The logic in tasting success

Recently I saw a notice in a newspaper telling drivers where the next day’s police radar traps would be set up. Have you, like me, wondered why they advertise this stuff? It seems counter-productive. Certainly the advanced warning will make people slow down in those areas. It stands to reason then, that the officers on duty won’t catch any speeders and may be sitting there (our taxpayers’ resources) doing nothing.

On second thought, the logic clicks. The good administrators at the police department have their eyes focused on the solution – not the problem. The goal is not to catch more speeders – although they are mandated to do so. The real long-term goal is to eradicate speeding and save lives and the trauma and cost of car accidents. By letting people know ahead of time where the radar will be set up, they are actually reaching their goal. People are not speeding. And, when drivers experience the pleasure of driving slowly and safely, they may be breaking their speeding habit.

In his great book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of how New York City administrators finally beat the on-going problem of graffiti in the NY subway. Rather than chasing and arresting those creating it, the city just kept cleaning it up. They kept the goal in mind – clean subway stations – and went directly after it. As they did so, people felt proud of the subway and wanted it kept that way. Surprisingly, crime rates dropped too.

The lesson here? Move closer to your end goal. Work on helping people actually see the future, and taste success. Here are some practical, organizational, examples.

1.      Are you involved in a project to improve quality? Don’t focus on catching errors. Focus on creating the conditions for errors not to occur. Focus on getting more done right. Focus on modeling the quality you want to create in all aspects. Tell people what quality looks like. Make a big deal of the ideal.

2.      Are you dealing with a person whose performance is poor?  Don’t focus on all the things that are going wrong. Find something he/she can do really well. Create success in a small part of the job and watch it spread. Compliment and recognize strengths and successes. If they are truly struggling, tell him or her what quality looks like – send them to conferences to see it. Pick a mentor or coach, bring in an outside expert to work alongside – give them a real-life example of what they should be doing.

3.      Is the manager who reports to you getting sloppy and unreliable when it comes to running regular team meetings? Arrange to attend the next few as a guest. Be transparent about your great expectations – “I’m really looking forward to seeing your team discuss the recent quarterly reports.” (Remember the cops waiting on the well-publicized corner?). Watch what happens to the quality of the meetings. Notice and encourage any movement toward better meetings, such as great discussions and healthy team dynamics. Once the team experiences a few meetings that are well planned and well run, they won’t accept a lacklustre approach. 

4.      Are you implementing a new technology? Don’t focus on all the terrible things that the new system will fix (we used to call it the burning platform – a la oil rig disasters). Look forward. Talk about what it will look like when it’s running. Set up a demo station and put some support people there. Let everyone test-drive it in a safe environment. Visit another company that is using the program. Focus on your long-term objectives – getting everyone trained up and satisfactorily using it. Tell people what day you will be shutting off the old system for good. Reward those who make the shift and find ways to let them be visible advocates for the future.

So, you get the picture. Do you want to speed your change? Focus on the end result and find a way for people to taste the future, now.

 Jill Malleck provides organization development consulting for major change initiatives, HR project and communications projects and teambuilding. Jill coaches individuals who are ready to develop a higher level of personal effectiveness.

One thought on “The logic in tasting success


  1. Great point. Looking for a solution versus putting a band aid on the obvious behaviour. Although most of us don’t like to think that instilling fear is a valid motivator–it is! I get annoyed when I see people or organizations exploiting other people’s fear though. Like all of a sudden pictures of Osama Bin Laden appear in the media just when there is considerable controversy being raised about Canada’a mission in Afghanistan and when the ever decreasing popularity of the Iraq war is causing more trouble for George.

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