“Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and applause of the many, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.”
Success in business is a trickier thing to talk about than you would expect.
In our ‘positive reinforcement world’ in which ‘everyone contributes and should be included’ we give out more gold stars in the business world than a second grade class. I sometimes think we give out so many rewards that no one can truly tell who the ‘best contributors’ <the ones who we used to call our ‘A players’> are.
In this, business is different than sports. Over an entire season your best players in sports become obvious to everyone. In business it is less obvious. It becomes even less obvious when everyone is getting bonuses and rewards. And it can be even less obvious to the employees themselves as even the A players get the rewards behind the scenes which makes the ‘somewhere less than A’ players start thinking … well … they are the success generators.
I sometimes wonder how we arrived at this commoditization of success in business.
Maybe it is an overreaction to a world where finding fault and seeking blame and uncovering less than perfection.
“We live in a world where finding fault in others seems to be the favorite blood sport. It has long been the basis of political campaign strategy. It is the theme of much television programming across the world. It sells newspapers.
Whenever we meet anyone, our first, almost unconscious reaction may be to look for imperfections.”
Henry B. Eyring
Maybe it is our slightly absurd infatuation with ‘everyone contributes’ and ‘all ideas are good & valuable.’
Yeah. Everyone does contribute in a business <or they get fired>. But not everyone contributes equally on all skills. That is why … uhm … we have departments and specialists and people who get hired to do accounting and sales. And, yes, everyone can contribute to success, but some have a larger impact than others. Does that make the ‘lesser impact people’ be less valuable?
Well, no, but their value generates less, or a different type, of an ROI.
But we don’t seem to want to point that out in an organization in our attempt to make everyone feel equally involved in the success. To be clear. If an organization is well run, everyone DOES contribute to success, but every organization has a hierarchy (even if it isn’t mapped out), just as ever team opts to a ‘captain’ even if one is not designated.
As for ideas?
Well, yes, everyone can come up with ideas and anyone can actually come up with a good and useful idea. But we certainly should not confuse that thought <truth> with the belief all ideas are good and that anyone can come up with the idea needed at some particular moment.
Generating ideas on demand is … well … valuable.
Generating ideas as an outcome of doing your job? … well … that is also valuable but of a different value.
Regardless. Managing success in business is tricky.
It is about balancing the truth that people play roles and offer different skills and some of those roles & skills offer different outcomes & values … to the other truth that organizations are like engines where when all the pieces & parts are working well and in tune the engine sings. But, once again, this doesn’t mean all parts & pieces are of equal value. Some sustain the possibility of horsepower and some actually create the horsepower.
Do you need both?
Sure. But maybe the biggest issue about all of this is the democratization of success in business. If you cannot highlight the successes framed relatively then … well … all successes become equal and therefore anyone believes they are as equally skilled & competent & valuable as everyone else.
That, my friends, is a problem in any organization of any significant size.
Do I believe in hierarchy? Well. Yes and no.
No if it is just layers to have layers & not if it doesn’t permit freedom to permit people to maximize what they have to offer.
Yes if it is because you have placed the appropriate skill in the appropriate position in order to maximize all the pieces & parts.
It seems to me that we would all be better off if we started thinking about the fact that success, and defeat, is not found in the applause or criticism, but rather resides in each and every employee.
It seems to me that if we encourage more of an individual responsibility & pride that the organization will succeed without having to invest a shitload of energy focusing on worrying about how to recognize success. And, yes, the business itself has a responsibility to foster this belief, attitude & behavior by culturally exhibiting this belief, attitude and behavior.
Far too often the senior management bitches about the lack of employee responsibility without looking in the mirror. And maybe it is in that last sentence which generally encapsulates the contradictory aspects impacting how we view success in business.
We desire everyone to win and feel part of the team and ,yet, the American obsession with competition is more often than not brought to Life in business in some type of individual reviews, rewards & responses.
We inherently understand that the pieces & parts are not all equal in skill and output/outcome and, while talking about ‘everybody wins’, we still create an environment to have ‘someone win’ … believing competition brings out the best in everyone.
Managing that contradiction … well … if you don’t manage it well than success of the overall business suffers.
We all know what makes a business successful, or great, is continual improvement … not an “if it aint broke don’t fix it” attitude. Many American companies such as Ford, Alcoa, Starbucks and Harley Davidson practice continual improvement and systems thinking with great success. Deming is the one who developed the business approach of Continual Quality Improvement. It fosters teamwork and overall organizational success versus encouraging organizational success through individual competition.
Frankly, the idea is complicated and tricky. And it goes against America’s natural business DNA and most companies resist embracing the concept fully instead embracing individual competition <under a smokescreen umbrella of ‘everybody wins’>.
In general managing success in business is tricky for a variety of reasons.
We are too fond of quick fixes.
We are too fond of believing competition is necessary to maximize individual behavior.
We are too fond of not wanting to imply someone is better than someone else at something publicly.
We are too fond of chasing organizational management ideas used successfully by someone else <which is often like putting a hexagon peg in a square hole>.
I am not suggesting this is easy. Success is business is tricky. But I talk with a lot of businesses and I will suggest that most businesses haven’t figured it out. Just as sharing authority and leadership without actually losing it is difficult … sharing success without losing the luster of success is also difficult.
Most businesses are trying but they are a work in progress. I do believe the moment “leaders” recognize that triumph & defeat resides within everyone & empower them to be triumphant, empower them to make some ‘defeat’ decisions (and psychologically make them feel safe in making some of those decisions, the more productive, and healthy, the business will be.