Jeffrey Saltzman’s blog this week talks about how we tend to base our assessment of organizations not on current performance but on the direction in which they’re moving. If a company is growing, we like it better than a company that is not, even if the company that’s not growing is bigger, better or more profitable.
He says the same applies to our current political situation. A politician perceived to be moving things in the right direction will get elected or re-elected even if the status quo is terrible.
The message then, obviously, is that complacency is death. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve been doing; if you stop setting high standards and moving toward them, public or consumer perception of your effectiveness will decrease. This is a message I’ve been delivering to teams for years. So you think you’re a high performing team? You’ve got it all figured out? What are you doing to keep it that way? If the answer is “nothing,” you’re not likely to stay on top of your game for very long.
Does this make it sound like we’re all on a hamster wheel, running to nowhere and never able to stop? Saltzman says the reason we value improvement so much is that themes like movement, change and renewal get our attention, and his research shows that these tendencies cross cultural borders and seem to be universally human. That’s an observation that makes it more palatable to me. It also reinforces another thing I’ve told teams for years: It’s not true that people hate and fear change. We simply hate and fear change that we perceive to be moving us in the direction of loss rather than gain. If you can effectively make the case for change moving us in a positive direction, people will buy in. In fact, they may even be enthusiastic about it.