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Is ‘Inside the Jar’ Thinking Putting Your Goals At Risk?

Four ways to expose the dangers of being too close to your next big target.

“When you’re inside the jar, you cannot read the ingredient label,” was the realization from a highly experienced CEO after we worked through some gaps and opportunities she had not been able to see with a major new project. Even with an extremely well thought out plan, when your perspective is so close it’s easy for expected goals to fall short or opportunities to be overlooked.

The key is to know if you’ve lost sight of your own ingredient label. Knowing you might be too close is the best first step.

Allowed to persist too long, “inside the jar” thinking or actions can be costly.

Here are four common situations and actions to take instead:

1. During M&A or organizational change.

Even the best plans can fall into the transformation trap. So much happens behind the scenes during big change that leadership is often reluctant to share information. In this case the jar is intentionally closed. Reasons include: They don’t know what to say, think the news will alarm employees, or they believe that information shared on a “need to know” basis will suffice.

The truth is that the less you say, the more employees will assume, which takes the narrative away from leadership.

This erodes trust, morale, psychological safety, and potentially drives away key staff. Any combination of these can damage outcomes.

Instead: Say more.

While planning any big organizational change, craft an equally detailed communication strategy to support it. Who, when, where, what’s in it for them, and reinforce the messaging until employees trust you enough to want to follow you along on a bumpy journey.

Would you rather pull those transformative boulders uphill alone with a broken wagon wheel, or have a large team helping push them up the mountain because they believe and have confidence in your plan?

Without strong, proactive communication, big change will be much more difficult to achieve, let alone have lasting results.

2. When competing priorities create a lack of clarity and accountability.

When goals shift with the speed of business today, communication breakdowns threaten execution of conflicting goals. Deloitte recently found that most CFOs see strategy execution as a top internal risk to success. With an inside the jar view there is often confusion on both mission and granular execution, causing stress, missed deadlines and subpar outcomes.

Instead: Get specific.

Use accountability as a roadmap instead of a regulation.

Avoid costly gaps by working together on action plans and articulate the “why” for best success. Leverage people data to understand a team’s natural work and communication style. Use these insights to maximize strengths and guard against caution areas.

3. When the silo effect takes hold.

The hybrid workplace is an incubator for silos and inside the jar thinking, which enables things to fall through the cracks. Perhaps layoffs or an inability to attract talent leave too few people to do the work. Companies continue to wrestle within office requirements. While data supports both sides of the productivity argument, if decisions are made in a vacuum without fully examining consequences, it can cost your brand financially as well as in trust and image.

Perhaps decisions made in silos caused this situation for T-Mobile: During their recent quarterly earnings call the CEO had to explain that they would be reversing a new policy which “wasn’t something customers would love.” The policy was to quietly switch customers into more expensive plans from which the customer would have to opt out. The company had already invested in training support staff to respond to customer questions. Ultimately, public outcry forced the CEO to announce the reversal.

Instead: Create a no-silo zone to ensure greater perspective.

If your goals fall short due to narrow perspectives and the power of a collective view, it’s time to require collaborative workplace changes that support your organization’s bottom line goals.

Finally, perhaps the biggest threat that should concern leaders and boards is the growing culture of mediocrity, which is now plaguing companies.

4. In a culture of “ME-diocrity.”

Can you afford to have a culture of “good enough” effort? Will that produce innovation that brings market share and keeps you ahead of your competitors? Unlikely. Yet it may have become your standard without you even realizing it. Corporate America is losing its once-common culture of excellence. You’ve heard the trends – “minimum Mondays” quiet quitting, ghosting, and so on. Motivations have changed.

People don’t want to come to the office. Many of the youngest workers prioritize personal lives over all else. Intolerance has caused an inability for people to disagree while still committing to achieving goals. Stress and burnout are common. Work-life balance is not easy. But in the scheme of business results, if the focus is more on “me” and less on the “we” – a passion to produce for your mission and customers – that becomes a narrow, self-oriented perspective. That version of an inside-the-jar view yields “fair” growth, metrics, and results.

Instead: Shift “me” back to “we.”

• Hire people who truly align with your culture, not those who will drag it down.

• Invest in your staff to help them grow, then develop and retain them.

• Train your managers to lead because they are not innate skills.

• Insist on an atmosphere of tolerance and collaborative problem solving.

• Reconnect people to the “we” oriented mission and how they each contribute to it.

If you think you’re already doing these things, but mediocrity is on the rise, it’s a sign that parts or your organization may be inside the jar.

Work is a two way street, not a volunteer position. Employees and employers should both have clear expectations and be prepared to meet them. When those metrics are no longer met, or there is misalignment that cannot be solved, it is better to part ways than to perpetuate what no longer works. Apathy and worry are contagious, but so is passion.

Companies should provide a safe and supportive place for employees to develop and train for career paths and succession plans, thereby reinforcing your organization from the inside out. More stability inside produces more success with managing continual external headwinds beyond our control.

Volatile conditions are ripe for myopic inside-the-jar views. The effects can be costly to internal success as well as customer-facing decisions. These are just four common business scenarios which can affect the most elite leaders and organizations.

Think about your next “must achieve” initiative. On a scale of one to 10, how confident are you that you can read your ingredients label? If it isn’t an 8.5 or better, it’s time to regain your outside perspective.


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