Manage to success – and not to morale.


 Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.


There’s a nasty human attribute:  we take getting what we get for granted.  While that’s always true, it’s especially corrupting when we don’t have to earn what we get because we get because of WHO we are and not because of WHAT we achieved.

When we get things that we didn’t really have to earn, over time, we not only take getting them for granted, we keep raising the bar.  In effect, we ask, What have you done for me lately?  The net effect is raising levels of greed and the attitude, I’m not responsible. 

That’s a really painful outcome to the provider when the giver is motivated by kindness and has derived real pleasure from the act of giving.  This is a very common condition, around the world, in business and in families.

One shouldn’t manage to morale because when you do, the natural inclination is to give people stuff to make them happy.  Over time, people view getting as normal or ordinary, and they expect and ask for more, and the giver gives, in order to make them happy.  When you manage to morale, the responsibility for keeping people satisfied lies in the lap of the giver – and the recipient is freed from any obligation.  That not only leads to the selfish and irresponsible attitude of Entitlement, it also prevents people from developing confidence in themselves.  In an increasingly turbulent and risky world, it is not a favor to preclude anyone from developing confidence.

I call the borderless economy a wartime economy.  The world has become more risky and less predictable, there’s more opportunity and less certainty than ever before.  Speed and decisiveness have become essential.  The psychological underpinning of leadership, of being able to swiftly decide and act, is confidence.

Why does managing to morale preclude confidence?  When people receive irrespective of what they do or don’t do, they are protected from risk.  The only way to develop confidence is to be responsible for handling manageable amounts of risk – and usually succeed.  It is the protection that is given by managing to morale that prohibits the development of confidence.

Instead of managing to morale – manage to success.  That means that people are required to EARN what they get through achievement or behavior.   Managing to success involves continuously raising the bar of required performance within a level of risk that’s manageable for that individual.  That means keeping people in a state I call productive insecurity.  That’s a condition in which you don’t take anything for granted – but you’re not really scared either.  It’s a state of always being on your toes. It’s a set of conditions or requirements in which people are always striving, stretching, achieving targets they had never dreamt they could achieve.  It’s a condition in which confidence grows.

The people whom you judge to be most valuable are those for whom the biggest turn-on is to achieve! win! be a winner in a winning team! …especially when the odds were long, the task was tough, and the outcome really mattered.  Those are the people who want to have FUN! at work.  That kind of fun always involves grappling with risk – and succeeding.

When you manage to success – in contrast to morale – you differentiate between people on the basis of performance, big time.  People whose work makes a really big difference to the organization get the Cadillacs.  The stars shine. Contributions that are solid but not outstanding are rewarded with a set of steak knives.  At best, non-achievers get a second chance.

When organizations manage to success, they have an obligation to everyone:  flatten the playing field.  Anyone, of any color, gender, ethnicity, et al, has to have a fair shot at earning increasing amounts of success.  In addition, they need to have a wide range of kinds of contributions that they recognize as making important contributions.  Sometimes the contribution is directly tied to the business of the business and is easily measured – a production target for example.  But other kinds of important contributions are less easy to measure:  people who lead, mentor, create teamwork, foster cohesion, model the best of best practices.  Those people, too, must be able to earn the sense of being successful.

When organizations manage to success they can provide employees with fun stuff – with parties, with sabbaticals, with parental leave…and so on.  The difference is, the desired condition is NOT GIVEN – it is, instead, EARNED.  The individual, the team, or the organization as a whole has to have met achievement targets and levels of profitability.

The goal of every organization should be to have as many individuals, teams or units earning success as possible.
















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