One business book that I have always held in high regard is titled “Danger in the Comfort Zone” by Judith Bardwick. It was published over twenty years ago and describes what she believes are the three most common psychological states an organization can be in:
1.) Entitlement – Individuals are complacent: they have gotten raises, bonuses, and benefits pretty much as a matter of course and their jobs have become routine, so their view is that there is no incentive to push for a change of any kind. They see themselves as successful and are so proud they can’t see any vulnerabilities.
2.) Fear – People are paralyzed; the threat of layoffs, reorganizations, or criticism from their boss makes them focus on protecting their jobs rather than seeking out ways to improve things.
3.) Achievement – People are energized by the challenge of a well-defined set of exciting goals. They know their work will be judged fairly, innovation is encouraged, failure is viewed as learning, and that rewards will be based on ideas and accomplishments.
Strong leaders push consistently to make sure their people and organizations are focused on achieving something of significance. An environment of achievement requires an exciting vision and clear plans to make it happen. It requires well-understood measures so that there is pressure to perform and to see those measures demonstrate genuine progress. It requires accurate matching of people to jobs to maximize impact.
People and organizations who are in an achievement-oriented environment know that past wins are fun to remember, but it is all about what’s next. In an achievement environment, there is a continuous challenge in which people and organizations are under pressure to perform, but they have the means to reduce the pressure through ideas and achievements.
The author believes there are three key conditions that a leader must create to move an organization into an achievement state:
1.) Challenge – To get commitment and high-performance, organizations must make sure employees have the chance to tackle challenging opportunities in which they stretch, learn, risk, and succeed.
2.) Empowerment – When people are given opportunities to organize and make decisions appropriate to their knowledge and experience, they usually perform very well. They think for themselves, sharpen their skills, focus their efforts, and display grit and self-control.
3.) Significance – Most people want their work to be significant. They want their work to contribute to something they feel is important.
Stepping back, it is fun and very rewarding to be part of an achieving organization! Strong leaders know that creating such an environment is the secret to continuing success.