Organizations that smooth corners roll down faster

Often, organizations don’t realize that they are falling until extraordinary efforts are required to make a difference. But it’s always easier to fix it today than it will be tomorrow. ( A stich in time!)

Resilient organizations are more focused on what you produce, and why.

Brittle organizations are focused on which end of the egg you open. Are you wearing the jacket the right way, buttoned up or down ,saying the incantations each time, saluting properly…when the boss comes in.

Petty dictators care a lot about words, about appearances, about whether everyone is servile in precisely the same fashion. Do they laugh at the most weird jokes and appreciate an art they don’t know a damn about.

The problem with words is that they easily lose their meaning. Say something often enough and it becomes a mundane expression, not an expression of how you actually feel. Not only that, but words rarely change things. Actions do.

Some tell tale signs

  • Attention stops being paid, compromises are made, quality goes down.
  • Expectations aren’t met.
  • Expectations are lowered.
  • Customers drift away.
  • Budgets are cut, because there are fewer customers.
  • Quality erodes even more, because there’s less to spend, and employees care less.
  • Repeat.
  • The alternative is the quality ratchet:
  • Over-focus on quality.
  • Expectations go up.
  • Sales rise as a result of word of mouth and customer satisfaction.
  • More money is spent on quality.
  • Repeat.

It turns out that it’s a lot easier to become a part of a group  that doesn’t ask you to think, or take responsibility for your actions. But, in the long run, those are the very things that lead to the changes we seek.

“Use your best judgment, care about your impact, do work that matters…” are significantly more powerful instructions than, “Do it this way. Say it this way. Behave the way I told you to.”

And here’s the hard part: You don’t fall down the abyss all at once. You compromise, you cut corners, you don’t bring as much to your work, and nothing bad happens (at first). So the feedback loop is broken.

Working your way back out works the same way: You work harder, you raise your standards, you invest, and nothing good happens (at first).

The challenge is to have the guts to care even when you’re not apparently rewarded for caring.


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