There are eight characteristics that all living things have and healthy organizations possess those same characteristics. Organizations are really organisms, and to best understand what a healthy organization looks like we should look to the things that we look for in healthy organisms. For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about the first characteristic, organization. In order for a company to be healthy it needs to be more organized, not less. For the next couple of weeks, we will be talking about the second characteristic, reproduction. Bow chicka wow wow.
Organizations need to be continually reproducing in three critical ways:
themselves, their leadership and their products.
The human body is completely replaced cell by cell every 7-10 years. Organic structures are continually renewing themselves, especially those that live long enough to see this cycle repeat.
Go into your local shopping mall and walk around the anchor tenants. JC Penny, Target, Saks Fifth Avenue. In Canada, the Hudson’s Bay Company, a large retailer that owns Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylors and others, is our countries oldest company. It was founded on the 2nd of May, 1670. 351 years ago, as of this writing; it’s older than Canada. In fact, HBC played a significant role in the founding of Canada and its fingerprints can be seen all around the country. Has the company changed a great deal since 1670? Yes, absolutely. For one, they no longer print their own money, and it’s been a while since they bought and sold beaver pelts. But what about in the past 50 years? It could easily be said that without the war-chest and real estate holdings that come with founding a country and being three and a half centuries old, they would not have survived the last decade.
It’s been a very long time since they reproduced themselves; since they gave birth to a new version of themselves, or even a new idea that was not simply an evolution of an old idea.They have only been profitable two of the last ten years losing $631 million in 2018. They are still the same company they were in 1670, selling on the laurels of being the first of its kind in the new world. It’s not working. They’ve even lost the prestigious right to produce Canada’s olympic gear to the Vancouver-based startup Lululemon, a company that very much has reproduced itself since its inception in 1998.
What if Hudson’s Bay Company made it their mission to reinvent in-person retail, the way that startups are doing in large urban centres? What if they stopped selling everything and only sold the things that were profitable? What if they closed their 10 lowest-performing stores? What if they made the elite shopping experience something remarkable again? What if they started at the drawing board again? That would be novel. That would be interesting. That would be remarkable. That would not be like HBC. And that’s why it will never happen. Rebirth is the natural process of healthy organizations.