A Done Done Culture: Habit Seven

This is part seven in a twelve-part series on high performers. Creating a culture that keeps and challenges high performers isn't easy. I call this kind of culture a “done done” culture because it's focused on personal accountability and performance. Also because there are no excuses after someone says something is done. You can read the first posts here:

  1. They make decisions and act
  2. They act even when they don’t feel like it
  3. They do the most productive thing next
  4. They do only one thing at a time
  5. They have a bias for positivity 
  6. They have redefined failure

 They Don’t Let Fear Hold them Back

Let’s jump from one Muhammad to another. Sound ok to you? Because we’re talking about the greatest champion of all time! If you’re not into boxing then maybe you don’t know who moves like a butterfly and stings like a bee. But seriously, one of the reasons he’s a champ in my book has nothing to do with what he did in the ring. Instead Muhammad Ali is a champ precisely because he did more than just focus on his craft.

When you think of great athletes, who do you think of?

Do me a favor…take a second and think about the best athletes that come to mind in the next five minutes. Write them down if you like. And then look at the list. Go ahead, this will still be here.

Now, as you review the list, who made it? If you like football maybe you picked one of the current greats (Manning or Rodgers) or one of the oldies (Joe Namath or Reggie White). Did I just bother you because I didn’t list your favorite? Don’t worry; I don’t know much about football. But maybe you don’t either, and so you picked someone from golf, or tennis, or swimming, or baseball, or cycling. The list could go on and on.

What kind of impact have they made?

So as you look at your list, how many of them have made an impact outside of their sport. And in this particular case, I’m not counting donations to local charities. I’m talking about making a kind of stand like Ali did when he decided not to go to war. I’m talking about the kind of statement that suggests favorite athletes are willing to forgo their own potential to participate in their sport – all because they want to stand up for what they believe is right.

Because that’s what Ali did. Maybe you’ve seen him on tape, suggesting that those folks over there had never done anything to him so why would he go over there to kill them. Maybe you know the story of his losing his ability to box in one state after another. Maybe you know he ended up having to borrow funds from sparing partners and competitors just to survive. But survive he did. Because he was willing to take a larger stand and be known for something more than just his sport.

Brush your teeth!

I know there are a lot of great sports heroes these days, but I can’t help but remember back a few years now (don’t remind me how many!) when Charles Barkley made it clear he didn’t want to be a role model for kids. He just wanted to play basketball! Compare that to Ali telling kids (everywhere) that they needed to brush their teeth. He wasn’t getting paid for that particular statement. He was just trying to have an impact on the kids around him.

What fears are holding you back?

A few years ago I had a friend ask me, “If you could do anything without the fear of failure, what would you do?” Would you take a second now, just a minute or two, and ask yourself the same question. How you answer that question may suggest exactly what is in the balance and being held back because of your fear.

Several years ago I knew a guy who was out of work. When I asked the story of how he lost his job I had no idea the story I was going to hear. He had worked for a major airline and complained about the parts in one of its planes. Apparently he had complained enough that he’d been fired. Unfortunately, for everyone’s sakes, he was right and a few months after he was let go one of those planes crashed, injuring many. He hated that he’d lost his job because that’s all he had ever wanted to do. But because he had a passion for airline travel, he also couldn’t just stop after writing a single memo. He went to meetings and spoke up. He wrote memos to anyone and everyone. He was a broken record. And it wasn’t that he had no fear about losing his job. In his words, “I was just motivated by a bigger fear.”

Are you focused on the little or the big fears?

Courage, it’s been said, is not the absence of fear. It’s simply the willingness to stand one second longer than everyone else because something else is more important. Another way to think about that is that there are small fears (losing a job) and big fears (planes crashing and lots of folks dying). More often than not, we’re focused on the little fears.

High performers aren’t. They’re focused on the big fears. I’ve been challenging you to focus on the big fears and to make sure that fear isn’t holding you back. But honestly, that’s not what’s going to change the culture around you – to make sure that you keep your high performers. If you want to keep your high performers, you need to let that big fear (losing high quality people) motivate you past your little fears.

The Seventh Habit of a “Done Done” Culture

If you want to keep high performers then you need to make sure they work thru their fears. I know, I know. You’re thinking that I’m telling you that it’s time to go get your psychology degree for all the mushy stuff that’s going to be recommended. But I’m not going there. Instead, I want to highlight 3 fears that most employees have:

  1. Am I going to have the chance to have influence and impact?
  2. Am I going to have the chance to progress in my career?
  3. Am I going to lose my job for making a big mistake?

It’s amazing to me how rarely managers talk with their staff about their career goals. It’s amazing to me how rarely managers speak with their staff about the kinds of impact they want to have. It’s amazing to me…you get the story. Don’t be amazing in the wrong way!

Have these critical conversations with your staff regularly. Once a quarter isn’t too much. You want to be clear that you know where they’re trying to go, because you’re the one handing out assignments and it will go a long way in keeping and engaging high performers when they know you’re making those assignments in line with their long-term future and benefits in mind.

I don’t ever mind big mistakes. What I mind, and care most about, is a lack of personal responsibility. Hopefully you feel the same way, since you’re reading all about the topic. Creating a culture of high responsibility means creating a culture that keeps high performers around and encourages them to act, to make decisions, to focus on the critical stuff and to take risks. They may make big mistakes along the way, but I never mind that. I care that they don’t take enough risks for fear of failure. In that case, I no longer have a high performer.

Team Discussion

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe your team has different fears than the ones I’ve listed above. For this discussion, spend time with your team and ask them honestly what their biggest fears are, as it relates to your working environment. You may want to highlight these three, if the discussion is lagging, and see if they react to them. Or you may want to watch the discussion take off, simply because you brought up the topic. Either way, you’ll learn something about your team and how to help them move past their fears.