Swinging with the Pendulum Not Always Best

Beware of extremes in business

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”  This is a phrase you’ve probably heard, and likely said yourself.  This adage describes a pitfall I see too often in organizations: the harmful practice of tossing out something valuable in an effort to make improvements.  Extreme change without careful consideration.

Following the Trends

Extreme swings of the pendulum are not healthy for organizations.

Too often a new trend in business is announced by some cutting-edge company and everyone jumps to follow suit before thinking through all the nuances.   The leadership team may erroneously take a decent company policy and throw it out in the excitement of trying something new and uncharted.

Trends tend to swing from one extreme to the other.  I think of it as a pendulum.  For a while we swing to the far right, and when that gets old, we swing far left.  It’s easy to go to extremes, but what we really need is a blended approach…and a little common sense.

The Pendulum in the Office

The pendulum of extremes is seen in the office.  Two recent extremes include the removal of all office walls and the discontinuation of annual performance reviews.

No walls

The inspiration of removing walls was to create openness and access to each other–to put everyone in an equal setting.  It sounds lovely in theory, but it’s just not realistic. If you’re an HR professional, you need privacy.  Even outside of the human resource department, many discussions within an organization need to be handled privately.  A large open room is not the place for those conversations.

So while I support the idea of open communication and collaboration, I think there is certainly a more balanced approach.  Throwing out all the walls, no matter what department, or what your product is, is definitely an example of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  Take the benefit of the openness idea and blend it with what is sensible for your organization.

No annual review

Another popular trend is discontinuing annual reviews in favor of a more constant communication of feedback. Again, the encouragement of regular feedback is great, but if you sacrifice the formal annual review, you lose the benefits that sparked the annual review in the first place.  A casual critique of performance will not provide the objective, thorough benefit that is healthy for employees, found only in an annual review.

Additionally, leaders need to be challenged with goals.  Annual performance reviews provide this platform. Annual reviews also provide a non-conflict atmosphere.  You are not meeting because performance is a problem.  You are meeting because this is what you do every year.  You can take a diplomatic look at an employee’s performance over the past year and give unemotional feedback.  It’s expected and accepted.

With both of these professional examples, it should be reiterated that each organization will fall at a different location of the pendulum swing.  There is no one answer that will guarantee success. Leadership needs to evaluate the current business policies, contemplate the advantages and disadvantages to making changes, and settle on what is sensible for you.

The Pendulum in Career Transition

Similarly, I see this pendulum swing in transitioning executives. They are looking for a new job.  On one extreme a person will sit behind a computer and hope job boards and LinkedIn will land his/her next job.   On the other extreme, a person may put no time into their resume, research, and online updates but rely solely on meeting the right people that will lead to their next job.

Neither of these paths are great.  A blend of these two approaches will be much more effective in finding the right job. Evaluate what blend is right when you take into consideration your industry and title you’re seeking.

The Pendulum in a Hiring Process

On the flip side, the pendulum also affects organizations looking for that transitioning, “top talent” executive.  When an organization is in a hiring process, past experience may push the pendulum to an extreme.

If leadership had a bad experience with a previous employee that was very head-strong, they may be extremely adverse to a candidate that exhibits confidence and decisiveness.  Do you see the problem?

Confidence and decisiveness are usually positive traits in a leader.  Assuming that everyone with those traits is a ‘bad egg’ like their former employee, is an act of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Be Wary of the Pendulum

These examples could go on and on.  The extreme reaches of the pendulum affect you as an individual and as an organization–both professionally and personally.

I advise you to watch out for the pendulum.  Extremes are usually never good.  They are almost always short-lived.  Take a look at what is good about the newest ideas and, if possible, adjust your own policies to take advantage of that good.

“Tweak, don’t delete.” Blend approaches for the healthiest organizations.  And if it’s not broken, don’t feel you have to fix it.

What extremes have you seen or lived through?

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