Business Success: Maturity & Capability, or Negative Synergy

Updated on May 6, 2020
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Sid Kemp is a business consultant and author of 10 books on project management and business success.

Great Efforts Make for Spectacular Failures

We want to, or perhaps we've been directed to, improve business results. But few business leaders will acknowledge the dangers of this. As the song goes, "the harder they come, the harder they fall."

There's a reason for this, and it's called the law of conservation of energy. Energy doesn't disappear; it has to go somewhere. If you're driving an old clunker at 5 miles an hour, and something breaks, you'll hear a rattling noise, maybe you'll have to pull over, or worst, you'll have an accident and dent your bumper. It doesn't have a lot of energy, and doesn't do a lot of harm.

Low Power - Grind to a Halt

When we're not using much power, and things go wrong, they just grind to a halt with a small bump. That's the fate of most businesses these days, as the economy winds down.
When we're not using much power, and things go wrong, they just grind to a halt with a small bump. That's the fate of most businesses these days, as the economy winds down. | Source

But an Indy race car going at 200 miles an hour has a lot of energy. A tiny mis-mesh of gears will make it spin out and crash. It's likely to take other cars out of the race with it. And, on a really bad day, someone will be hurt or die.

In the current economy, if we keep running our businesses the way we always have, they will grind down and fail. To improve, we have to pump in more energy. But if we try to improve, and get it wrong, our businesses will spin out of control and blow up.

So let's learn to do it right. Let's tune our businesses for top performance and build them for powerful success!

More Power - Bigger Crash

More power and more precision lead to greater success: Until something goes wrong, and we get a bigger mess. Stan Fox Indianapolis 500 Race crash 1995..
More power and more precision lead to greater success: Until something goes wrong, and we get a bigger mess. Stan Fox Indianapolis 500 Race crash 1995.. | Source

Business Success Gets Harder and Harder

Business success is getting harder and harder, especially for honest businesses that deliver real value. There are a lot of reasons for this. Here are just a few of the big ones:

  • Scams and businesses that just move money around without offering real value drain the economy.
  • With so many scams, customer trust is at an all-time low. How do we prove we're honest, and that we offer real value?
  • Social and political problems such as poor education, cultural clashes, and increases of violence make it hard to create a great business, and have no solution within the reach of government.
  • The US economy has been restructured - the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, and it's harder than ever to jump the gap.
  • 90% of US citizens are running out of money and can't even afford all that they need, much less what they want. So the customers who need us can't afford to pay us.

As owners, business leaders, and managers, we are challenged more and more. It is harder to look beyond putting out immediate fires or meeting quarterly revenue results to think about strategy and long term success - or even survival. Meanwhile, other countries operate with very different cultural values. For example, businesses following the Japanese Total Quality Management model are willing to invest in the long term and wait ten years to see deep and lasting benefit. And those methods - which originated in the US, by the way - are more and more welcome in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, and China. Our competitors are more far-sighted than we are and, as it did in the 1980s, it is creating real challenges for the American economy.

To succeed, we need to succeed today, this quarter, and for the long haul.

We must build more powerful businesses using the people and tools available to us. But more power can mean more problems. Let's learn why, and see what we can do about it.

Cooperation and Collision in Business

American culture is very individualistic. Generally, people are allowed to do their jobs the way that they want to. When we try to organize work into standard operating procedures (SOP), we get a lot of resistance.

Companies that get past that resistance successfully end up doing great work. That is what Stephen R. Covey called Habit 6: Synergy. And we have proven ways of developing synergy, such as the Capability Maturity Model (CMM). In addition to understanding CMM, it's valuable to know its history. And these tools are built on fundamental principles of leadership, which means that they work.

These methods work by creating cooperation. With better communication, more information is passed more quickly with less misunderstanding. People do more work faster and better than together than they can do alone.

But the fundamental definition of work is a force applied over a distance (and over time). Work flow is a flow of force or power. And, just like the race car mentioned in the sidebar, the more power moving through a system, the worse the explosion when it breaks down.

So, if we try to create greater cooperation, we get bigger collisions - unless we really know how to lead and manage people, information, projects, and work.

Corporate Culture and Excess Energy

Cultures handle excess energy and, usually, keep running. Unlike Indy race cars, workplaces and social groups have ways of blowing up and getting back to work. This cyclic process is called schismogenesis: Tensions build up, then a blow-up occurs. Then pressure is relieved and social harmony is restored, but tension starts to build up again. And the cycle repeats.

But this is coping, not effective management. A lot of energy that could be useful goes into tension and release, and produces nothing. People are burned out by their work. They'd leave if they could. And, when they stay, we may have their bodies because we have their paychecks, but we don't have their hearts and minds. And so we can't create real success. Genuine leadership does better than that. We prevent conflict, instead of managing it. We teach and model cooperation, and our businesses do more than succeed, they survive and become industry leaders. This is the result called positive synergy, and it is optimal effectiveness.

But there's a risk. The effort to create positive synergy will create synergy: But will it create positive synergy, or negative synergy; effectiveness, or explosions?

Negative Synergy: The Capability Immaturity Model

While researching the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) and the Capability Maturity Model, Integrated (CMMI), I came across the Capability Immaturity Model. It sparked my thinking and pulled together many threads - my work with Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; my work in Emotionally Intelligent Self-Leadership and Leadership for Business, my focus on the profession of Project Management, my consulting work with small business success, and the CMM, as well.

The Capability Immaturity Model is serious social research about business success and failure presented in a humorous way, as a parody of the CMM. I really admire it's author for his willingness to study failure. Studying failure is essential to success. Only when we know how to prevent failure do we know how to ensure success.

The Capability Immaturity Model focuses on real problems that appear on teams and projects in companies that have achieved CMMI Level 2 status or higher, and should be able to reliably deliver software on time and to specification for military contracts. Yet failures do occur.

And they occur because of schismogenesis and negative synergy. A culture full of energy, focused on success, splits. And the split-off parts struggle with one another, creating the levels of Capability Immaturity. Capability Maturity is measured on a scale from 1 to 5. The central point of Capability Immaturity is that things get worse, going below Level 1. That is, rather than simply being unreliable and incompetent, teams and organizations actually become resistant, hostile, and obstructive. The model identifies four levels of organizational immaturity from zero to -3:

  • 0 Negligent. The organization claims to implement effective processes, but does not have the internal drive to do it. They may market their abilities to the hilt. But, when it comes to getting work done, often, nothing that works is produced anywhere near on time or on budget. If anything is produced, it is only by a heroic push a the end.
  • -1 Obstructive. Processes are in place, and everyone follows them. Everyone follows the rules, even if the rules don't produce good software. People keep their jobs by saying, "I did what I was supposed to do; I followed the rules." But no one cares about, produces, or tests products that actually meet customer specifications.
  • -2 Contemptuous. This is a situation of cultural conflict. Processes exist, but actual workers did not buy into the whole idea of effective process. They work their own way, and are contemptuous of management, standardization, or formal process. However good their individual work is, the whole package cannot work, because the people could not work together. Test results and measurements are fudged to look good, but the actual product will not pass testing or inspection by the customer.
  • -3 Undermining. When one team within a company is incompetent, they may enter into competition with teams that are actually effective in implementing higher levels of CMM. Competing for resources, they downplay, publicly criticize, or even sabotage other teams within the organization.

As leaders, we must recognize that such problems are a natural result of our efforts to improve. We are pumping more energy into the system. If communication breaks down, expect explosions. If trust is low, expect resistance, coping mechanisms, and hostility. It is only human nature at work. No one individual is to blame. This is simply how people function when we try for true teamwork, but misunderstanding gets in the way.

Creative Synergy in Movies and in Business

All change involves creativity - we are creating success. And business can learn a lot of good business from Hollywood. Not, perhaps, from the heroism in the movies, but from the behind-the-scenes success stories of how the best movies and TV shows are produced.

The best example of this in the last two decades is the work that Peter Jackson has done to create the three movies of The Lord of the Rings and the two movies of The Hobbit. He has built a business, a village, and a team of over 350 creative employees. They are all incredibly creative, enthusiastic, and dedicated. And, in business, The Lord of the Rings is, at the box office, a billion-dollar success story.

Peter Jackson organized the work so that he has total control of the big picture. At the same time, each person working on every team has creative freedom and control of his own work. He manages the flow of information with timing, coordination, and approval to keep everything flowing.

Learn from his example, and create successes in the third millennium!

Achieving Positive Synergy and Business Success

So, now we understand that the effort to create great teamwork - positive synergy - runs the risk of making things blow up. And we see that efforts to improve are going to meet resistance. If we don't manage that resistance well, it will become more entrenched, leading to obstruction, or even contempt and sabotage.

What do we do? No action, these days, leads to business failure. Action is risky.

It's time for leadership: Leadership that begins with determination and passion. We come up with a solution that really works for the company, customers, stockholders, and stakeholders. With that kind of purpose and passion, we seek inspiration, and call on ourselves and others to come up with inspired solutions and courageous action.

When people do try to undermine us, we respond with courage. We listen. And we act decisively. Gordon Bethune, shortly after he took over as CEO of Continental Airlines, saw that a small but crucial part of success was to repaint every airplane to create a corporate image (and reduce fuel costs by streamlining). He presented this to his operations manager, who said the schedule was impossible. Bethune heard him out, and assured him he would have all the money, resources, and support that he needed. But then he said: If it's impossible for you, I'll find someone else who can do it. The man's job was on the line. His boss's full support was there. The operations manager took up the challenge and succeeded, as did all the other leaders at Continental. Continental escaped a crash into bankruptcy, and, within a few months, became the best airline in the US.

A crisis is a time for great leadership, putting inspired plans into action. Are you up for it?

Negative Synergy to the Max

Replica armor of the Dark Lord of the Rings Sauron. The costume is the result of the positive synergy of a great team The figure shows the ultimate negative synergy - people and monsters working together for destruction, and undercutting one another.
Replica armor of the Dark Lord of the Rings Sauron. The costume is the result of the positive synergy of a great team The figure shows the ultimate negative synergy - people and monsters working together for destruction, and undercutting one another. | Source

Business Success Today

As a consultant and executive coach, I've worked with the best and the worst. I've studied the think-tanks and the great successes of the last 50 years. Here's what it takes to succeed now.

Business Success Today requires:

  • Inspired vision and plans
  • Leadership that brings everyone's creativity, heart, and mind together
  • Excellent communication that eliminates hassle, leaving everyone free to be creative and productive
  • Independent work towards a common goal

Understanding the principles of the Capability Maturity Model and its history will help.

No matter how expert and experienced we are, we all need to keep learning, keep getting better, keep listening, and keep leading to success!

How Mature is Your Organization?

Here are the levels of organizational maturity, from below the bottom to the top. Where does you company or department stand?

See results

The Harder They Come - Play to Chill When Work is Crazy

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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