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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Jump! Sir, Yes Sir, How High? 

Flossing and startups

I used to work for a wise man named Dick Moeller, who was president of Advanstar Communications, and its predecessors (Edgell Communications, HBJ Publications.) Dick, and our chairmen, the great Bob Edgell and the great Dick Swank, taught me a lot about b2b media.

Back in the bad ol' Edgell/Advanstar days, when we worked like dogs to service crushing debt created by a failed MBO, and celebrated when our $20.2 million in net compared favorably with our $20.0 million in annual debt payments, we talked a lot about 'raising the bar.' As in setting higher and higher goals for our teams, so that we could earn some financial breathing room.

Dick Moeller, in his quiet way, said something that has stuck with me ever since. "If you keep raising the bar, and your people try to jump over that bar, but they keep missing because you've set the bar too high, they'll eventually stop jumping."

Read the post linked above for some cogent thinking on setting goals and dental hygiene. Sample grab: "Don't ask me why, but that line, 'just floss the teeth you want to keep', got me thinking about goal-setting inside companies." The five minutes you take to read the whole thing will be worth your while.

For the record, at Advanstar, we were guilty of setting absolute goals as opposed to goals relative to competition (and market conditions, and the ability of our people to keep jumping long after their hearts had gone out of it). We did floss, though.

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