Capitalist Note: I'm tagging this week "Ambition Week", celebrating the people in your organization that want to dominate the world. You know these people - they are the ones that often do great things, and occasionally put tire tracks across a teammates back in the process. Are you better off with or without these people? Let's dig in and decide together...
"You go out to eat, can't pay, y'all can't leave
There's dishes in the back, he gotta roll up his sleeves
But while y'all washin', watch him
He gon' make it to a Benz out of that Datsun
He got that ambition, baby look in his eyes
This week he's moppin' floors, next week it's the fries.."
--Golddigger, Kanye West
Here's the golden nugett from a few years back from Paul Hebert over at Fistful of Talent:
"Mad Men Season 5 started this past week.
Full disclosure, before this past week’s episode, I’ve watched a total of 6 minutes of Mad Men. But the hype was too much for me to bear, so I DVR’d it and sat and watched it the other night. It’s awright.
But… I liked it a lot more when I heard this line…
“Dissatisfaction is a symptom of ambition. It’s the coal that fuels the fire.”
The more I thought about it, the more I liked it and the more I figured there was a lesson in it.
And here’s the lesson IMHO:
If you work too hard to make every employee happy and satisfied, you create a group of people who never want anything to change."
Interesting and true in my eyes. If everyone's satisfied with how things are going, who pushes the envelope and tries to change things for the good at your company?
Backstory: A few years back, I was doing a classic "section 2" in performance management for the company I was with. As part of that exercise, we were trying to change the traditional company values we were rating people on (hard to do and pretty ineffective) to "potential factors", which are more like "DNA" strands you want to evaluate all your people on. The things you value most across all employees, regardless of role.
As part of that exercise, we did broad brainstorming as a leadership team - coming up with 37 potential factors to whittle down to the 5 or 6 we would eventually go live with. The ones you would expect were there - innovative, driven, etc.
2 members of the leadership team came up with - and were adamant about including - ambition in that list.
You would have thought that they did something unmentionable to the American flag.
As it turns out, the rest of the team couldn't get past the fact that ambition comes with some negative baggage - sometimes people act in self-serving ways, a zero-sum game mentality can be rewarded, etc. No matter how the 2 leadership team members came back to the positives associated with ambition, the others couldn't get over the negative attributes associated with its use as a potential factor.
But ambition is real and gets results, just like Mad Men and Paul outline above.
It takes a gutsy company to include ambition in a performance system. But, whether you put it on paper or not, you're likely rewarding ambition behind the scences in your company.