If You’re Not Moving Forward, You’re Drifting Backward

I’m a new boss. Things are good…and I have decided to ignore the age old advice: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.


I came in to a good situation with my current job. My people are good, they know what they’re doing and (largely) do it pretty well. As the new boss, I find myself asking the question…do I need to press to make things better? Or will I risk running into a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” situation? It is tempting to just sit back, relax, and enjoy what is sure to be a smooth couple years here.

If you were in my shoes what would you do?

Would you ask yourself:

“Is that who I am?”

“Is that how I got here?”

“Is this a formula for further success?”

My answer to these questions is a resounding “No”

So this past Saturday, I wrote the below on a post-it note and stuck it right on my computer monitor.

If you’re not moving forward, you’re drifing backward.

Picture yourself sailing accross the vast ocean of life. There is wind in your sails, favorable currents beneath you, and you cruise right through life events like high school, college, or starting a career. Then the wind changes and life tosses you around like a wild storm that howls across the waves, doing its best to drown you. Your life currents will always vary wildly and often try to push you in a direction you don’t want to go. Many times you have to break out the oars and start rowing, or build an engine and keep it fueled to keep moving in the direction you want.

If you stop rowing and just hope that the winds will get you there….you will be disappointed. If you stop moving forward, you WILL drift backward.

Josep Castells via Unsplash
Josep Castells via Unsplash

Life is like the ocean. It can be calm and still or rough and rigid but in the end it is always beautiful.

How many ways can we apply this in life?

  • work
  • play
  • exercise
  • relationships
  • that next project or hobby you wanted to start?

Even if you take the most incremental step forward, that means you have not drifted backwards. I wouldn’t even settle for maintaining the status quo. Life moves to fast for the status quo to remain…the status quo.

With all this in mind…what do I do?

If I bring this back to my current situation…the new boss….let’s apply three rules that I have learned during my 15 year career, that I am confident will steer any organization towards success.

1. Just try something

Ignore Yoda’s advice of “there is no try”…that’s bull. In the tech world the big companies that succeed often say that it doesn’t matter if you fail, as long as you fail fast and fail forward.

Try something until you find what works. Even it it only works a little.

2. Make people the most important thing

Too many companies pay this second point lip service and then wonder why they have such a high employee turnover rate. Some estimates say the employee turnover rate for big tech companies is 40% each year. If you think about how big some of these companies are…those are astronomical numbers.

Ever heard of the e-commerce company Next Jump? It has a couple hundred employees between New York, Boston, and London; has annual revenue in the hundreds of millions; al with a turnover rate of 1%.

1%

Their story is quite incredible and while most companies will never have a “no fire” policy…most companies don’t invest in their employees the way Next Jump does.

3. Iterate Through Constant Feedback

Just like our example of sailing on the ocean of life…currents are never a straight line. If you want to maintain your direction, you have to constantly accept instrument feedback and adjust accordingly.

The same goes for your business/project/new job. You may have a vision of where you want to go; but remember, you’re putting people at the forefront. If you truly do that, you need to listen to them, consider their feedback, respond (to prove you actually listened), then act.

What business do you think will be most successful? The one that is only directed by it’s single leader? Or the one that leans on the collective intelligence of all its employees?

My money would be on the latter.

4. DO NOT STOP

(Ok, kind of a bonus rule that’s not a rule)

Many may see this last point as untenable. What about down time? What about employee burn out?

However, if you do those first three steps, what you will have done is create an organizational culture that is truly sustainable. It won’t stop. A culture that tries new things, puts its people first, and then actually listens to and acts on the collective intelligence of those employees….tell me who would not want to work there?

That’s a business that is more family than business. Growth will be inevitable because the employees will grow as people first…and as employees second.

You’ll never drift backwards when everyone is rowing in the same direction.

So what do I do as the new boss? First I just have to try something.

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