to your core and is hanging on for dear life? First comes the institutional questioning followed by raw truth-telling. If someone is bold enough to ask, “Why are we assembling furniture when we are a car company?” Then what has to follow is the truth about how that happened. “We originally thought that there were some production techniques that would transfer over into car production.” If, indeed, that is the truth, then don’t look to blame, but look to stop! From there, the task then becomes identifying all the behaviors, skills and knowledge that emerged as a result of that pilgrimage to disgrace land. Now, is this an indictment against taking on new challenges that promote the growth and development of an organization? It certainly is not, but it is recognition that the connection between broadening skills and profitable growth cannot be a haphazard strategy designed to fulfill a short term gain. There are already too many organizations skilled in that area. What’s needed is a focus on the growth strategies that build on the core competencies that sustain success and build toward a competitive future.

© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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