René Freudenberg
Interlub Group
Startup Contributor

Stop Thinking Big. Start from Within.

By Rene Freudenberg | Fri, 06/04/2021 - 13:01

If we could pick anything positive from the pandemic and social distancing, it would be the endless opportunities to stop and think. Now that vaccinations have started to roll out and the dust is starting to settle, at Interlub Group, we’re reflecting on the key points that have helped us navigate a business environment rattled by VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

In this article, we share three insights that have come from our questioning of the principles preached by traditional business wisdom to become successful: (1) have a clear vision, (2) develop concrete plans, and (3) define metrics to measure your progress.

How useful are bold visions of the future if uncertainty blinds us today?

The first problem we have with bold visions is that most of them seem alike and represent a generic or even utopian vision of our shared future. The second problem is that most bold visions are only an inspiring depiction of a finish line. Both these attributes, however, are of little use if we do not have a clear sense of where we start our journey. The thing that we often forget is that our starting point is what makes us unique and gives us certainty of what we can truly control and manage (as opposed to an intangible, hypothetical future).

We are not saying you should choose one over the other, but that you must understand that every journey always starts with a clear sense of where you are at any given time. Also, this starting point translates into a unique perspective, giving you the opportunity to make a unique contribution.

For instance, Interlub Group, like all other businesses in 2020, faced unprecedented challenges, made worse by a lack of foresight. However, instead of being paralyzed by not knowing what was to come, we focused on taking stock of and leveraging our talent, strengths, and resources. From this, we have been surprised by incredible organizational achievements we could not have imagined before the crisis. We were able to develop Ax-L, a new category of long-lasting antiviral products. They have not only helped us operate securely throughout the pandemic but have also helped us keep our promise of “zero layoffs,” as well as to protect more than 2,000 volunteers in our community, and to venture into a totally new business arena. Had we not asked ourselves, “What positive contribution can we make today with our existing resources?” we would have passed on a great opportunity to help our community and increase our organizational confidence for the future.

Insight 1 | Bold visions can only gain substance by assessing, working on, and updating your starting point.

How useful are specific plans if our reality is highly complex and volatile?

We all know that planning is critical in becoming more efficient and minimizing waste on our journey to achieving our goals. Due to mainstream business’ obsession with optimizing and increasing efficiencies (doing the same with less), ignoring the value of redundancies as a relevant reserve for unforeseen events is common. The aim of planning is to achieve predictable results by allocating resources beforehand. Yet, this is where the trap lies: while making plans gives us a framework for achieving our goals, they are vulnerable to volatility. Plans are only as good as the number of different scenarios they consider.

Contrary to planning, preparing makes us literally more resourceful for times when things spin out of control; it’s an investment that allows us to change course and find alternative routes through which we can not only survive, but thrive. This is because preparation considers much more than resource allocation; it considers where you focus your energy and resources for a future you can’t control.

At Interlub Group, we believe that preparation is king. Which is why we made significant investments in 2020 to strengthen our organizational culture and solidify our values: gratitude, loyalty, long-term commitment, and confidence in the future, all crucial for building a mindset that will help us thrive in challenging times. Also, we invested heavily in R&D, new product development, and training. Additionally, we attracted scientists and other key talents that were suddenly available in the market. We did all this while significantly reducing our travel expenses and unnecessary spending.

Had we stuck to a plan, we would not have increased our overall capabilities, resources, and mindset. The astonishing result for us was that we evolved during the pandemic into a new stage, in which a new and bolder vision seems achievable for the company.

Insight 2 | Ideally, planning will only help you achieve what you have imagined. Preparation will enable you to be open to the future and achieve outcomes beyond your imagination.

How useful are metrics captured yesterday for navigating ambiguity tomorrow?

As much as metrics are very useful for solving specific problems, they fall short of giving us a full picture of reality. Our senses, however, are better at connecting us instantly with reality; they let us capture information we would otherwise lose, due to the cold nature of metrics. As in the previous case, it is not about substituting one with the other, but of highlighting the importance of broadening our capability to sense beyond the metrics that influence much of our decision-making today.

It was immediately clear that measuring our progress with our established metrics and OKRs for the year was completely irrelevant in an environment that had suffered such a radical change, and that the priority was to increase our capabilities of understanding reality by observing and sensing the environment. For us, it was crucial to maximize transparency in blurry times of ambiguity. So, we defined the priorities for our organizational sustainability (team health, team spirit, customer proximity, steady supply chains, and healthy finances), enabled new channels for communication, and empowered everyone within the organization’s global structure to contribute and share news, updates, opportunities, and threats — either instantly through our WhatsApp group or during our weekly all-hands Zoom meetings — with colleagues not only from all over Mexico, but also from Brazil and Colombia.

This new organizational radar system that evolved because of the pandemic has increased our capacity to capture the information we need, as well as to encourage our teams to be proactive in proposing new initiatives that would keep us afloat in this new environment. But more importantly, a virtual connection (in times of social distancing) enabled us to monitor our organizational health and energized us to master this crisis.

Insight 3 | The capacity to sense and observe is underestimated in traditional business wisdom. It is the key to seeing beyond standardized metrics and making better decisions.

To thrive in times of extreme VUCA, we must expand our worldview and look beyond traditional business paradigms. By embracing our reality, expanding our senses, and leveraging our collective intelligence, we can find stability where there is volatility, define certainty where there is uncertainty, define simple rules for managing complexity, provide transparency to guide us through ambiguity, and, hopefully, make bold visions come alive.

About the Author

Rene Freudenberg is CEO of Interlub Group | The Uncommon Lubricant Company©, an organization that tackles some of the most demanding productivity and maintenance challenges in a wide range of industries. The company serves more than 2,500 customers in 37 countries and is headquartered in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico.

Photo by:   Rene Freudenberg