5 Ways To Keep Good From Becoming The New Bad

“Good Job!”

I used to hear this early in my career and feel pretty satisfied about it – after all, someone was praising me for getting the job done.    And who doesn’t want to be praised?

Later on, I became a leader and discovered the real hazards of those two little words.

I thought that delivering a lot of “good jobs” would help with morale, and spur the team on to greater heights.    I was correct on the first part, but totally wrong on the second.

There’s nothing wrong about appreciating the value of a task completed to your expectations – nothing at all.  That’s what “Thank yous” are for.

The problem comes when your litany of “good jobs” unintentionally stops progress dead in its tracks.      Good, in that case, becomes the new bad.

Leaders cannot overpraise work that is just meeting the job description and standards, and nothing more.  It sends a signal that “good” is enough, and it can quickly lead to complacency.

This problem can then be made worse by a “regression to the mean” system of annual raises and evaluations, where because everyone is doing a “good job” (since you said so), and as a result the standard deviation in the raise pool is way smaller than it should be.

And thus, even the financial incentive to do better than “good” disappears, since everyone gets about the same raise.

The “new bad” then gets reinforced by frozen-in-time standards and metrics – achievement numbers that once again represent “good” performance.   The bars never get raised, or the assumptions behind the standards challenged.

But there’s plenty of opportunity for “good job!”s  all around.

It’s certainly a pleasant environment to work in, and the essential work is getting done, but something is missing. Something that can push your team and your company beyond the middle of the pack, and into the rarefied air at the top of the heap.

A passion for greatness.

Leaders HAVE to push for it.    Relentlessly.

And the only way to make it stick is through:

  • Expectations that go beyond just “good”
  • Standards and metrics that back it up and ask for continuous improvement
  • Saving the high praise for exceptional performance
  • Better “bell curve” distribution of raises and bonuses
  • Talking about the journey to greatness at every opportunity

I can tell you from my own experience – once you take on this passion for greatness, and do those things that I’ve outlined here, that success flywheel will start to turn a heck of a lot faster.

Good isn’t good enough.

It’s time to be great.

(Photograph via BigStock)









  1. says

    Your title hooked me. But the post as a whole hooked me good. High praise for standard performance is a road to decline.

  2. says

    “Good Job’ is easier for the leader, for a quickie praise, he or she feels like they’ve expressed appreciation and it saves from the deeper thought and pushing harder. A reminder to define the goal line of “good” and that once we get there, that goal line is going to get pushed further ahead.

    Thank you, Terry.


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