The Challenge / Support Conundrum

There have been many initiatives taken on by the majors in recent years. As margins eroded and began impacting overall performance, the imperative to get “fit” has finally become reality in the inner sanctum of the C-suite.

Programs named “Good to Great” or “Great to Awesome” were launched between 2003-2007 and saw their accustomed “blips” in the performance curve, yielding to an eventual lull in performance without realizing the sustainability that was promised. Why?

Let’s look at this from the point of view of two key leadership levers: Challenge and Support. In the absence of both of these levers, teams and organizations tend to get stuck in “Apathy”. Too much Support vs. Challenge leads to an situation where everyone feels like they are in a “Comfort Zone”. Organizations that Challenge in the absence of offering support, tend to bring organizations to a level of “Stress” and run the risk of over-stressing individuals and teams. This isn’t sustainable and causes a drop in performance.

Only when employing the delicate balance of challenging and supporting your organization, can you achieve the “magic” of high performance. I say it is a delicate balance because what allows leaders to be effective is when they drive appropriate interventions – challenge vs. support, based on the organization’s performance data and analysis. In the absence of data and analysis, leaders assume that the cadence of support (training, coaching, etc) is serving the need to comply with corporate mandates, and they end up not challenging the organization. On the other hand, Type A personality leaders will often challenge organizations to attain levels of performance that the organization has no idea how to attain. They do this without offering much support, causing a drop in engagement to achieve new goals and either stress the organization, or worse, cause apathy to set in.

In the Good to Great case, this attained state of “Great” becomes the new “Comfort Zone” over time, unless leaders employ new approaches to challenging the organization. We have all been in situations that have been described as insanity – trying the same process and expecting a different outcome (takes me back to upgrading to Windows 7 from Windows XP – were I did succeed by trying the same way and getting a different result… but I digress).

In summary, the key to sustaining continuous improvement and programs that take organizations from “good” to “great” to “awesome” to “epic” is to constantly employ the balance of challenge and support.

Tony Planos

Since joining Evolve Partners in April 2008, Tony has applied tremendous focus and energy to his client delivery role, driving the firm’s relationships with a number of major clients from Eagle Ford, TX to in situ operations in the Albertan Oil Sands. He is currently Vice President of Program Development where Tony is responsible for developing our people to deliver high quality