The idea for this blog came in two different stages. Two weeks ago I was sitting in a meeting where Deb, our founder, remarked to a senior level executive, “If you want this initiative to work, you’re eventually going to have to have a decision day.” I had heard that phrase a couple other times, but in this instance, it just seemed to ring true. A week later while training a group on presentation skills, I played a movie clip where the presenter in the clip tells a story that depicts his decision to leave his boring, corporate life behind and follow his dreams. At the end of his story, he brings it back around by attributing a moral to his story saying, ‘sometimes we get so comfortable in our good life that we never try to be great.’ He ends by asking the audience, ‘so let me ask you, are you too good to be great?’ It occurred to me that it is that belief that causes so many organizations to stay stuck in a state of mediocrity. We have become so comfortable operating in a good and comfortable state, that we are unwilling to make the tough decisions that could propel us to greatness.
The idea of decision day is predominantly used as the day in which we must make a conscious decision: a decision as the leader of an organization, a decision as a staffer, or as the on-the-floor associate. The struggle with this decision to get on the bus and commit wholeheartedly, or get off the bus and let the rest of the team succeed is rooted in the idea that as managers we struggle so much with making the tough decisions that deep down inside we know will make us better. It is time to cut the dead weight that is dragging your team down.
We have all been in situations where our current state has been considered acceptable, with no apparent need to take a risk to see what other opportunities lie ahead; however, our current economic situation has caused a number of organizational leaders to consider innovative, and at times, unconventional methods to improve their competitiveness. We truly are living in a world of survival at the moment and for many organizations, it becomes the ‘low cost producer’ that will stand the test of time. It was this recognition that caused that executive from earlier to begin to explore new ways to produce his product at a higher quality and for a lower cost, and in the process, form a team that is committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Unfortunately, so often what comes along with innovative and strategic thinking, is the need to recalibrate the rest of the organization. The initial step in this process is to identify those within the organization that are able to embrace the idea of change for survival, and empower them, while neutralizing or removing those who resist the change, and are slowing the process down and preventing the company from succeeding. I know this because I heard the executive himself say, ‘I will not let this plant fail and I will do whatever it takes for us to survive – not for myself, but for you, and your families.’
The concept of ‘Decision Day’ is not new, but for many, it is a very difficult one to come to terms with. Over the past three years at New Directions I have become passionate about helping companies reach their maximum potential, and so often, that level is never obtained simply because mediocrity has become acceptable – a ‘don’t rock the boat’ mentality has emerged. The question I have is at what point along the way did the belief develop that ‘it’s ok for us to be average?’
The culmination of these different occurrences has caused me to re-evaluate how I approach organizations that are comfortable being less than great. I have to ask myself, can I be the consultant this person or organization needs me to be if I let them walk away with a mediocre plan or project? And as I ask myself this, I encourage you to do the same.
I once had a manager who would tell his team, ‘sometimes it’s best not to be first, that way you can learn from others’ mistakes.’ The problem I always had with that mindset was that if I was always looking to be second, how could I ever be first? To me, those companies that are seen as industry leaders, aren’t there because they simply got lucky; it’s because they made a commitment a long time ago to strive for greatness, knowing eventually they would achieve it.
As managers how do we give the impression that mediocrity is okay? Here are some common behaviors that send the wrong message.
If you have been someone at the table allowing ‘average’ or even sub-standard performance, while also asking why your organization hasn’t been able to rise above the fray – it’s time to ask yourself these questions:
Have I allowed unacceptable performance or behavior to continue because it’s simply easier to ignore it?
Have I set a tone that demonstrates a belief that average behavior is acceptable?
Are my decisions driven by metrics and fact-based data or by anecdotal information and personal preference?
Do I facilitate the hiring of individuals who simply meet the need, but that I know deep down inside are not the ‘right’ people for the job?
Do I own my area/space as if it were a company that bore my name (i.e. Harrington Manufacturing), allowing anyone who depended on a product or service from it, to know exactly who was responsible for the quality of the work?
So, are you striving for greatness or too comfortable with being average? Is it time to change?
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