Breaking Habits that Led to Success

Every so often I find that little nugget of oxymoronic brilliance that leaves me even more impressed by its unusual packaging. You know the ones I am referring to – they usually come as absolute surprises, speed up the greying process, and bring a rush of “Uh oh, what else am I missing”. The even cooler part of the insight comes when you share this treasure with others, BEFORE they crash.

There is a habit of duplicating what has worked before. Its led to some cliches that are absolutely dreaded by ambitious people – “We’ve always done it this way” and “Don’t fix what ain’t broke” and countless others. These are true in some situations, but are they universal? This week I want to share how some tactics can be effective short term and wildly destructive if kept in place long term.

What should a skilled manager of an outperforming team do when its team’s performance begins to slip? Now remember, when smart people work hard and have a series of successes, its not exactly easy to have them abandon the very approach that has helped them in the past. In our example, lets assume the manager made the team aware of the slippage and gave them opportunities to repair it on their own. Lets also assume that they even provided tips and examples of how to get back on track, all to no avail.

In walks the ugliest, least desirable, and results driven tool. Don’t be fooled. The unfortunate truth is micromanagement is invited to the party, not because of its looks nor its coolness, but its ability to deliver. Since managers are often heavily graded on performance, the tool used to restore it can become quickly and highly addictive. It has its limits, though.

A great manager is not only responsible to deliver performance results – they also need to advance their people and the processes they use. A team can be winning championships while losing its collective happiness. See on-going micromanagement does not develop people, it stifles them. In the short term it helps them build habits and learn while being protected, much like training wheels. My daughter learned to ride her bike with these wheels and I loved watching her smile enjoying the opportunities of this new toy. It was not so much fun witnessing the crash caused by these wheels because of their limiting nature, she lost her ability to turn on uneven ground. She fell, started crying, and said she hated the bike. When I asked why, she told me because it made her fall. She knew instinctively what I had to process – she had training wheels on because I felt more comfortable with them on. She knew she no longer needed them. My decision to keep them on caused her to fall.

So its true, my daughter needed to have training wheels and she was glad to have them. Its also true that she only needed them during the brief period where she did not have her balance mastered. Keeping them on longer caused her unnecessary grief. Does this really differ much from the workplace?

Managers would benefit from instituting a self imposed rental contract on this tool with heavy fines if not returned to the shed by a specified due date. The amount of time should coincide with the recipient’s gratefulness for the added direction and help in sorting out the challenge. Keeping the tool longer unnecessarily raises the risk of crashing.

Good Luck!