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Excellence – or Mediocrity?

Mission Statement: We resolve to be pretty much OK. We won’t make glaring errors, so our customers will be somewhat satisfied. We want people to like working with our team, and feel comfortable working at our company.

Now, there’s a mission statement – if you’re on a mission to fail. No business would ever create such a mission statement, let alone frame it and put it on the wall for all customers and team members to see. Good mission statements should include words that inspire, like excellence, high-quality service or best in the industry. After all, that is what you’re going for, right?

Having a solid mission statement is nothing without the product or service that reflects that commitment. As projects are completed, do you think to yourself, “That could have been better, but I’ll talk to the team about doing better next time”? Hopefully not. Successful businesses would never send inferior products or services out the door with a promise of doing better next time. Your team needs feedback in order to be successful. They need to hear about both the things that are going well and the areas where they are falling short.

How does your firm strive for excellence everyday and with every client? It takes a strong leader who can be intolerant without alienating others. While we all want to be seen as tolerant, if we are tolerant of a wide range of performance, won’t we get a wide range of results? We want to be intolerant of poor performance, but also provide an atmosphere that supports risk taking and learning. How do we find a balance between demanding excellence, and providing opportunities for growth?

To achieve that balance, the commitment to excellence must come first. When we have a team full of high-performing people, seeking excellence, they resent the one player who’s not pulling their weight. “A” players want to succeed, and they want to be around other “A” players. They want measurement and accountability, because they want to continuously improve. They thrive in cultures of excellence, and are quick to leave cultures of tolerance.

If you want to move toward a culture of excellence, here are some steps you can take:

  1. Think of 10 different methods for providing guidance and correction, and use them all. (See Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard for some ideas.) It is quite common for team members to resist change or become defensive when corrected. Find the approach that works for each person to frame your corrections or incorporate positive reinforcement. Let team members know how they are doing and how they can improve. Your “A” player especially will appreciate this. Have team members do peer reviews as well. It’s important that team members function well together and potential problems are stopped before they impact performance.
  2. Identify the “A” players on your team and request their feedback. Let them help you shape the company’s culture so they too are comfortable with it. They are the backbone of the company and should be rewarded for their commitment to excellence. Also, make sure they know their performance measures so they can monitor their performance and continue to improve.
  3. Recruit aggressively all the time. “A” players aren’t easy to find, so we need to be looking all the time, and have a solid screening process. Having “A” players waiting in the wings makes it easier to separate from those team members who don’t share your commitment to excellence.
  4. Insist on continuous improvement. Teams not only need to correct mistakes but they need to understand why and how they happened. If they don’t do this, the mistake will persist and become a significant problem. Try using the 5 Whys to get the root of a problem.
  5. Insist on consistency. Knowing why and how you succeeded is as important as knowing why you did not. Make sure you and your teams know why and how they achieved excellent results. Success depends on reproducible results. Fine tune and change your processes and procedures as needed to ensure more excellence.
  6. Seek regular feedback from customers. Ask your customers how you are doing and changes they would like to see. Find out what they like about your products or service as well as how they would improve them. Customers like companies that care about them and their needs.
  7. Measure your performance. Know where your business stands. Consistent and regular measures can provide insight into lingering or potential problems. Be critical of your business and ask an outside confidante to evaluate your business’ performance as well. And, measure yourself. How are you doing managing the business? Do you need to change? You cannot expect your company to excel if you are not excelling.

Excellence requires more than framing a statement and putting it on the wall. Excelling in business requires adopting and fostering a culture of excellence. You need to be demanding while maintaining the ability to tolerate change and improvement.

If you want to lose weight, you have to be disciplined to exercise. If you want to tip the scales toward business success, you have to be disciplined with striving for excellence. Make it your mission.

Photo credit: kevin dooley

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