Some Prefer Excellence (Some Don’t!)

While having coffee with a friend, she confided that she had been ignominiously fired from her job. I wish I had been surprised, but as her list of stunning accomplishments on the job grew, I rather expected the result. Her boss had long been chafing at her unprecedented levels of success on almost every one of the company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and had already started sabotaging her work. The boss clearly felt threatened, and wanted to go back to being the team’s star.

This is actually pretty common — bosses may be incentivized (whether by their companies, their egos, or both) to stomp on people who do too good of a job, or who try to do something different. You read that correctly: the firm may very well want you to do a bad job! After all, the better you do, the higher the expectations on both the company and the team, and if others cannot perform at your level, then you would be setting a dangerous precedent for the business that cannot be maintained. Doing a good job may also end up highlighting where the company is not doing as well as it should, which can be inconvenient at best, and total destruction at worst.

Excellence is also rare and different, and in this fast-paced world of high demands people don’t have time for excellence that falls outside of the convenient, expedient, and/or comfortable zones. After all, it might be necessary to rewrite documentation, scrap whole [parts of] projects/initiatives, admit to wrongdoing, refund money, revamp teams, reallocate resources, or change the infrastructure. The headaches that go along with those adjustments may be so daunting that it might be easier to fire the superlative performer than actually deal with the value (s)he brings.

It’s consequently of major importance to have very clear communication about the definition of a good job, and a lot of companies don’t want to do that because it means admitting that they don’t actually want the best, don’t want to innovate, and don’t want to improve at any rate beyond the minimum increments necessary. Believe it or not, there’s no problem with saying any of those things! Innovation and excellence both carry costs, and when those can’t be passed on to the consumer, the costs may well outweigh the benefits. In such cases, innovation and excellence are not part of the value proposition, and the company can rest easy knowing that it is making good money by providing a usable, cost-effective product. As such, hiring top people also isn’t part of the deal, but there are plenty of cost-effective B-players who will do a fine job and keep the company comfortably profitable.

As a bonus, the openness and honesty with employees about the actual caliber of work required will allow for good fit, less turnover, a clear path to market, and far fewer headaches for everyone.