Please, Don’t Kick The Cat!

There used to be a saying that when you’d had a hard day at work, when you got home you should ‘kick the cat‘ before you went in the house. This theory was based on the idea that if you ‘kicked the cat‘ then you could let out your aggression and everything would be okay when you went inside.

Thankfully such thinking is long gone! Not only would it be politically incorrect to take such action, it would be morally and legally inappropriate! So please, don’t kick your cat.

iStock_000003616381SmallUnfortunately, however, this metaphor is alive and well in ‘Organisation Land’. Maybe some of you have been the ‘cat‘ who has been ‘kicked‘ (metaphorically speaking).

A case in point. A client of mine has a national sales role. In 2012, prior to her taking on the role the sales team failed to achieve their prescribed 2012 targets. When she took over leading the team in 2013, despite missing the 2012 target their new targets were arbitrarily raised by 20% and they just achieved them. Celebrations followed. The ‘cat‘ was patted.

In 2014 (their financial year finishes in October) another 20% was added to their target. They just missed their prescribed targets after having been ahead of them for most of the year. Ultimately the team’s performance was 113% better than it was in 2013, but 7% short of the 2014 target. What do you think is happening now? Yes, you guessed it, the ‘cat‘ is being ‘kicked‘. Apparently in ‘Organisation Land’ kicking the cat inspires the cat to higher performance. What do you think?

Personally I have never found getting kicked motivating. Unfortunately I am hearing more and more stories like this.

In this specific example my client was informed by senior managers that she and her team would be trusted to contribute to the targets process once they could be trusted to achieve them. Interesting logic!

Let me just walk through that logic again. Once the team regularly achieve budgets that they had no input in creating, that’s when they will be trusted to put forward budgets in the future. Oh, by the way I should mention that I’m not talking about junior staff here. I’m talking about staff with a minimum of seven years’ experience. There’s a lesson in how to de-motivate people right there!

Kicking the cat‘ creates demotivated and disengaged staff. Seriously, if you think that such behaviour really motivates people to perform at a higher standard, you probably also believe that if you go outside and yell at your grass to grow that it will! I’m sorry to let you down but both strategies don’t work.

Folks, growth doesn’t happen in straight lines, not in the short-term that’s for sure. Linear growth expectations are flawed and ultimately cause senior managers to behave in a ‘kick the cat-like‘ manner.

My client is a wonderful, high performing person. She did amazingly well to achieve her result in 2013 and did amazingly well given local economic conditions to achieve what she did in 2014. I doubt that any other team could have matched her team’s performance. Yet do you think she is feeling valued right now?

You know what’s going to happen, don’t you? This high performer will leave and will end up serving another organisation more worthy of her commitment. It is an interesting thought experiment to consider whether your organisation is worthy of the commitment of the people who serve it?

Kicking the cat‘ doesn’t work so if you’re one of the guilty ones who does this behaviour, please stop! Treat your people like human beings – you may just be surprised by how well they shine.

If targets aren’t achieved by experienced, engaged people, then sit down with them and work together to work out what can be done. Maybe achieving the 2012 target in 2013 would be, in reality, a success. Just giving people bigger numbers to achieve because it is a new budget cycle is seriously flawed and lacks using the knowledge, talent and expertise that exists within organisational teams. People don’t want to fail. People don’t try to fail. Not most people. Work with people so success over the long-term can be achieved. It is possible.

What’s your experience of being ‘kicked’?

Gary Ryan enables talented professionals, their teams and organisations to move Beyond Being Good.

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