Succeed despite, don’t fail because

If only ‘they’ had given it to me on time. I asked ‘them’ and they did not reply. I sent an email to ‘them’ but have not yet had a response. We don’t have the budget we need. We don’t have the resources we need. Our organisational structure does not allow us to perform they way we need to.

Are you tired of this? Tired of the lame excuses for non performance, missing targets, missing deadlines? A large minority, or indeed majority, of middle management and too many times the senior management, of organisations seem to pride themselves on ‘failing because’ rather than ‘succeeding despite’. In my own experience, I was held accountable for results only on rare occasions, mostly in an operational role. I was usually held accountable for style over results.

Life in a business or a public organisation can be tough. In business, competitors can seem unreasonable, irrational in their actions in the market. In public institutions, the rules and regulations can seem designed to choke all innovation and speed out of the organisation. In both cases, budgets never seem to be enough.

Too many people in situations like these use the business environment as a crutch for failure rather than a challenge to utilise their innate and acquired skills to succeed despite the adversity they experience. The solution lies obviously within the attitude of the individual, but more times than not, within the attitude of the supervisor.

For individuals, a positive attitude where problems are seen as opportunities is needed. Whilst some a born with this view of the world, it can be learnt. Many of us practise a positive attitude in a social or sporting or family environment and yet display a glass half empty attitude at work. It is our responsibility as individuals to change that by understanding what environments generate that positive attitude outside work and change the environment inside work to match. Sometimes that may mean choosing another career or employer.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to create the environment that generates a positive attitude for our subordinates. As human beings, after our basic needs of food, shelter and safe living conditions are met, our next need is the sense of belonging and after that the sense of achievement. The latter two act as the strongest motivators in most work places. The strongest demotivator is bureaucracy getting in the way of reaching the sense of achievement.

Therefore, the single most useful thing a leader can do to motivate their staff is to give clear expectations of what is required in terms of behaviour and results and the consequences of non-performance and then provide the resources for them to get on with their job.

Some people will be motivated to find a role with expectations that match their personality and personal goals outside of their current organisation. This is not a bad thing. Most however, will be enthused by the clarity of expectations and consequences.

Some leaders, in the era of consultative management are just too timid. Whilst I am not fond of the ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ style of management as being the only style of management used, I am less fond of the ‘laissez faire’ management style where all is forgiven if one tries, but still does not succeed. In large organisations it breeds a culture of organisational impotence. In small organisations it can be fatal.

It is not enough to reward people for trying. It is achievement that needs to be rewarded. Holding people accountable for achieving success is a precondition in developing the preferred attitude where success is expected in the face of obstacles. It is also a precondition for those who do achieve to feel valued. The alternative is for mediocrity to be the norm, where the lowest common denominator is the level to which people gravitate.

Rewards can take many forms and for most people, provided their basic needs are met, the rewards that make a difference are not monetary. Recognition and reputation last much linger in people’s minds than a few extra dollars.

Leaders must at times also be able to accept a poor competitive or operating environment for what it is. They must be able to clearly articulate to their teams, as well as individuals, the expectations for the organisation in the environment in which it operates. Too many leaders hide their head in the sand and pretend the world is different, planning for the environment to return to ‘normal’, next year.

Accepting the cards they have been dealt will force their teams and individuals to accept them as well. The brain is a wonderfully innovative human organ when people are faced with the responsibility for achieving goals themselves, despite the environment in which they operate.

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