Friday, September 2, 2016

When Already Happy Is... Good Enough?

Enjoying a lively discussion with a colleague this week, I realized there may be reasons for discarding the idea of a team getting better with established performance improvement processes - or even just getting better, at all; not the least of which he reminded me: "because the boss is already happy." 

I didn't push our discussion beyond that final comment, so I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he truly was concerned about his principal's happiness - and his perceived concern of what could happen by placing new team processes & procedures into place which, although poised to improve service, could do otherwise if his mind's already made up about the matter. Alternatively, perhaps he had recognized that doing more work than is minimally necessary to elicit a state of "already happy" for his boss and retain a paycheck for himself would be a waste of time. Or, perhaps holding his team members accountable by providing them honest feedback was just too much darn work; it was hard to tell, yet he wouldn't be the first manager to feel that same way.

Yet, what happens when the status quo is not only the, well, the staus quo, yet revered by stakeholders as the preferred go-to standard? Things could stay happy, but things could also not. Great reflection on problems with the status quo are here by Matt Wagner:

Internally, the impact of the status quo is a stagnant culture that pushes away top performers. Your best employees are driven by the need to do something great. When they run into obstacles that don't make any sense to them, they start thinking about greener pastures. Of course, the opposite is true of your bureaucrats and your go-along-to-get-along employees. They hope to milk the status quo for as long as possible.

The irony, however, is the above idea, although wholly agreed to by myself, doesn't take into consideration that "best employees" may have departed the team long ago. Or maybe I should say - already departed.

Then what?

Don't be so sure this isn't what many 
people might actually prefer.
In the instance of my discussion with colleague, it then comes to term that as long as the client (principal) is "happy" there would be little impetus for change, except for the joy of self-improvement, itself; a joy certainly not shared by all people. And as much as I'm an evangelist for continuous performance improvement, for me to insist that every domestic staff team must improve themselves for, well, for only improvement's sake, is probably about the same as me standing beside a Mr. Softee truck and shouting they must change their product and become more like Haagen Dazs. 

The truth is, however, they don't. There's a market for the type of "already happy" those soft-serve ice cream cones produce on the side of the road, it's a huge market - one which extends well into the population of the "one percenters" - and the people driving those trucks will do just fine - along with their already happy customers. 

The question becomes then: what, exactly, will make your principals "happy," and is continuous improvement of the staff through structured processes by the Estate Manager really the answer? Well, I think it is, on most estates. But what about at yours? And is there support for improvement from those around you in your family office - and from the principals themselves? And is there a willingness from the staff to improve, despite the limited payout in the form of producing more "happiness" than currently seems to be "already" enough? 

To all of those questions: maybe. But maybe not.

It may take some hard, honest discussions to make the discovery, and the answers may not fit with what those performance improvement preachers like myself always seem to be posting on their blog. The answer may turn out to be installing structured and well thought out systems on their estate to embrace, to develop, and to celebrate the improved service (and the accountability of each team member) which comes along with it. 

Yet, for some, the answer may just turn out to be eating a swirly ice cream cone and clocking out for the day - and for them and their employers, all will still be happy.

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