We want to believe that all good things go together. We are taught as children that a successful person has it all: fulfilling relationships, good education, nice house, beautiful family, great job, and happiness. In our individual lives, we want to believe we can be “super people.” We assume we can be a great spouse, parent, colleague, friend, son or daughter, sister or brother, and employee all in the 24 hours we are each allotted. As we grow a little wiser, we realize that it is really tough to be “all things to all people” and if we over commit to one area by choice or necessity, something has to give.
Not only are we socialized this way, most of us apply this association of goodness to our children on a regular basis. We want our children to be well rounded or “mini-renaissance” people that are athletes, scholars, and socialites. Almost as soon as we find out that our child excels at one thing, we conclude that he or she has to be gifted at other things as well. Not only does this create a significant amount of stress, it tends to set unrealistic life expectations.
In the workplace, we commit this fallacy on a regular basis when we assume that if someone is a high performer, then he or she would perform just as well doing something else in the organization. When resources are scare, it is much easier to deal with capability shortages by giving strong performers more of the workload or simply inserting them into an area that needs help regardless of the absence of necessary skills or experience. The classic example of this behavior is when we take a highly capable employee and put them into a position of leadership to only realize they do not possess the skills necessary to succeed.
The heart of this fallacy is that if you are good at something, the mastery or even the magic (depending on your point of view) should flow over into other areas. Although this is possible, it is extremely rare. The reason for the rarity relates to scarcity of available resources, need for specialization to excel in a specific area, and breadth of competence necessary to be successful in a multitude of areas. There are only so many resources, especially time and choices have to be made regarding where to invest. Similarly, to become excellent in an area requires a heavy commitment to that area of specialization. Limitations in resources and the need to focus make it very hard to develop the breadth of competencies necessary to succeed in many areas.
Organizations, like people operate under similar limitations. Just because an organization excels at something does not guarantee a competitive advantage in other areas. For example, an organization may be very efficient and keep costs low, but produce the wrong things and fail. Similarly, an organization may be very productive and effective at producing what its customers demand, but not keep costs low or use the most efficient processes and fail to cover its costs. In both cases, the organization is exceptional in one area, yet still fails to be successful overall. Consequently, an organization needs to be efficient, effective, and productive to be successful.
Some important things to keep in mind regarding all good things do not typically go together include:
- Know your status
- Balance is important
- Build on strengths
Know Your Status
If we cannot be good at everything, then it is safe to assume that there are some things we do not perform as well. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses are critical for an individual as well as organizational success. Realistic assessments help us establish expectations, plan for the future alignment of capabilities with desired outcomes, and design growth and development activities or investments.
Balance is Important
One of the fundamental precepts of individual and organizational health is balance. In an environment of scare resources, it is critical that resources are allocated to maximize their results and allocation matches overall need. Finding the correct balance is necessary, but never easy. The key to balance is to set priorities, organize activities, be flexible, and respond to the environment.
Build on Strengths
Although it is important to allocate resources to cover each of the necessary areas for performance, strengths or competitive advantages should be built on and strengthened. Our weaknesses are areas where we need to work with to improve and should not be abandoned. However, strengths should not be overlooked in lieu of addressing weaknesses.