Some companies thrive in innovation environments and some companies find comfort in maintenance cultures. For every Apple, 3M, and Johnson & Johnson there are ten companies dedicated to flawlessly repeating a few key tasks. These maintenance-based companies, while not sexy, provide most of the economic value in keeping the marketplace running. Look at Ingram Micromanaging a large piece of logistic fulfillment in the United States, Les Schwab who has been able to turn a tire store into a repair factory with consistent production, and In-N-Out Burger perfecting and repeating only six menu items and always having a full line of hungry customers. These among numerous other businesses found a way to provide value and have been highly successful in perfecting the model to maintain a constant revenue flow.
This can create a looming risk though, where the company places too much effort and focus on maintaining the status quo. This can breed a culture of stagnation and short-sighted thought, leaving the company vulnerable to new threats. The US Post Office not grasping the desire for next day shipping and buried in managing their day to day operations were never able to compete with UPS and FedEx. Their culture had been pushed too deep into current realities, operational efficiencies, and attempting to perfect the repetition of their processes leading to an inability to conceptualize future work models.
A client I worked with years ago had an environment that modeled a maintenance framework that captures the description of a culture that could no longer break out of the stability mold. Starting with the executive team, during numerous strategic planning sessions and building vision statements, their future could only be envisioned beyond a two-year period and focused mostly on increasing production to achieve more revenue. Day to day management centered on firefighting and resolving routine problems instead of strategic development. The bonus and rewards system was built around risk mitigation where payouts were focused on quality and that is exactly what the organization received, very high quality and notable products. Unfortunately, they were also unable to predict a sea change in the market and were out of business in a three-year span of time.
What Does Choosing Maintenance over Growth Look Like?
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