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What Prevents Excellence?
Can mediocrity dull the hunger pains for excellence? Can accepting the status quo doom your team to mediocrity? Staying hungry for that which provides the most benefit is extremely challenging and often illusive to many organizations. There are many factors that contribute to lost hunger. This will focus on some common reasons we lose the drive toward excellence. Though not exhaustive, your team can certainly reach break-through by addressing these individually and collectively.
Finding success can be our worst enemy. This may sound crazy but marginal success can literally dull the pains that drive us toward excellence. Unhealthy food can kill the same hunger that the proper food can provide. This phenomenon was evident prior to the last recession. The robust economy created such abundance that business did not have to be excellent to succeed. Poor leadership and marginal management could not dampen the enormous opportunity the economy presented to companies. Are we experiencing the same reality now? As success happens, will similar companies lose the drive that overcame the inertia to get started?
A lack of emphasis on people development is another key ingredient in the recipe for mediocrity. Failing to have a robust learning effort creates an environment where people become “comfortable” and are not challenged to grow and improve. Mediocre companies cannot afford to train while winning organizations understand that learning is a mandatory part of the business model for success. Doing more with less requires capable team members with the talent and flexibility to remove the barrier of “not my job” as is common for the organizational masses.
The painful truth is that most companies have NO PLAN or strategy to keep the best and the brightest. Some companies take the people on the team for granted while spending little to nothing on the development of the same talent. This permeates the organization with mediocrity as no one is required to constantly improve performance. Over time, people can literally feel “entitled” to their job and get comfortable to the point of complacency.
Consider the big fish in the little pond analogy. The fish can have whatever it wants. There is no one to challenge its place in the environment. Daily, it feeds on the little fish and gets slow and fat. Days and nights of comfort and a lack of any threat makes the fish seem very successful. The smaller fish may even envy the big fish and the status it occupies in the small pond. One day, the rains start and don’t stop. The land is flooded and suddenly the big fish is part of a large lake many times larger than the original pond. Suddenly the fish finds itself in an environment of larger and more physically superior fish. Not long after the flood and the change of status the original big fish is consumed. Many companies and employees are like the original big fish. A perceived lack of threat creates apathy and makes people comfortable. A rare organization is truly performance based to the point that people are pushed and challenged for excellence constantly. A safe environment can be the challenge facing a mediocre team.
What drives the hunger for success in life? How does this hunger seem to fade as marginal success enters our lives? The true challenge for any successful leader is to create an environment that pushes employees to their perceived capability and then just a bit further in order to grow. This challenge is often neglected because managers are not taught to know just how far they can push the talent on the team. This ignorance leads to inaction and the organization starts to settle.
There is good news here as well. Just as in the sports that has impacted most of our lives; we can learn to improve with incremental magic. Just as coaches and teachers have pushed us in the past, the same is necessary for the present and the future. The executive without the coach will be the exception while those with personal coaches will be the norm. Being pushed is sometimes the only way to stay hungry in the game of life!