As we work and build businesses, we are constantly subtly aware of the consistent trade offs we are making.
A late night of emailing means not getting up early and going to the gym.
Running from activity to activity means that we don’t call our parents as often as we should.
Viewed individually these instances seem minor and they come with built in excuses for why the trade off is essential for whatever it is we are are trying to achieve in our grand master plan (it’s ok if we don’t call our parents now because we’re working on something that will make everything better or make us rich and we’ll be able to call them twice or three times a week even instead of just once…as soon as we accomplish this goal…or at least get our inbox to zero).
At the organizational level too, we tend to view these types of things in their silos and not as part of a bigger picture.
You see the fact that you, as the CEO of a company, never take vacation, as a single, individual decision, not as a decision that impacts how the entire organization views the importance of vacation.
You see the fact that your employees will sleep at their desks for you while they pull all-nighters to get a project done as a sign of loyalty, not as the sign of a problem.
Viewed as individual instances, all of the trade offs seem minor and time-limited.
But when we view them collectively across time, we begin to see patterns of collateral damage emerge.
For individuals, that collateral damage often takes the shape of physical and mental health problems and lost or damaged relationships.
For companies, that collateral damage can be seen internally in high turnover, low engagement, low productivity, and often miserable employees.
We have accepted much of this collateral damage as the cost of doing business.
We resign ourselves to the fact that this is how it must be.
And while we can individually make different personal choices, we won’t see deeper systemic change until we start asking companies to take on some of the responsibility for setting a new standard, for deciding that the collateral damage isn’t worth it.
I see one of the biggest business challenges of our time as answering the question of how we can achieve our full potential and achieve success both as individuals and as businesses without leaving so much collateral damage in our wake.