Declaring victory can mean losing the win.
I was working at a hospital in Chicago in the mid 1990s where at the taste of success, we declared victory too soon.
We were named the “Great Comeback” winner for large hospitals for the strides we made one year. Our key to winning was our dramatic increase in patient satisfaction measured by an outside company. We had celebrations. We hung banners. We even had a small plastic tag about the award affixed to every employee name badge.
The honeymoon ended the very next month as we gave back about half of our patient satisfaction gains. Fortunately, we recovered with systems we put in place previously and returned to high numbers, but the hiccup illustrated an important point: Never declare victory.
In short, we won an award and took our eye of the ball.
John Kotter wrote that part of achieving success is never declaring victory. We did in Chicago and we went backward. This is not unusual.
It is often helpful for a company to bring in outside experts or consultants to bring tools and expertise to improve performance. That usually means an increased level of attention and accountability is brought to the table at an organization. That focus means the organization comes close to, or does achieve the desired results.
Over time, though, the intensity and spotlight begin to shift to other areas and slippage starts. If not checked, this slippage can lead to a regression and a tumble back to the original starting point.
That’s not even the worst part.
When any other initiative begins at that same organization, sometimes with a fancy buzz term like “Mission Possible,” the employees know it won’t last. And those people who don’t want any change have had their resistance to change reinforced. They’ll wait this one out, too, and tell their co-workers “I told you so” after quick gains and a gradual slip.
I’ve lived in both worlds: Working for companies that brought in consultants and as a consultant myself. When the regression happens, both sides point fingers. The company blames the consultant, and often the consultant’s perception is that the company backed away from the processes and tools the consultant installed. In the end, it doesn’t matter; the reality is that the results did not hold.
Today, I want to focus on persistence with initiatives. What are some actions a person or an organization can take to not go backwards when a goal is achieved? What systems can be installed to correct a regression? Here are some tips:
— The first action is to keep the “why” front and center. I discuss the “why” in many columns. As you can tell, it’s important in so many facets of business. Think in terms of weight management. The goal is not to just lose weight, the goal is to get healthier by making your weight match what it is recommended based on age, height, etc. The “why” is more about what the better results mean. For example, with productivity, why be more productive? So employees have better job security. This “why” is one that keeps most people’s eyes on the ball.
— Realize that early on, any initiative will get focus and the attention will create short-term improvements. This is good, but if you leave it at that, the organization can lose the gain once the intensity decreases. It is vital to put standard operating procedures in place that create consistency. Often this is a checklist. This can include a sign off on each bullet of the checklist. Technology can also prove helpful in this quest.
— Take another look at job duties and job descriptions. People tend to gravitate to their job description. Often these are not kept current. As new processes and tools are installed, adjust the job duties list to include those changes.
— Measurement. It is important to keep the measurement of the desired outcome and progress very up to date and transparent. How did we know we went backwards in the Chicago hospital? The measurement showed us right away patients were not as satisfied, the why and the where right away. Without that consistent measurement, how long would it have been before we realized we were complacent?
— Recognize success. I am often asked, “When is it OK to stop the recognition?” The answer is when you want the results to stop. Recognized behavior will be repeated. It is better to get a little tired of recognizing then spend the energy getting things back on track. Not declaring victory does not mean you’re prohibited from celebrating success. It means don’t stop doing what got the success.
— If there is slippage, don’t beat yourself up. It happens. Take time to diagnose what happened and move back to what created the success.
Achieving improvements and achieving high performing goals is very difficult. To do all that work and then go backwards is disheartening. This happens all too often. Using the six steps above decreases the chance of losing the gains, and if there is some movement backwards, they lead to a much quicker recovery.