The phrase "jump the shark" came into existence in 1977. For those of you unfamiliar with this phrase, it is used to explain when something goes beyond the normative of the story line by adding unrealistic events or plot lines and is usually accompanied by a decline in quality. The phrase is based upon the "Happy Days" episode where cool-guy water-skiing Fonzie jumps a shark while wearing his leather coat. Seriously? So bad.
Lots of shows have been categorized by their "jumping the shark" moments. Often, you’ll notice the decline based upon set changes, character additions or subtractions, character job changes, etc. A common approach is when an unexpected birth or addition of a child occurs in an effort to add years to a show. As a kid, a string of this thinking occurred: Oliver from "The Brady Bunch", Sam from "Diff'rent Strokes", Andy from "Family Ties", Chrissy from "Growing Pains"...need I go on? You would be hard-pressed to find a time when this has worked well for a show.
Similarly, you would be hard-pressed to find it working for companies. For example, when companies decide that their products need to have a "smart" feature, is it just so that it connects to our phones and therefore is relevant? Why do I need to check my phone to see if the pan I've placed on the stove is hot enough? Seriously, that's a thing. In an effort to seem relevant, companies will sometimes gravitate blindly towards trends. This does not make a company viable. In fact, it might lead to the opposite (and often does).
And within some of our companies, we’ve jumped the shark. The life support has been turned on for a department within your organization. How did we get to this place? HR, for example, often lives in fear that their department will be cut in some way. And while it is not uncommon for HR to be one of the departments to experience a RIF if the time comes, does it happen because of a self-fulfilling prophecy? If I think no one will ask me to the prom, I am likely walking around as if no one will ask me to the prom. Those sad people will end up home on prom night sulking and eating a half gallon of ice cream while watching The Notebook on demand (this is what I’ve heard happens…I did not experience this, I swear). HR can suffer from such an esteem issue.
Perhaps our department is trying to add more to what we do out of desperation for our leadership to see us as relevant. We don’t sit home and eat ice cream, but rather, we explode into employee engagement – incentivizing, surveying, programizing. We believe that this is the level of visible relevance we need to show. See, we’re busy and we matter. Can we get a contract for another 12 episodes, please? Longevity does not mean impact. This is a hard reality. We believe, deep down, that if we last, we’re relevant.
That is not true.
Our relevance comes from true, measurable impact in our organizations. What is it we actually offer and fulfill? What is the business bottom line that we're impacting? What's been our effect on process, service or sales? And while the latest and greatest may not be the route to go, how do you know? Study the trends. Understand fit. Consider philosophy. Take action.
The challenge of knowing our people well - skills, aptitudes - is a vital offering that we can bring. Proactively look for ways to make that priority happen. From there, you can reference those results against the performance outcomes. Measuring process and results are a universal language that require no posturing.
Shake off the demons of feigned relevance. They don't define success, nor do they define you. Start attacking the work in front of you with passion and use the skills that have been dormant for a bit. Assess what's working, what's not, develop a plan, gather resources and act out of greatness.