In Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, George Leonard writes, “If our life is good, a life of mastery, most of it will be spent on the plateau. If not, a large part of it may well be spent in restless, distracted, ultimately self-destructive attempts to escape the plateau.”
But plateaus are not restricted to the mastery journey. Plateaus are inherent in the change journey as well. They can be exactly what we need. And, they can undermine our journey to success.
Plateaus allow us to stabilize, to strengthen our commitment. They prepare us to go deeper, further, higher than we have been able to go before. They are a place to rest in our weariness, and to launch our ascent to the next level.
Too often, however, a plateau can become the final destination. It can be the place where we plant the flag of victory, even though we haven’t reached our intended destination. (We make the decision okay, proclaiming, I never thought I would make it this far.) It can be the place where we stop until we answer all of the “what ifs” that lie ahead. (Of course, they will never all be answered.) It can be the place where our self-doubt takes hold, tying us to less than fully realizing our change objectives (while simultaneously proving itself as justified).
Within organizations, plateaus offer yet another risk. If not appropriately orchestrated (what areas of the organization plateau when, and for how long), they can cause a loss of the real–and perceived–momentum that is is critical to keeping the organizational journey moving forward.
When you are planning your change journey, include your plateaus. Plan them as places to stabilize, to strengthen your commitment. Plan them as places where you prepare to go deeper, further, higher than you have been able to go before. Plan them as places to rest in your weariness, and to launch your ascent to the next level. Then, use them in the way that they are intended… Don’t take up residence on the plateau. It is not the destination.
Please comment or add your own experience with plateaus during change.