August 3, 2023

Heroic Effort: Why do we do it and when does it hold us back

I have spent time in the startup world as a leader and consultant. The reality is that many companies tap out before they get an opportunity to scale, and entrepreneurs well understand this hard truth. Startups often need to “do what it takes” to find their product market fit and ensure their early adopters are successful. This reality encourages us to embrace doing what it takes and reinforce it through recognition. 

We also refer to “doing what it takes” as Heroic Efforts. You might think of a time when you worked late into the night to get something done to meet a commitment, and sacrificing your time is a heroic effort. Knowledge can also be a Heroic Effort. Do you have a team member in the early days who experienced the micro pivots you made as a startup? Or a team member that understands the technical aspects of how your solution works? You could consistently call on them to troubleshoot, figuring out those impossible problems. This type of effort is also a  Heroic Effort. As a leader, does it keep you awake at night knowing you could lose one of your key team members? It has for me.

It is difficult not to celebrate these moments we achieved through heroic efforts; they deserve recognition. But if we are not careful, we will build a culture around this as other team members witness the glory bestowed upon the most recent hero. The hard trust is it doesn’t. Let’s take a look at an operational maturity model I carried around for many years.

Heroic Efforts – Our customer’s success depends on the competence and heroics of specific people.

Re-creatable Successes – Customer Successes are re-creatable but specific to individualized approaches.

Standard Processes – Our team’s methods are repeatable and produce consistent results for our customers

Measurable – Metrics can demonstrate how the process benefits our customer experience

Optimized – Our culture and performance are integrated and aligned for continuous improvement

Many teams can get to standardized processes, but teams will often abandon this standardized approach over time. This outcome could be due to team member attrition or ineffectiveness at onboarding new team members. Or, our defined customer experience didn’t handle the variability in our customer needs effectively. The concepts and tactics we deploy must be simple to understand and apply. But also have the depth that allows them to be tailored to various dynamics with relative ease.