Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Converging vs. Diverging From The Norm

How do you differentiate between a high performing organization and everyone else? There are countless answers that likely differentiate the two. However, as I was sitting in a two hour training seminar for contracting personnel at work today and I couldn't help but notice one extremely important differentiator.

When people hear the term government acquisition, high performing organization is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. That is not to say that there aren't extremely capable people and teams within the career field because I have definitely worked with both. However, the combination of bureaucracy, regulation, and a risk averse culture of the government procurement career field doesn’t propel it into the ranks of what many consider a high performing organization.

As I sat through the training session I could not help but notice the same phrases directed at the audience. "If you don't do this....then the auditors will slam you," or "You better do this.....or the Inspector General may write you up," and "You should be doing this.......because it is a direct reflection of you and your superior's work." It was relentless and I couldn't help but feeling like I was being pushed around a bit. Threatened almost. The kind of warnings one receives throughout childhood. Unfortunately these kinds of messages are the norm in the government arena. In the government contracting environment individuals are pushed to converge with what is ordinary. In that environment ordinary is good. Ordinary means staying well within bounds. Ordinary means being reactive to any feedback that is filtered down. Ordinary is the safe play. Ordinary (hopefully) keeps your organization out of the headlines.

In my experience, high performing organizations force you diverge from the ordinary. A high performing organization says "You better create or do something new and unique....or something bad will happen to you." There is a distinct incentive to not only break free of the status quo but to change it for the better. Instead of coloring well within the lines you go outside them and establish new boundaries that you would not have known were possible had you not put yourself out there. When an organization forces you to diverge from the ordinary you in essence become extraordinary, and being extraordinary is the epitome of what a high performing organization is all about.

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