Years ago, following a reorganization of our function at the company I was working for, I was called into my boss’s office late one Friday to learn my assignment. All the teams had been changed, with new functions (and headcount!) added, and I and my peers were finding out one-by-one what our new assignments were to be.
I expected to be the manager of the team I had been leading, just expanded to include more things. And that was indeed what I was told. But then my boss threw in something else – I was also going to be leading a second team, a team that had to be built from the ground up to handle the most difficult work of the organization. Not just one team, but two. And the nature of the second team meant it wasn’t just double the managerial work for me, but something more like triple.
I was stunned. I told myself that if this was what God had in mind, then he had the confidence in me to do it. I wasn’t exactly sure of the human reasoning behind the decision, for my boss declined to answer the question “why two teams?” except to say, “I decided.”
So I set to work. By the end of the weekend, I had job descriptions done for the second team, along with an operating strategy. I called all of my direct reports together, and we worked our hiring and staffing plans, and then we moved as fast as humanly possible. Within six weeks, the second team was staffed and operational. The work was exceedingly difficult – what some called the worst jobs in the organization – but we had found good people, let them create the work plan and strategy, and then set them loose.
It worked. It worked better than even I’d hoped. The results were phenomenal for both teams. We took risks, but they all paid off. We innovated. We did things that previously wouldn’t have even been options. We gained major attention inside and outside the company.
And then, a year after we’d started, the two teams were broken up. The reason: “I decided.” Chaos ensued, and it would require another 18 months and the departure of the boss to begin to set things right.
The real reason for the change: I failed to grasp that innovation is disruptive and threatening. Jeffrey Phillips, with the OVO innovation consulting firm, has identified three ways innovation makes executives uncomfortable (and often threatened): it requires skills that the business doesn’t have or reinforce; it’s unpredictable; and it ultimately places someone else in control. My two teams suggested all three possibilities, even if I didn’t realize it.
The notion that you can do your job too well seems an odd one, especially for those of us who believe that our work is a holy calling, one that requires us to do our very best. Doing our best and achieving our goals is a kind of offering, both to God and our fellow employees. In this sense, our work – what we do and how we do it – is a witness of our faith.
It would seem that the better we perform, the greater the results we achieve in a godly, ethical manner, the more we testify to our faith. In essence, two “goods” result – the work itself and the testimony to faith and God. Both things do indeed happen, but what’s easy to forget is that we will often suffer for our faith. It comes with the territory.
I wrestled with this for a long time, until I came to understand that I really had no choice. If I am called to do my very best in my work, then that is what I must do, even when I know how threatening that might be.
Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.