Rita Gunther McGrath, author of The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business, introduces a passage about when—and when not—to demand excellence from Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits That Masquerade as Virtues, by Jake Breede
This article builds off our last post on the importance of not always striving for excellence perfection.
An excerpt from chapter 5 of Tipping Sacred Cows:
Kick the Bad Work Habits That Masquerade as Virtues
Ella ran a team responsible for marketing a drug for a large pharmaceutical company. Ella held herself and her team to the same high standards. She choreographed product launch events with the same relentless attention to detail that had driven her academic success. After earning a PhD in biology from Stanford and an MBA at Harvard, Ella had a long track record of striving for high standards. So Ella was shocked when her boss took her aside to tell her she was in danger of receiving a poor annual review. For the first few seconds of the conversation, all she could hear was the sound of her own heartbeat thumping in her chest. She replayed all of the sacrifices she had made for her job, and she was outraged. What else did he want from her?
“Ella, I think you thrive on intensity,” her boss said. “But things aren’t just intense on your team. They’re tense.”
As her pulse finally slowed, Ella realized that the one professional value she treasured most—excellence—had backfired. In school and in the early part of her career, Ella’s obsession with producing the best work had always paid off. But something was broken now. Armed with this insight, Ella applied her well-developed “excellence muscle” to the new task of creating a more supportive culture and making it safer for her team to ask for help. She started to listen more to her team and less to the relentless voice inside her head demanding that every action be perfect. Ella didn’t need to lower her standards—she needed to raise her game.
“Excellence not only kills ideas, it kills energy.” –Jake Breeden, Tipping Sacred Cow