Feb 24 2011

I think I’ll stick with my song title Blog titles – it may be driving more traffic to my site (puns intended).

A growing debate has been happening in my head over the last few days. When we want something (or someone) to improve, how fast or hard should we drive that change? There is the school of thought that says if you are at a position of 1 and want to get to 10 then you have to demand ten until people get there. There is the other school of thought that says if you are at a 1 and want a 10 then you have to explain the end goal, and begin pushing for a 3 and when you get to the 3 you start pushing for the 5 and so on.

Both have their merits; the former is consistent and ensures that expectations are clear and people do not accuse one of “moving the goal posts”. However, it can also disenfranchise and disengage people as well as produce less than ideal output in terms of quality. The latter position “brings people with you” but it can end up making people think that every time a goal is hit the goalposts move and it can create a culture of “not too much too quickly” and sometimes that is necessary. Interestingly when I worked at PepsiCo, one of their core leadership values was “taking others with you”.

How fast is too fast, and how do we know when we are pushing too hard and pushing people away instead of motivating them to push themselves. I think one of the keys to all of this is to know the people you are working with. Are they self motivated and driven or do they need driving? How much do THEY believe they can accomplish? I fundamentally believe that most people can accomplish much more than they think they can, but if the gap between their perception and what is being asked of them is too wide, they can and often do disengage and coast along doing what they are told without putting their full effort into it.

To be successful in any improvement program (business or individual) I think 2 things are necessary; effective communication about intentions and regular reflection about progress. We need to be clear with people our intentions, what are we trying to achieve and how do we plan on achieving it. Often the biggest barrier to change is not a lack of desire but a lack of understanding. What do we want to accomplish? How do we want to do it? How fast do we want to do it? Is that realistic? If we can answer those questions and get people believing they can contribute sufficiently to the goal, then we are half way there.

The other aspect is reflection, this is like a progress review, but it is not about milestones and whether or not we are hitting the goals, but whether or not we are bringing people along with us. Taking the time out to reflect on how well the project, improvement, progress is going in terms of the people and whether or not they are “with you” is an invaluable part of any improvement. There is little point in pushing forward on our own if we leave the team behind or worse, force them along to the point they have lost interest.

Maybe, like Sammy Hagar back in 1984, we can’t drive 55 because it just feels too slow! But maybe 55 is the only speed that the team can go, there is a reason why they say we can only go as fast as our slowest person or a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Driving fast is fun and it gets you there quickly, driving hard is the same. But if it means we leave people behind, we either have to go back to pick them up or accept that some will fall out on the way. I am not suggesting we meander alongside the snails, but if we begin to lose people, maybe we need to either slow down or change directions – even if only to get people back on board. The only way you will know is if you have communicated effectively the mission and take the time to reflect how the mission is going along the way.



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