Meet the organization where it’s at

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned, through some bumpy lived experiences over the past 5+ years, is that you have to meet the organization where it’s at. When you know something isn’t working well, or you see a significant opportunity to improve upon something, it’s tempting to start by visualizing the dream/end state. Having a clear vision as to how you want to evolve a process, develop an employee, or accomplish a program of work can be extremely valuable and help set you on the path to achieving it; however, there is one major watch out. If your current reality is wildly different or has little resemblance to your ideal end state, you must respect your starting point and calibrate the path forward accordingly.

Far too often, we try to jump from current to end state, and then wonder why the end state doesn’t result in the desired outcomes we hoped for. One of the clearest examples of this, and an important lesson learned, came from our own failure with our first attempt at rolling out a formalized performance management program at Avanti. When I joined Avanti, we didn’t have a formal performance management program and expectations around performance reviews were quite loose. Coming from larger, more sophisticated, and more formal organizations, we had a strong desire to institute something better at Avanti. We selected a comprehensive program based on the Balanced Scorecard framework, and created and rolled out extensive, weighted average rating cards for every single role in the company. A lot of time and work went into preparing all the scorecards. We celebrated the roll out and were quite excited about it initially. Then after one painful and ineffective review cycle, we shut the program down.

The program failed (and we erred) because we didn’t acknowledge or respect our organization’s starting point and tried to go from nascent (1/10) to professional (10/10), with no bridge between. With the benefit of hindsight, I now appreciate that to successfully administer a balanced scorecard performance program framework assumes (a) your leaders are well trained and experienced in delivering performance reviews, (b) you can quickly and easily (emphasis here) retrieve the metrics you define as critical to measuring performance, (c) your employees understand the purpose of the program and are bought into the measurable behaviors being important indicators of job performance, and (d) you have a plan in place to sustain the program after the initial roll out. Because we lacked all the above, there was no buy in from employees or people leaders, and the program was short lived.

The example above nicely highlights the broader point, which comes up often in various forms. If you respect your starting place, it becomes easier to plan for sustainable changes and calibrate the change required to get towards your end state. It’s tempting and well intentioned to strive for greatness right from the start, but rarely works when there’s a significant gap. If excellence is the goal, it’s ok to work your way there deliberately and intentionally over time.