Nothing will kill your organization faster than saying the words “we will never be”.
I’ve founded multiple successful companies in my life. A serial entrepreneur, born to bring vision to reality. As the President and CEO of The Penn Group, I spent a significant amount of energy casting vision, and helping to bridge the gap between expectation and reality. I am an idealist. I see the world through a vision of how things could be. I will spend my last dying breath fighting with all my energy and arrogance to make my dreams a reality. It is through that lens that insights such a visceral reaction within my soul when I hear people on my team or within an organization say the words “we will never be”.
As a leader our natural responsibility is to set a bar or level of expectation that we’d like our organization to rise to. Setting the standard and holding your team accountable to the standard takes energy. The higher quality of system and culture you introduce, the less energy it takes to hold the organization to that standard. This is due to two factors:
1) By having high quality systems in place within the organization, the system should theoretically deride tolerance for complacency.
2) By enforcing a strong culture of core values, your organization will self-correct by holding itself accountable to its own standard, while simultaneously highlighting underperformance.
With The Penn Group, I envisioned a company that prioritized excellence above all else. To call something excellent is to hold it in high regard. It must be set apart from the competition. Excellence is, at is core, difficult to achieve. With a core value of excellence, it drives us into a relentless pursuit of continuously increasing expectations of what we and our organization is capable of. The very idea that myself or the management team could accept a culturally inept philosophy that we will never be an organization that does X or can be Y is indomitable.
Accepting the idea that an organization could never rise to a level or standard by which it should be measured is cultural poison. From the perspective on the employee, imagine a situation where the management team came out and said, “we will never be #1 in our industry”. I’ve sat the table as an individual contributor and have heard this very statement. What the management team was trying to indicate was that to remain profitable and competitive, it isn’t a problem to be #2. They communicated, without realizing it, that being number two was as good as they thought they could be. The management team didn’t want to become number 1. They didn’t care to be number 1. Their culture suffered as a result.
The natural tendency of an organization is to bend toward complexity and complacency. The larger the organization, the more difficult it is for high quality talent to be retained due to bureaucracy, politics, and factions. I wholeheartedly reject the idea that an organization cannot be simulations big and great. Reject the phrase “we will never be” and instead replace it with the vision of “we will always achieve”.