When people do right - does the right thing happen?

Organizations are all about ‘success.’ Being ‘successful.’ Which can mean many different things to many different people. ‘Success’ is not simply the ‘antithesis of failure.’ One could argue that ‘mediocrity’ in many cases is practically accepted as the antithesis of ‘failure.’ ‘Mediocrity’ is hardly the same as ‘success.’

Organizational success means that a lot of different people need to be doing lots of very different, but very important things. And this often includes things that can go unnoticed. The ‘one percenters.’ Getting things done right the first time.

Organizational success is often based on what happens when people ‘do right.’ But time and time again, we come across systems and cultures which essentially encourage people to ‘do wrong’ – even though every poster and brochure screams the opposite.

People do what I pay them to do!

We all know that ‘boss’ or ‘program director’ who rely on a premise that because they hire ‘smart’ people and pay them ‘good’ money … they will do the ‘right’ thing. This is often the case when it comes to things like (un)reliability. Something that is easy to avoid during design and manufacture, but something that is impossible to recover from when it comes to being profitable (or whatever definitions of success you run with).

Putting the onus on everyone else has never worked. It simply means that the ‘boss’ or ‘program director’ has simply found a way to not personally worry about making really important (but hidable) things like reliability happen. It becomes everyone else’s responsibility. Not theirs. And this attitude will permeate through every meeting, email, watercooler conversation et cetera.

Leaders have a ‘value bank account’

We often talk about things like ‘emotional bank accounts’ because they are useful analogies for how much we personally invest into each other. But leaders also have a ‘value bank account’ which represents how much they are prepared to invest in things that interest them.

If the ‘boss’ or ‘program director’ primarily talks about a single client, or a single product, or a single issue, then they are showing the team what their ‘value bank account’ is made up of. We (as human beings) can interpret from others what makes them excited. If our ‘boss’ or ‘program director’ speaks in excited tones about the aesthetics (or look) of the next generation wireless modem router we are developing, and appears bored when talking about everything else, their message is loud and clear.

And that message is that the currency of their ‘value bank account’ is all about a single characteristic. And not lots of other things that might be even more important when it comes to organizational success.

We reward what we value

We can't help it.

Whether it be overt recognition through awarding bonuses, or covert rewards like promotion, our ‘value bank account’ governs all. If we value importance, then we might only promote people who look and sound like us. This creates an echo chamber of ideas that reassures the ‘boss’ or ‘program director’ that their ideas are really, really good. Which makes them feel important.

It starts off with working out what ‘right’ is

Which means we need to define success. And if success is (for example) profitability, then we can work out how much things like warranty reliability matters. Which means leaders can explain to their employees what the ‘right’ thing is.

And perhaps more importantly, it means that those leaders can revaluate the currency of their ‘value bank account.’ Because this drives everything.

What about you? Have you worked in an organization where the ‘right’ thing was publicly promoted but practically discouraged? Or have you worked in an organization where it was clear what you needed to do, how it contributed to success, and what you would get when you did it?

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