Is Your Company Still Operating in Survival Mode?

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I am part of a business book club. At one of our recent meetings, another reader revealed that she works for a high-profile startup that wasn’t providing any career development resources. This employee came to the realization that although the startup was doing well, it was still in survival mode, forcing employees to take control of their own personal and career development.

What is Survival Mode?

According to Maslow, our most basic needs are related to physical survival: air, water, food, shelter, clothing, rest, and reproduction. When humans are in survival mode, they aren’t focused on higher-level needs such as personal connections, growth and development, and self actualization.

Companies in survival mode aren’t focused on growing / developing / building their teams and people. People tend to think survival mode primarily applies to startups and small businesses, yet organizations of all sizes operate in this way of thinking.

Why Companies Stay in Survival Mode

The truth is that many companies that are not actually in survival mode anymore, but they continue to operate as if they are. I’ve identified three reasons why this happens:

Habit. For some companies, survival mode becomes a habit. They’ve been on the proverbial treadmill for so long that they don’t stop even when the company’s status has improved.

Badge of Honor. For some leaders, survival mode is a point of pride. They’re adrenaline junkies. They enjoy being too busy and having multiple “urgent” tasks at hand.

Investor Pressure. Some companies may be stabilizing from a long-term perspective but they are in short-term survival mode because they must give investors the results needed to grow each quarter. They put off the longer view to satisfy short-term needs or demands.

Break the Cycle

Even if the organization isn’t ready to break the cycle, individual leaders can take steps to get their team out of survival mode.

Step back.

The proverbial saying about not seeing the forest for the trees applies here. When leaders are in survival mode, they often see details but not the bigger picture of the long-term health of the company. By taking a step back, you’ll have a clearer idea of what your employees, and your company, really need to go from short-term survival to self-actualization.

Slow down.

I once read a story from a mom of several small children. She noticed that when she tried to rush her children to complete tasks, they were more likely to drag their feet, make mistakes, and slow the entire process down. However, when she slowed down, the entire process went more smoothly and, ultimately, faster. Her takeaway: if you want to go fast, go slow.

The same applies to breaking the cycle of survival mode. Rather than deeming everything urgent and rushing through every task, decision, and meeting, take time to pause. Encourage your employees to slow the frenzied pace and pay attention to details.

Take time to plan.

“When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Survival mode often leads to reactive planning rather than proactive planning, and it can feel like you’re drinking from a fire hose. Plan regular team retreats to give your team a break from the everyday chaos, and to allow time to set goals and plan out your next quarter, six months, or year. By taking time to plan, your team will be stronger and more prepared for the tasks to come.

Develop your people.

When leaders focus on team development, they can decrease turnover, increase collaboration, and boost performance. You can do this by taking a coaching approach to help your team develop confidencein problem solving. Most importantly, focus on creating an atmosphere of trust to create a high performing team. And the time you spend focusing on developing your team will be repaid many times over by a more committed, engaged and passionate staff.

Survival mode creates short-term success but long-term burnout. It’s time to break the cycle so your team and your organization can thrive.

POSTED ON: Leadership, Productivity, Strategy and Vision, Team Development
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