Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Good Enough

One of the great undetermined areas in human relations in the workplace is the question of "What is 'good enough'?"

Certain types of behavior - harassment comes to mind - are usually declared to be unacceptable, but that leaves a lot of explored ground. As a young manager, I was stunned to find in one organization that the revelation that one executive routinely and knowingly violated a major administrative regulation was shrugged off. In my prior workplace, that would not have been tolerated. The result of the shrug in my mind was to call all regulations into question. After all, if management could ignore one major violation, why couldn't it ignore another? And how could other employees be disciplined for the violations while the executive walked away without so much as a reprimand?

The real wilderness, of course, can be found in the field of daily interactions. Some organizations tolerate abusive behavior if the person is technically proficient or "has good numbers." Even more accept gossiping, excessive sarcasm, backstabbing, casually missed deadlines, overpromising, and casual put-downs. I suspect that the reason is people decide, to use an old phrase, that enforcement is not worth the candle. The violation is not extreme enough to fall under the usual disciplinary categories and so it is ignored because correction will take too much time.

The best leaders, however, set a higher standard. They perceive the organization's standards as the minimum but personally demand much wiser, more ethical, behavior. In my experience, their teams tend to be more cohesive and effective and have higher morale. They've set a standard of "good enough" - few of them are perfectionists - but it is far above the level normally accepted.

It is hardly a complex task, but one of the most important things leaders can do is to ask, "What is regarded as 'good enough' around here?"

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