Saturday, October 16, 2010

Is it Just Wrong or an Opportunity Waiting to Happen?

I was chatting with a client recently about how hard it is sometimes to recover and move forward after something has gone wrong. Getting over the sensation of having been ‘wronged’ or of being the party who’s committed the ‘wrongful act’ is a process all by itself that, in business, can slow progress to a screeching halt while everyone tries to avoid the pointing fingers. My client said something powerful: ‘people would rather admit things are imperfect than admit to being wrong’. In business, however, the political nature of participants who are competing for attention, recognition or limited pats on the back is often to either assign or avoid blame. The result of either of these efforts is to ignore the more important focus which is the one from which all could gain: what didn’t work, how can it be avoided going forward, and what can we learn as a result?

In the meantime, real resolution to the problem is still waiting; slowed or avoided because no one wants to admit to being wrong. If you, the motivator-in-chief, can recognize that in imperfection is the opportunity to improve, there may be a key to moving things along, avoid the need to accuse and speed improvements. Not so easy to do yet it sure beats the alternative poisoned environment. While you’re wondering if this is how things are done at your place of business, consider these questions:

1. Is your business environment one in which people are rewarded for an innovative attempt or only some recognizable success after the attempt? While the latter may have some immediate, quantifiable whooppee impact, the former will net you an employee who’ll keep trying to make things better for you and your business.

2. Is assigning blame for what went wrong more powerful than seeking process improvements? The former may puff up an ego while the latter may continue to build a business (and may puff multiple egos, if that’s meaningful for you.)

3. Do your employees compete with each other instead of other companies in your category of provider? While this might be useful in a strictly sales environment, in every other way it diminishes the greater growth and productivity that can come from shared resources and support.

4. Do you have a file of mis-steps taken by employees that you’ll dust off during the ’someday-in-the-future’ annual review? If you’d like to learn just how much you might be missing on the power of well-designed performance reviews, just shoot me an email with ‘performance’ in the subject line.

I wonder which of these environmental norms will lead beyond ‘imperfect and getting better’ and which will keep you in the ‘wronged’ sensibility?