New Years Business Resolution #3
It’s natural to want to feel comfortable, and to want everyone around us to feel comfortable, too. But our discomfort with discomfort can slow progress, and it can put us and our organizations at risk.
Human nature is interesting. For the most part, we rely on our senses to assess our comfort and safety. When what we see, hear, touch, taste and smell reassures us through familiarity, we think this means we’re safe — when in most cases, the opposite is true. We may be comfortable on the couch, eating junk food, drinking beer and watching television. But each time we do this, it reinforces familiarity at the same time as it diminishes our physical health, our mental capacity and our well-being, ultimately putting us in the path of many great risks. (Not the least of which is a life of regret!)
As business leaders, we want our organizations and the people in them to feel safe. But are we putting people and the future of the company at risk, by creating a culture of comfort? We are often comfortable when we know our job, we know what to expect, we don’t rock the boat and we like it that way. In comfortable organizations, you hear things like, “I don’t know, it’s just our policy,” or “that’s the way we do things around here.”
In Mark Samuel’s book ‘The Accountability Revolution’ he tells the story of a team of typists in the mid 1980s being encouraged by management to take computer classes. They were very proud to be the fastest and most accurate typing team in the organization. Everyone relied on them when it was really important. Because management valued their skills and wanted them to feel comfortable, they didn’t make the training a requirement. Within five years, the entire department was let go because their skills were obsolete.
In our own careers and across our organizations, we need to remain acutely suspicious of our predisposition to comfort, in ourselves and in others.
It is uncomfortable to deal with someone whose performance is consistently lacking. But if that person thinks they’re doing a good job, are they safe?
Not dealing with the situation for the sake of comfort hurts everyone: the employee themselves; the others who must make up the work; the relationships in the team; and your credibility as a leader. If you want to de-motivate people, demonstrate to them through your actions that their performance (or lack thereof) doesn’t really change anything.
On the other hand, discomfort highlights need and need is, of course, the mother of invention.
There is discomfort inherent in innovation, where we are constantly learning, taking risks and facing challenges.
Ironically, discomfort is where the safety is. Learning new skills, innovating, taking thoughtful and reasonable action, despite being uncomfortable, is how careers and organizations evolve. We have three states to choose from here: evolution, inertia or atrophy. We can choose to help our businesses and the people in them become more comfortable in the state of evolution.
Being unsafe is always uncomfortable; but being comfortable is not always safe.
At Honest, we guide our clients through strengthening their brand integrity, so their purpose is clear and meaningful; their culture encourages people to explore their edges as they further the purpose; and their brand reflects all of this with credibility out to the world; and back inward. This is the state where deep trust and brand loyalty is born, where work is rewarding on many levels and where success is richer.