Change Leadership — Secret # 45
Marathons Are Aerobic
Fill the unforgiving minute with
sixty seconds’ worth of distance run. —Rudyard Kipling
What I Need to Know
There is a bias called the “sustainability bias,” whereby a person comes to believe that extreme performance can be sustained, rather than regressing to the normal, sustainable level.
Managers are especially susceptible to asking people for extraor-dinary effort and then expecting them to maintain it indefinitely. The result is premature exhaustion of resources, otherwise known as “burnout.” The danger for the manager is to commit to a schedule that cannot be achieved without sustained extraordinary effort. The manager gets farther and farther behind in her commitments and continues to request ever-increasing levels of extraordinary effort. Ultimately, the manager may fail to meet her commitments and lose responsibility for the project (and even go to jail). I could mention many names that have recently been in the news, but will only remind you of Q. T. Wiles from Miniscribe.
This is not just a Wall Street phenomenon. You and your customer are susceptible to it also. Have you had a customer who expected you to jump through flaming hoops? Have you worked like crazy to make your revenue targets only to have a higher target the next time? Or maybe you have asked your team to work extra hard to deliver commitments you made to the customer?
You and your customers are in a marathon. Marathon runners steadily burn a supply of oxygen and energy—it is an aerobic sport. Sprinting is anaerobic. Sprinters don’t use oxygen—but they stop after one hundred meters.
What I Need to Do
Take care to undercommit and overdeliver as much as possible.
One definition of quality is “meeting customer expectations.” Therefore, to deliver high quality, you must be diligent in setting expectations that you can exceed.
Avoid the common mistake of not including allowances for risk. Experienced contractors know the costs of risk. My painter refuses to work on a project basis; he prefers a time-and-materials-based price. He says, “If I quote you a piece price, I’m going to have to factor in a whole lot of risk and you’re not going to like the price.” The real issue is that he is not willing to share any risk. You will not have happy customers if you ask them to take all the risk. Conversely, you will not have any profits if you take all the risk.
Remember, you are in a marathon. Work hard, but do not expect yourself or others to perform “unnatural acts.”
Rather than relying on extraordinary effort, rely on extraordinary planning and discipline—they make extraordinary execution.