Career Magazine

Getting Traction on Change

By Alanhargreaves @RechargeToday

Sometimes it’s better to lower the bar

Parents walk a tightrope between encouraging their children on one hand, and turning them off on the other. Some obsess about getting their kids to “reach their potential”. Others are so protective their children never get to “stretch” a little and discover new ground.

Where to set the bar is problematic. No one knows where it should be. In business, managers and entrepreneurs regularly set it too high. It’s all lofty talk about “raising the bar”, or clichés about getting going when the going gets tough.

I do not mean the actual goals are too ambitious. It’s more to do with the ladder they put in place to reach them. Either they set the rungs too far apart, or they expect the ladder to be ascended at an unrealistic speed.

The impact can be the same as pushing a reluctant child to climb the slippery dip ladder before they’re ready. The parent’s view of a child’s potential can be quite different to that of the child. The results can be seriously demoralizing for all concerned.

In business, the people you work with will not always share the same level of passion you do. You may have a huge amount of comfort around an exciting new project, but others may find it threatening.

Just as standards set by overly-ambitious parents can demoralize a child, your colleagues and employees can be de-motivated by the idea of climbing the mountain you have chosen. You see it as inspiring and challenging. They just see it as a big hill and they’d rather take a detour around it.

Put achievement within reach

There is a natural way to counter this. People like to see progress, and they get lifted by it. So when you choose the first rung, be realistic about where it is set.

Can you bring it closer?

This is not the same as giving every kid in the class a gold star just for turning up. It’s about being realistic. The challenge is not reaching the final outcome; it’s in how you to get there. The successful plan is the one where each target can actually be reached, either for the team as a whole or for the individual tasked with reaching for a specific rung.

It may be a “stretch”. All the better if it is. Its achievement will be more empowering as a result. That makes it more likely that people will be enthusiastic about reaching for the next one. Make that a realistic stretch too.

This is about getting traction and building momentum, rather than staying stuck at the bottom of the ladder. To reach an ambitious goal, sometimes it’s better to lower the bar.

For more on managing people and teams, go to the Recharge Workshop and check the downloads Maintaining Employee Performance or Forming a Functional Team.

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