Brave Benchmarks

You know how it is when you are looking to buy a car, and you find yourself noticing that same model of vehicle on the road everywhere you look?

That’s what’s happening for me on the theme of courageous leadership. We discussed it at Wiser by Choice, and the topics of risk and bravery have emerged in virtually every session I’ve facilitated since, across a wide range of organizations and settings.

Bravery is a relative term. What is considered “courageous” depends heavily on the person and the context. But it also depends on the benchmark. That is, what is your starting point for measuring courage, and how gutsy is your goal from there?

As one client noted this week, “Fear happens for a reason. We should be scared of change, if it means risking the good thing we have going.” In that context, aiming for incremental improvement in service levels over time made more sense than setting dramatic targets in their strategic plan.

Another leader said to her team, “We should not be afraid to be awesome. What would an awesome organization do?” The resulting conversation did not use the organization’s [very impressive] past as a starting point, but instead looked to “awesome” as the standard against which to measure performance.

Yet another conversation at an affordable housing event used the level of community need as the starting point: “What would we have to do to make a real difference to each of the people living in core housing need in this region?” In that case, the benchmark was the scale of the need itself, not the past performance of the agencies around the table.

Let’s do some imaginary math. If your organization is currently serving 100 people, reaching 120 people next year represents an impressive 20% growth rate. Yet if 10,000 people in your catchment area need your services, and you figure that half of them are ready to access them, and you are positioned to reach half of those, then you would be looking to service 2,500 people next year. I suspect that expanding your reach by a factor of 25 would require you to do different things than a 20% increase in current performance. Your strategic goal, and associated tactics, will depend on the standard you use as a starting point.

Both approaches require courage. How brave is your benchmark?

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