Wednesday, March 14, 2007


I once knew a young manager who, steeped in the works of Peters and Deming, started a campaign to stress excellence in his department. The other managers and the department director initially expressed amused interest but over time whittled away at his proposed changes until any change was next to meaningless.

By the time the manager saw me, he was frustrated and demoralized. He thought that once his associates understood the virtues of the changes, they'd embrace them. He blamed himself for not persuasively presenting the ideas.

As he described his approaches, however, it became apparent that there were no major problems in the way he'd suggesed the changes and that the associates knew full well the virtues and drawbacks. These were not stupid people.

His problem boiled down to this: He was selling "excellence" to a group of customers that wanted "comfort." He was pushing "As good as can be" and they wanted "Good enough."

He saw the possible result of his proposals as being so clearly superior that he was stunned that anyone would choose otherwise. His associates, of course, saw the improvements as less than glowing and perhaps as even a threat.

The young manager eventually got beyond the discouragement and went on to do great things. I suspect, however, that he has never forgotten the powerful appeal of "comfort."


Anonymous said...

This problem can leave you feeling like the insane one and make you loose confidence in your work!

Rowan Manahan said...

Excellence, real excellence, makes people nervous

Michael Wade said...

Alas, the old line, "Don't work yourself out of a job" is alive and well.