Normally when we think of ‘above and beyond’, we think of people going the extra mile. And it’s true: in those companies where extra discretionary effort abounds – where the majority of people care enough and are invested in their work enough to go above and beyond the minimum standards – success is sure to be found. It’s no coincidence.
We also see another definition of ‘above and beyond’ that is present in thriving (vibrant!) organisations and it is the ability to rise above the current challenge and look beyond it for the way forward, and the speed with which this happens. It sounds obvious in theory but in practise, it isn’t. Einstein said “we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”, but it’s amazing to see how many of us try. When we innocently double-down on the problem, we risk getting trapped in the story of it. Not only does that limit access to the solution, it risks wasting a lot of time and becoming a massive drain on energy and ultimately motivation.
To be fair, it is often entirely reasonable to create solutions at the problem level when the problem is straight forward. Things like being unable send emails because the internet connection is down or the office being an uncomfortable temperature. But when the problems are more complex, they can quickly become metaphorical quicksand and the more we investigate them, the more stuck we get.
Take this example (a professional services firm in the engineering space):
Following the merger of two significantly different cultures and the decision by some of the senior (and highly popular) directors to leave at that juncture, retention of both employees and clients, was an escalating challenge. Efforts to recruit replacement team members were desperately slow and morale had decreased across the board, as had incoming work and the resulting profit, all causing a downward spiral.
In diagnosing the issues, we still asked ‘what is the problem, what is its impact and what has caused it?’.
In this case the answers were multiple, including:
- the culture clash between the two merging companies, with vestiges of ‘them and us’ at play and confusion over how the newly-formed (combined) business should behave, both internally and externally. (This was in spite of the company having invested significant time and attention in pre-empting this scenario before and during the merger).
- declining standards in the service delivered to clients, both as a result of too few team members stretched across too much work (with people increasingly departing due to the decline in morale and then failure by the company to replace those leaving quickly enough, despite their best efforts).
- the vast amount of time being spent by senior people on reassuring dissatisfied clients and disgruntled team members, at the expense of making vital strategic decisions (i.e. constantly on the back foot with very little sight of how or when it might be possible to get back on the front foot).
- the low level of new business coming into the company due to its inability to devote the appropriate time and expertise to winning it and the increasingly poor reputation of the company in the market place.
Had we engaged in tackling the problems one by one, it could have taken years and even then, it might never have worked. So after ensuring that what was already obvious was being addressed, we moved on swiftly to ‘above‘ and asked:
- What are we trying to do here as a company?
What is this newly-merged company here to do? What is most important to our clients? What is most important to us and what do we want to stand for? Where/what are the opportunities and needs we are meeting? What about this is exciting and motivating – for us as a company, for every member of our team and of course, for our clients? What will be proud to say we are doing?
And to go ‘beyond‘ we asked:
- What will it be like when we are there and when we are that?
When we are operating according to our purpose (i.e. what we are here to do) and when we are genuinely standing for what we believe in; when we are excited, highly motivated and proud to be delivering service to clients that they genuinely value and appreciate:
- We will be doing, saying, delivering, etc. what?
- We will see, hear and feel what?
- Our clients, our teams, our suppliers and even our competitors will be saying what about us?
Going above the problem reconnects us to the underlying intention and in the process reminds us of what we are trying to achieve. Going beyond the problem enables us to envision the future state in which that problem is solved. Once we know what we want and where we are trying to get to, the how to get there becomes significantly more visible and in the process, the current problems begin to solve themselves, often automatically.
Admittedly this is simplified for the purpose of this illustration and the process of both asking and answering the questions is more detailed than we have outlined here, but it works and it’s scalable. It also builds the habit of discerning and harnessing the power of ‘generative energy’, which tends to be far more powerful than ‘defensive energy’, and is something we have found to be a crucial determinant of organisational vibrancy. However, that’s a subject for a future blog…
If you’re curious to learn more about how going above and beyond can help your organisation become more vibrant, we’d love to hear from you – get in touch.
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