Saturday, January 25, 2014

Set your own performance bar, then raise it!

Each person is responsible for having the self-respect and pride in their work to set their own performance bar.  I've worked in various organizations, and I often hear a number of complaints about staff not receiving direction, or being afraid to take initiative.  This can be for any number of reasons, some valid, and some falsely perceived.  The common mantra - that's above my paygrade... so as is the motto for Saint Francis University (one of my Alma Maters, the other... PSU), "Reach Higher, Go Far!"  Don't expect to move to a higher position if you don't step up and take ownership.  If you can't make the decision, then get the facts and make a recommendation to someone who has that authority, or if you have time, volunteer to do it! I'm not suggesting that you lose your work-life balance by working ridiculous hours.  I am saying you should be dedicated and focused the hours you do work!

As a species, questioning everything is part of our God given makeup.  We need confirmation that we're on the right path, and feedback that we are meeting expectations.  People can get this in many areas... managers, peers, co-workers,etc.   The only place that is constant, is looking internally through reflection and meditation.  Proverbs 6:6-8 in the Living Bible says... "Take a lesson from the ants, you lazy fellow. Learn from their ways and be wise! For though they have no king to make them work, yet they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter."  God reinforces our responsibility to be driven internally, not be lazy... to work hard... and set our own bar!

For the most part, organizations tend toward chaos and selfish initiatives when there is a void of direction.  This is because they haven't learned to focus on common efforts.  There are many initiatives under way to such as the Zappos experiment with eliminating management.  I'm not saying this won't work in the short term... I'd be more concerned about maintaining focus in the long term.

My reservations with Zappos are based on my experience.  One organization I'd worked for was heavily team focused.  Clicks formed in the organization, and decisions were made on emotion instead of analysis.  Decisions required consensus.  When individuals focused on looking objectively vs. passionately, they were seen as a non-team player.  Peer reviews were never overly honest or critical, because the reviewer would need feedback as well, so there was little honest feedback provided.  (I actually had someone ask for input... followed scratch my back... I'll scratch yours!)  The organization shifted models several times.  I was most disenfranchised when the leadership team decided to terminate their top salesperson because the person expected everyone around them to give their best effort.  Rather than coach a solid performer on the need to improve their interpersonal skills, they lost one of their most gifted and dedicated employees.

If an organization "has" a direction, and culture toward continuously improve processes, efficiency, and customer service, then I propose that the setting the bar is an evolutionary process and one that doesn't require explicit instructions.  When everyone contributes, and focuses on some basic common sense goals... like continuous improvement, the organization continuously evolves.  You don't need to be told to do something, you do it because it's the right thing to do!

There are organizations that can go out of their way to prevent what should be focusing staff on improving by ensuring that goals are aligned with the organizations' requirements.  These usually have systemic issues, such as:
  1. Focusing on metrics such as hours worked instead of output, responsiveness, quality, and customer service.  "Face Time" is not a valid or desirable metric.  It's much better to have efficient staff that properly plan, than reactive staff that are constantly putting out the next big fire through heroic efforts and working non-stop.
  2. Awarding heroic efforts, vs. a well planned and stable environment as a result of proper planning, controls, and adjusting project trajectory vs. reacting to project changes.
  3. Nepotism - awarding family with promotions that others deserve... which is ethical if you own the company.  If you don't, then it's unfair to the other employees who are more deserving and qualified for the position and is generally accepted as unethical behavior.
  4. Failure to respect or providing preferential treatment to individuals based on their race, religion, gender, appearance, or for other reasons not related to job performance.
  5. Poor interpersonal skills.
  6. Lack of respect for individuals.
There are many others... I'm sure you've experienced them.  When you're in a toxic situation, you have three choices... grin and bear it, be the change agent, or change positions. I recommend the two latter, based on your tolerance to the stress that goes with being a change agent, and the organizations acceptance of change.  In no case should you permit your position to have a negative impact on your quality of life for any longer than absolutely possible.
Prepare yourself for the journey by putting yourself on the balcony... which means pull yourself from the situation and short term experience... elevate.. and gain perspective by looking at the big picture with a long term perspective.  Setting goals isn't based on picking the perfect path and not looking back... it's about making the best decision with the information available... and then adjusting your trajectory along the way. It's the difference between living like a scud missile, or living like a smart bomb.  The smart bomb can adjust, the scud can't... it travels through space aimlessly and can't adjust to changing winds, or other environmental factors.  The smart bomb reaches it's destination regardless of distance by design... the scud will only do so if the initial decision was perfect and nothing changes, and the journey is short.

So, now you know... it's your responsibility to ratchet up your internal performance barometer... and let's see who follows!  If you can lead from above.. then lead and they will follow.  If not, then lead from where you are now, and prepare for the future!