“I always try to go hard on the issue and soft on the person.” ~ Henry Cloud
“If you don’t have time to do it right, what makes you think you will have time to do it over?” ~Seth Godin
Getting the most out of our people often requires being aggressive with deadlines and resource allocation. There is much written about applying pressure to your staff to get peak efficiency and the best results. Usually there is validity to these claims. Applying pressure requires focus and effort on our part as managers, leads to focus and effort by our teams.
But what happens when you apply too much pressure, or what I would call undue pressure? Just like in physics, too much pressure can crush something. In this case it is your staff. Let’s take a look at those two:
Too Much Pressure
A state of constant or excessively high pressure can overwhelm your staff. While pressure may be good in short bursts, the constant pressure creates cracks. Your staff starts cutting corners to meet deadlines, limiting the scope of projects and work to match the resources they have available, and begin making more errors. These are the cracks I reference in the title of this post.
I don’t think this is news to most of us, but what is news is that constant pressure can work. Constant pressure and excellence is what defines the titans of most industries. They thrive on the pressure and it keeps pushing them forward to market leading status. However, it isn’t easy and it takes special teams. The only way to have a thriving staff in a high pressure environment is to be comfortable with one of two things, higher turnover or higher costs of hiring and training. The first route is what most companies take, and the benefits are marginal. The second route requires more investment (hence why it is rarer) but is found in every single industry leader.
But if you aren’t prepared to take either of those routes, too much pressure will demoralize and undermine your team’s ability to perform at their peak and encourage them to cut corners to take the pressure off themselves.
This is pressure that doesn’t need to exist. This is the project that is doomed to failure because it doesn’t have enough people behind it, this is the grossly unreasonable deadline, and these are the unrealistic expectations and performance standards. The real problem is that your staff knows/realizes these pressures shouldn’t exist, so they create cracks.
Dealing with these undue pressures is one of the most important things you can do. While there are plenty of stories in business lore about companies setting impossible goals and reaching them, there was usually somebody setting that goal who knew it could be done, and they were right. Most of the time the people setting these goals are wrong, and their goals flawed. What is also not always passed down in business lore is the wreckage left behind that success that stalls a company’s future progress.
It’s OK to pressure your people to juice performance, however like everything, you need to manage it or you get unintended consequences. Beware!