Contentment is Strategic (Not Lazy)


Today’s business culture views contentment as a form of laziness or complacency rather than what it is…a deliberate set of decisions for the health and sustainability of an enterprise.

I have a very difficult time with contentment because like most entrepreneurs and driven leaders, I’m competitive. I really like to win. I’m constantly asking myself how I can gain an advantage over my competitors? How can I grow, be better and add more value in my industry? If I’m not growing – I’m failing.

However, I’m experiencing the pain of leading an organization in fast growth in order to realize my vision and drive. Each year team targets are raised faster than resources are hired and trained to help fulfill them which places an increased workload on the current team. Hours worked to continue to climb as the volume has increased. How sustainable is this routine? Yet this type of planning and drive is experienced by many organizations on a consistent basis.

Here’s a new term I want you to learn: Productive Contentment. This is the pursuit of growth at a sustainable pace and it requires 3 actions by leaders to make it happen.

1. Set The Right Growth Targets.
In his book Great by Choice, which is a good follow-up to Good to Great (although it came out much later with other books in between) Jim Collins unpacks the theory of the “20 Mile March”. He contrasts the medical company Stryker with its rival USSC. Stryker’s CEO, John Brown, maintained a culture of 20% net income growth every year even if it was possible to grow more, he held back. USSC went for high growth and outpaced Stryker in revenue for years, but eventually made poor decisions and was taken over by Tyco in 1998. In my experience, leaders don’t spend enough time thinking about the growth they want and need to achieve. In some cases with smaller businesses, it’s an arbitrary number with no thought of forecasting and or the proper resource planning. It’s important to set the right targets.

2. Stick with your Strategy and Plans.
It’s very popular today to hear about pivots and embracing change to keep pace with technological advances. And for some industries, it’s absolutely true, especially in tech and software. However, for the majority of other industries – consistency is key for employee alignment and engagement. People need time for mastery and they need to be accountable for the targets and plans that were set. If people think targets and plans can be changed at will, they will not push or think of new ways to accomplish them. Change also creates uncertainty and in my experience always leads to poorer results than staying the course. As the leader, you need to keep the team focused and accountable on what was agreed upon.

3. Compare the health of your organization to industry standards.
I’ve never worked with an organization whose employees asked to be paid less and work more. Everyone will say they’re overworked and underpaid and usually underappreciated at the same time…but sometimes they’re right. The key is to obtain objective information to understand the truth from the emotions. Michael Porter routinely suggests that the industry your business competes in already has inherent truths and models in place. We all like to think we’re different and we can buck that trend, but industry standards remain a strong benchmark. Is your ambition out of line? Are you redlining your organization to fulfill growth? Exceeding benchmarks is a good thing as long as it’s sustainable.

No leader wants to run the train off the tracks but we also don’t want to be complacent. Remember to ask yourself these two questions: Are you productive? Are you content? Make sure the answer to both questions is YES.

Have a great day!
– Braden