Disruption, or caretaking?

Feb 26, 2023

For every situation that mandates disruption, there will be an equal number of situations that require maintenance of the status quo.

It seems like everyone wants to be “disruptive” these days. I guess they want “to shake things up,” or maybe “break something that wasn’t broken.” In all seriousness, some things do need shaking up and some radical redirection needs to occur when an organization or part of it isn’t performing.

On the other hand, maybe some of the time disruption is the last thing needed. What could be needed instead may be best described as “caretaking.” Keeping things that are being done right in an organization that does something well. Not messing up “grandma’s recipe.”

Disruption may be easier to pull off than caretaking. Think about it. You don’t have to know as much. You are unfettered by information or past practices. Tradition and history aren’t important. Caretaking involves intimate knowledge of the situation and the cast of characters. It does not provide radically different results. It’s a maintenance role. It’s not as exciting as disruption. Nor may it draw as much attention to yourself.

I have written recently that knowing what to change and what to keep the same is a big part of the art of management. What if nothing really needs to change? There are plenty of businesses in that position. “Disruptors” and the radical disruption they create could well be a threat to the business.

How do you know if something needs to be disrupted? I would raise and answer the following:

  • Is the business declining, or is it still growing? If still growing, that is one indication that it doesn’t need radical change.
  • How is the business performing relative to industry norms? Better, worse, or the same? This means you need to first know how you are performing across a wide range of typical performance metrics and then track how you are doing compared to what’s typical. This is super-important. If you are outperforming the industry, that is one indication you don’t need radical disruption.
  • What is the state of employee morale? If it’s good, that means radical change could impact it in a negative way. The only way to know is through constant polling and an examination of the voluntary staff turnover rate compared to historical firm and industry norms.
  • How do the clients feel about the business? Are problems and complaints about service increasing or declining? These have to be tracked and dealt with. If problems aren’t increasing, maybe disruption is the last thing you need.

Every company and unit in it – and every situation – is different. For every situation that mandates disruption, there will be an equal number of situations that require maintenance of the status quo. Knowing the difference, and recognizing and appreciating that caretaking is an important function could be critical to your long-term success. 

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.