Master the Hedgehog Concept

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Master the Hedgehog Concept

Master the Hedgehog Concept

Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything.

Your hedgehog is the most important decision your leadership team can make. Your hedgehog drives every decision. It challenges your “yes” and affirms your “no.” It is bigger than your training plan and is more impactful than the people you hire. It changes your view of reality and simplifies your landscape. You know where you are going, and you will not be distracted on the journey.

Organizations which do not identify the hedgehog can become distracted, visualizing a warped sense of reality. Every proposal which fits under the umbrella of the organization is a “yes” because it sounds good. Saying “yes” to more means busywork for staff, cluttered messaging to customers and less opportunity to become a leading voice of your mission.

Most organizations cannot be all things to all people. Saying “no” is a vital part of a healthy organization.

Your leadership could be misidentifying the hedgehog. Rather than focusing on the stated mission, a felt need can supersede the mission at any moment. Consider an organization focused on a mission to solve a problem. As a small organization, the budget is always tight. After three years of living month-to-month, any opportunity which provides income becomes a “yes.” The organization has a clear mission, but has been distracted by finances. Some may say the mission was never the hedgehog to begin with, it just took longer for the weakness to become visible.

Leaders in larger organizations may delegate responsibility for hedgehog selection to individual departments. Rather than strongly defining the mission of the organization, this weak leadership structure minimizes the effectiveness of the organization and abandons the hedgehog.

When staff members do not know how to be successful in the scheme of the full organization, each person and each department begin to formulate their own expectations of a “win.” Soon, the organization is chasing many missions at the expense of its core mission. In this scenario, if staff are unable to reach consensus, the highest-ranking staff member subsequently maintains veto power over decision making, and any attempt to offer debate or healthy dialogue is perceived as a personal attack.

Lack of clarity will kill the organization slowly.

Ready to build a hedgehog?

The “hedgehog concept,” from Good to Great by Jim Collins, is a specific, singular mission, well-defined for the sake of the organization. The hedgehog can be used as a litmus test to determine the appropriate course of action in a debate.

“Which plan is better, A or B?” Let the hedgehog help you answer the question by clarifying reality and direction.

Forming a hedgehog will take a significant investment of time. Buy-in from senior leadership must be strong, and clear communication to the entire organization will provide a clear path forward. Form a team with a single mission to develop your hedgehog. Allow them to meet from time to time and represent various departments within your organization, positioning this group to succeed. A hedgehog alone will not solve your organization’s woes, but defining the ideal future will illuminate a path toward a successful future.

Scared? Hesitant? You are in good company. Focus on developing your team, invest in your people, and challenge them toward the hedgehog.

Looking for help defining the “hedgehog” for your business? Need a boost? Fortis Leadership is here to help!

-Aaron Lee
Fortis Leadership Executive Coach