When We Stop Doing The Things That Made Us Great

Last weekend, I went to one of Detroit’s most celebrated Italian restaurants. I’d been years ago and anticipated the same exquisite experience. Known for their impeccable service and inspired dishes, I was expecting them to nail every detail like they had in the past.

Yet the very things that made them successful had obviously been significantly diluted. It took 35 minutes for the first splash of wine to reach our glasses. Our server was curt, frazzled, and disorganized. The portions had shrunk over the years, and they managed to botch my friend’s order altogether. Peeking over to other others, I noticed similar frustration among the restaurant’s other guests. At nearly every touchpoint throughout the evening, the underlying message was that the owners no longer cared. After our dinner, my wife and I agreed that we wouldn’t return to the once-great restaurant.

This pattern unfortunately occurs far too frequently when those that achieve greatly feel entitled to their continued success. They cut corners here and there, thinking no one will notice. Over time, their passion for excellence fades and they ignore the attributes that put them on the map in the first place. Just going through the motions. Rote instead of zeal, this trap can deplete businesses, relationships, and communities.

Nostalgia is not a sustainable business strategy.

We must realize that success is not a permanent condition. Rather, it is a fluid and ever-changing state that requires continuous care and feeding. The rest-on-our-laurels strategy is a fool’s bet, whereas remaining a humble, passionate servant of our craft is the best long-game play.

The trap can be hard to spot, since it’s never a single decision to stop caring. I can’t imagine a leader proclaiming that their organization shall now suck going forward. Instead, the pattern unfolds through a series of small choices – seemingly harmless sacrifices to quality, service, innovation, and customer-focus – that lead to gradual decay. Previous wins may carry momentum for a while, but eventually the toxic departure from our early ideals can deliver a fatal blow.

We’ve seen it with businesses, actors, churches, community leaders, and politicians. When people and organizations veer away from the core principles that enabled their success, they enter those treacherous waters that can lead to their undoing.

Let’s commit to rekindling that ‘day one’ enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to excellence that enabled our early successes. Let’s treat each customer interaction with the same care and focus that allowed us to win our first deal.

As we each look to drive our businesses and careers to the next level, let’s reconnect to that early fire and deep sense of purpose we had during our initial assent. When we keep doing the things that made us great, greatness can truly be savored for the duration.