Some years ago, I heard a colleague say something that I thought was one of the most short-sighted things I'd ever heard.
He was smart and ambitious, and had the necessary skills to help us get from where we were to where we needed to be. But he had two major drawbacks: He hated being wrong, and he despised failure. I learned this early in our working relationship when I witnessed him telling this team this:
"Above all else, remember this: Hard work is appreciated. But results are rewarded."
This sounds innocuous enough, doesn't it? But this one simple statement had a dramatically detrimental effect on the entire organization.
First, people started sailing a little too close to the line (and sometimes over it) to get results. The end justified the means, whatever the means involved.
Second, in an attempt to protect their own best interests, people stopped sharing best practices and ideas. They held their cards close to their chests and revealed them only when they had a full hand.
Third, instead of doing what was best for the customer and, in turn, the long-term interests of the company, people did what protected their own short-term interests.
Fourth, people stopped focusing on the year and focused only on the quarter ahead of them.
The change was palpable. And the company suffered as a result. This approach set off a domino effect that would take close to two years to turn around. We lost business in some smaller - yet nonetheless valuable - accounts as people squeezed their high dollar customers to deliver more. In consequence, the following year's results tanked as the high volume customers were maxed out and the smaller customers voted with their cheque books.
As the "I hate failure" leader exited the organization, his efforts were rewarded by the business tanking the year after he left. Of course, he felt justified and believed he was right. Instead of sending a message about leading for the long-term, his approach was validated. And so he continued in the same vein, gaining more and more confidence as he drove short-term business that tanked after he left.
So what's to be learned from this?
1. Effort always leads to better long-term outcomes
Results may take slightly longer (but not that much longer) to get, but they are more consistent and sustainable.
2. Results are the outcome of doing the right thing consistently
Putting the customer at the centre of every decision ultimately protects the long-term interests of the organization. It creates competitive advantage, breeds loyalty, and creates an evangelical tribe.
3. Reward hard work, not just results
Creating an environment where people's efforts are recognized and rewarded, even when they don't immediately deliver, builds a determined, committed, refuse-to-quit mindset. People focused only on the result give in when they don't get what they want. But those rewarded for effort will stop at nothing to get to where they want to go.