Wednesday, June 6, 2012
There is a very troubling trend in place today. It is a tendency to couch everything that happens in life in terms of its impact on ‘self-esteem’ (a phrase I have grown to despise). [See also Blunt Talk and Black & White Reasoning] The view of those supporting this trend is that if anything can damage people’s self-esteem, it is bad and must be avoided at all cost; only things that protect and nourish self-esteem should be pursued. Self-esteem, by this view, is apparently such a critical treasure that nothing can be said or done that might damage the fragile self-esteem of anyone, lest they descend into depression and a life of despair. The poor dears!
This philosophy has led to the phenomenon of “Everyone gets a trophy” in childhood sports, where every member of a team gets a trophy, whether they’ve won or lost, or whether they’ve earned it or not. By this view the superstar is no more deserving of recognition, or a trophy, than the kid who can do nothing right. As those who grew up with this philosophy have entered the workplace, some carry with them this false view of life. In my opinion, this “Everyone gets a trophy” philosophy leads to dysfunction in the workplace. The reality is that everyone does NOT deserve a trophy!
Since the “Everyone gets a trophy” philosophy is based on a sports metaphor, let’s look at that philosophy in terms of one sport, a swim team. When a new swim team is formed, it generally consists of three classes of people in its ranks: Swimmers, Treaders, and Drowners. Let’s look at the characteristics of each.
Swimmers: Swimmers are those who, when placed in the water, have the capability of putting together a stroke, to enable them to move forward in a specific direction. Included in this class are basic swimmers, who range in skill from beginner to moderate to expert, to those whose skills enable them to seemingly “walk on water”, to the truly exceptional who seemingly “fly above water”. With training, practice, and persistence, swimmers can advance in their level of skills and excel as members of the swim team. The advanced swimmers gain broader recognition, and the truly exceptional may even achieve Olympic-class capabilities and recognition.
[In workplace parlance, all of the “swimmer” categories are people who can do the job, in one fashion or another (i.e. they contribute positively).]
Treaders: Treaders are those who enter the water and are able, to varying degrees, to keep their heads above water and breathe; however, they are unable to coordinate their arms, legs, and lungs in a fashion to move consistently in one direction; that is, to swim. Some are solid treaders, who can solidly keep their heads above the water for prolonged periods; some are inconsistent treaders, who are able to keep their heads above water, but barely; some are “bobbers", who bob up and down, holding their breath while down, but who are somehow able to keep afloat. With training, practice, and persistence, treaders can become swimmers, moving up in the ranks.
[In workplace parlance, these people can’t do the job without substantial training and help, often draining the time and effort of those who can (i.e. they generally contribute negatively).]
Drowners: Drowners are those who are simply not suited to go into water above their head. They lack the will or capability to stay afloat, or even “bob”. These are the people who lifeguards are always on the lookout for. Drowners are literally over their head and out of their league. They have no business even trying out for a swim team, much less becoming a swim team member; maybe they can be an equipment manager, but not someone in the water. With training and practice, drowners may become treaders, but it is a long road for them to become swimmers. [see Are You Part of the Solution, or Part of the Problem?]
[In workplace parlance, these people should not even be in the workplace, and when they are, they generally hurt workplace efforts badly. They should be removed as quickly as possible.]
Now, assume that all of these swim team classes are members of the team, and that the team participates in swim meets. Assume they have a losing season, but win some individual races, and even occasionally win a swim meet. At the end of the season, does everyone deserve a trophy? The policy of the school or organization sponsoring the swim team may specify that all swim team members get trophies, but do they really deserve them? I say no, because they haven’t really earned them. A few specific members may have earned them, but the team overall has not.
The parallels to the workplace, and to life in general, are, of course, obvious. Every workplace has different people with different capabilities. Some excel in science and technology, some in sales, some in marketing, some in finance, some in manufacturing, etc. Some may excel by developing truly brilliant theoretical solutions to perplexing and seemingly unsolvable problems that may unlock opportunities to new and broad products and services. Others may excel in devising practical implementations of those brilliant theoretic solutions. Others may do well at carrying out the details of those practical implementations. Others can take orders and carry out the necessary work, but don’t really understand what they’re being asked to do. Others put in their time, but it’s not always clear what they do or how they really contribute. [see Excuses, Excuses!]
Self-selection often occurs, where people recognize their strengths, and concentrate on doing what they do best that contributes to the overall success of the team. In other cases, while they may have been placed on a team, people simply don’t fit, and become a drain on the team’s success.
As anywhere in life, different people contribute in different ways, with varying levels of contribution and success. All may contribute, in their way, toward the success of the team, and on improving the revenues and profitability of the company (see Keep Your Eyes on THE GOAL!). However, do all deserve a trophy, or even the same trophy? Most definitely not! Those who most contribute to company success should receive the largest benefit (trophy), most often money, but other means of recognition may also be appropriate. Others may be deserving as well, but to varying degrees, based on their level of contribution.
Giving everyone a trophy (or even more so the same trophy) minimizes the efforts of those truly deserving, making them less likely to continue to excel, and falsely inflates the sub-par performance of those who fail to deliver. This can lead to an effect that is the opposite of what was intended. The reality is that everyone does NOT deserve a trophy!
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