In Part 2 of our 12-part series on the qualities of high-performing teams, we examine how getting clear on ‘what’s predictable’ opens up possibilities for ‘what’s possible.’

Making Forecasts from Old Ways of Doing Business

Getting a team to commit to specific goals, much less one indicative of breakthrough performance can be a difficult process. There is often hand-wringing, prognosticating, and gnashing of teeth. This is for good reason: declaring yourself accountable for producing a result requires that you think critically about what it’s going to take to deliver.

The following is a basic approach to committing to specific goals that I often see:

  • Determine what you accomplished last year.
  • Calculate an additional 5% gain in productivity.
  • Multiply figures from Step 1 and Step 2.
  • That’s it. You just got your annual goal for this year.

While prudent, here’s why that approach is a problem: it assumes that the way you did business last year is appropriate for the challenges this year. An organization’s way of doing business is the collective action (including the processes, assumptions, strategies, and relationships) of the people that constitute your organization.

The Drift

The Drift is our word for an organization’s traditional ways of doing business and expected set of results. Every organization has a set of likely results they can expect to achieve given the way it goes about doing business. The field of possible breakthrough results an organization can achieve is often constrained by past successes. The act of proposing results outside what the past says is possible is met with skepticism. When committing to a measurable result, people’s thinking often goes something like this:

  • “What can I achieve given how we’ve always done business?”
  • “Last year’s launch took 14 months. Twelve months sounds like a good target for this year.”
  • “We can’t launch in February, we won’t get an approval from purchasing by then.”

Breakthrough Performance requires asking “what’s predictable?”

Escaping the grip that the Drift has on future performance requires a simple yet powerful shift in language. Instead of using past results as a benchmark, ask “what is predictable if nothing changes about how we do business?” If ‘what’s predictable’ is sufficient for success, then there is no need to make any fundamental changes to the organization.

The real power in the question comes when success is unlikely, however. Asking, “what’s predictable?” opens the possibility of people producing a result that isn’t likely. The focus is shifted away from the limited set of options made available by the past and towards seeing old ways of doing business as barriers to delivering a new set of results. This simple question spawns other powerful conversations, including:

  • “Where is the Drift thwarting our success?”
  • “Are we willing to commit to something even though it isn’t predictable?”

Relic traditions, systems, and processes become not items on a checklist that needed to be handled, but opportunities to transform an organization and embed breakthrough performance. When an organization is clear on what’s predictable then possibilities for impacting the Drift become available.

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