When Being a Hero Isn’t a Good Thing

April 4, 2021

“Heroic efforts required.”

How many processes in your organization should have that statement written as part of the standard operating procedure?

You know the process I’m talking about – the one that forces Developers to pull all-nighters, the one that keeps Support agents working through holiday dinners, the one that leads to Customer Success Managers taking a beating on customer calls.

While we appreciate the heroic efforts our team members are willing to make, heroism doesn’t scale. And, the fact that someone needs to be a hero is an indication of a bigger problem.

This reflection is about the culture of heroes – how rewarding heroism perpetuates organizational crises, how to overcome a hero culture, and some not-so-obvious characteristics that lead to the need for heroes.

Does Your Company Lurch from Crisis to Crisis? by Ron Carucci. In this article, Ron brilliantly uncovers the 4-step program for Heroes Anonymous. Step one? Admit you have a problem. Understand that the need for heroes is a sign of an immature organization. Then, develop checks and balances to ensure heroes can’t fill the gaps, focus on coordination between functions to alleviate one team having to save the day after another team makes commitments for them, and reward team behavior.

Why Heroic Efforts Are Damaging Your Company Growth by Jim Schleckser. I love two things about this short article. First, Jim tells a compelling story about intentionally not recognizing the heroic efforts of an employee who had previously turned down an offer for help. That’s a bold step in the right direction. Second, he promotes the idea of thinking about systems instead of individuals. This is a difficult shift for organizations to make, but building systems actually benefits the individuals – good systems reward effective behavior that leads to healthy and happy employees. Jim makes it clear that companies have to make this shift to go to the next level.

Say No To “Just Do It” by Karen Walker. Karen attributes unscalable heroism to a lack of balance, and she’s spot on. As someone who has both a strong bias for action and high comfort with ambiguity, I appreciate how the tension between those two characteristics helps me maintain balance. Karen suggests that over-indexing on bias for action, coupled with the need to act quickly to avoid ambiguous situations – in other words, the need to control situations – lead to mistakes and issues in organizations. And those mistakes create the need for heroes.

 

This article was originally published in Megan’s Friday Reflection, where she shares her unique perspective on recent events and how they pertain to content strategy, customer experience and business leadership. Subscribe to her weekly newsletter hereMegan Gilhooly is VP of Customer Experience at Zoomin. She previously led global content teams at AWS, Amazon and Ping Identity. 

 

 

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