Straight Lines and Big Pictures

Straight lines are hard to make unless you have a ruler . . .

Hmmm . . . you’re one step ahead of me here, right?!?

From an organizational standpoint, if you want things to fall into a perfectly straight, pre-determined line, it is probably going to take a ruler/dictator/boss manager/hard-line supervisor to make it happen. The problem is, in my experience, those kind of supervisory approaches kill morale and create a culture that squashes enthusiasm, creativity, innovation and anything that deviates from the pre-determined path . . . even if that deviation may be exactly what the organization needs to succeed.

That’s not to say that you don’t need goals, a clear end game, and a few hard and fast rules and expectations . . . but you can do all those things without employing a ruler. When you use a ruler to make a straight line, the focus tends to be on just that — making straight lines, rather than keeping an eye on how the big picture is developing. Sometimes life happens, and the big picture needs to change. Such adaptations may seem like a distraction to someone whose sole focus is getting from point A to point B . . . and as a result they may, with great precision, straight line your organization right into the ground.

For example, improving performance in a dying market is not going to save your organization . . . even if you hit your targets this quarter. In other cases, the time and energy required to have a perfectly straight line (i.e. 100% compliance) may detract from a task that, in the long run, may have a far greater impact on overall success. That’s not to say compliance isn’t important, but if 90% gives you a “excellent” rating, is there a better return on investment to have your staff focus their energy on that illusive 10%, or is their time better spent on other tasks that help you reach your big picture goals? As pointed out in a recent blog by Dixie Gillaspie, excellence and perfection are not the same thing.

Excellence is a result of focusing on the big picture, and being flexible enough to set the ruler aside and respond with curved lines, or occasionally even a squiggle or two if it contributes to the overall goal. Is this method less precise? Yep. Is it perfect? Rarely. Is it the best way to accomplish a big hairy audacious goal? Without a doubt!

Maybe it’s time to give up the straight lines, and the rulers that produce them, and instead focus on the big picture, squiggles and all.

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