I used to hear this early in my career and feel pretty satisfied about it – after all, someone was praising me, and succinctly to boot. And hey, who doesn’t want to be praised?
But later on, once I became a business leader myself, I discovered the real and present danger of those two little words.
I first 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 oh so totally wrong on the second.
Keep in mind, 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 has suddenly become the new bad.
Here’s the gist of my lesson today: 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 even and dramatically 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), the standard deviation in the raise pool is way smaller than it should be.
And thus, the financial incentive to do better than “good” disappears, since everyone gets about the same raise.
This “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 at least there’s plenty of opportunity for “good job!”s all around, right?
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 a huge and uncomfortable pack, and into the rarefied air at the top of the heap, where it isn’t very crowded.
Leaders and the teams they lead need to have a passion for greatness.
Leaders HAVE to push for it. Relentlessly. Persistently. Patiently.
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 each and 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 in the business world.
It’s time to be great. Let’s go.