I recently overheard a conversation between several senior employees of a firm that, apparently, had experienced rapid growth.
Like many such firms, the senior folks were bemoaning the loss of the “old days” when employees just “did the right thing.” In this idyllic past, employees did the right thing because it was the right thing, and not the easy thing. Today, they cried, the easy way wins out, even when it’s not for the company good.
This got me thinking. The first thought was, have I always been an eavesdropper? The second was, should I admit it in my blog? I guess you know the answer to the second question by now.
I’ve been in the small company mode. Success depends on adrenaline and heroics. Altruism is easy when everyone knows each other. The “good old days” end when the growth necessitates the first real batch of “strangers” into the mix.
After that, reality settles in. Shared values and passion can no longer be taken for granted, and you have to assume that macroscopic laws take over.
Most notably, the work will begin to follow the path of least resistance. This is the “easy way” these seasoned fellows were bemoaning. Certainly, individual employees will always step up to stressful situations, and carry the day. Passionate endeavors will spur innovation and growth. But over time, the dominant trend for “how the work gets done” will be the path of least resistance.
In my view, it is the job of management to make sure the path of least resistance is also the right path – the path we want to take. To try and re-build a startup-culture or get our employees on an endless cycle of adrenaline is folly. The only sure way to get things done right is to make sure that the barriers to that approach are eliminated and the desired way, the “right way,” is also the easiest way. Otherwise, we are battling a force of nature that hasn’t lost yet.