“We would rather have one person working WITH us than three merely working FOR us.”
F. W. Woolworth, founder of the F. W. Woolworth retail chain
In case you haven’t noticed, just about everything has changed in the work world in the last 25 years. In the OLD world, in the old system, people were expected to take orders. They were expected to park their brains, shut their mouths and work their forty hours a week.
But somewhere along the way, some organizations got smart. They began to realize they could do more than buy their employees’ time. They could engage their employees’ heads and hearts as well.
As one of my clients, Lisa DeKrey at Eide Bailly LLP, says, “There are no unimportant jobs, no unimportant people.” Everyone has something important to contribute … and it’s high time we find out what that is … and tap into those resources.”
In contrast to the OLD world of work, where it was all about taking orders, in the NEW world of work, it’s all about taking responsibility. Employees are expected to take responsibility … for using all their talents … and for performing with excellence.
In the NEW world of work, it’s no longer good enough to get by. And those people who just try to get by will eventually find themselves out of a job. They’re a drag on the bottom line. And in a world of tight competition and narrow margins, organizations can no longer afford to keep those bottom feeders on the payroll.
So how can you encourage people to take responsibility and perform with excellence? I’ve found seven things that work. I’ll talk about the first three today.
=> 1. Help people get a VISION of excellence.
Lots of people don’t even know what “excellence” means. After all, they’re doing their job, getting by, and they think that’s good enough. They’re competent but not excellent.
Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great,” says that’s dangerous. Collins says, “Competence is the enemy of the great.” In other words, “competence” … or “work that’s good enough” … can blind people to the fact there’s a level of excellence they haven’t even considered.
Barbara Sanfilippo and Bob Romano talked about how one real estate sales force moved from get-by, good-enough competence to a vision of and a pursuit of excellence. The broker in charge wanted her office to become one of the top ten in the country. So she collected some magazines and asked her agents to snip out pictures that represented their dreams and ambitions.
Then, at a meeting, she asked each agent to share one picture with the group and put it on the team’s Dream Board. One agent, for example, needed a new car, so she put a picture of the car she wanted on the board. As the agents learned about each other’s needs and aspirations, they grew excited for each other and began working harder to make sales. In the end, everyone achieved their goals … or their own individual definitions of excellence … and the team sprang up to sixth place nationally.
Once your people have a vision of excellence…
=> 2. EXPECT excellence.
Don’t expect mediocrity. As Sterling says in the book, “Pygmalion In Management,” it’s very difficult to disguise your expectations. So if you expect your coworkers to give you a mediocre performance, your coworkers will sense that … and act accordingly. You’ve got to EXPECT excellence from them.
Unfortunately, a lot of managers, supervisors, team members, and even parents do not expect excellence.
I think of a high school charity auction where the students made various donations. One student offered to clean house for the highest bidder. One of the bidders was amazed at the steep price a woman paid to obtain this service. Asked why she paid so much, the other woman replied, “It’s worth it just to see my daughter actually cleaning the house.” Obviously, that mother did not expect excellence from her daughter on any regular basis.
The same is true in many work environments. Managers, who over-manage or over-see every detail of every function, are communicating a lack of trust. They fear failure because they expect anything but excellence.
As a result, the employees grow wary of the boss’ ever-present staring over their shoulders. And as Ed Reede of the U.S. Army says, “Whether or not we have reasons to fear them, our conversations as employees become muted and restricted. Soon, nobody feels safe to comment or recommend anything.”
Of course, work can still get done in such an atmosphere, but the processes and the results of such an atmosphere are far from excellent. As Reede says, “Work often gets done in spite of these managers … but at a great cost to our professional lives at work and our personal lives at home.”
You need to EXPECT excellence, and then when you get it … reward it. And some managers don’t.
Take, for example, the employee who told his boss, “I’d like a raise, sir. I’m worth more than I’m getting.” The boss replied, “Of course you’re worth more than you’re getting, Sam. Why don’t you let up a bit?”
And one of the best ways to show you expect excellence is to…
=> 3. Lead by EXAMPLE.
A German proverb notes that. It states, “When you walk your talk, people listen.” In other words, if you practice excellence, chances are … the people around you will also practice excellence.
Whether you call it modeling or leading by example, your employees … coworkers … kids … won’t take excellence seriously until they see you demanding excellence of yourself and everybody else. Only then will they see that excellence is more than a buzz word. Only then will they see that excellence is more than a bunch of hype. Rather, excellence is something that mature people … and effective leaders, managers, and parents take seriously.
That’s the way Sid Slatter feels. Sid says, “I am a 35-year old General Contractor, and I first saw you at a seminar in Las Vegas. At that time I never would have seen myself where I am today. I was not a great communicator. I always sat at the back of the class or seminar, hoping no one would call on me or make me get up in front of people and talk. I always had a hard time getting my points and expectations across to my employees. And getting them to respect me and perform for me was very difficult.”
Sid continues, “Well this is why I OWE YOU A HUGE THANKS. In the last two years with your help and encouragement, I have joined the local Toastmasters Club and have given two speeches so far. On the second one I received the blue ribbon for best speaker. I purchased many of your audio CDs and books, and YOUR CDs AND BOOKS HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE. My relationship with my wife has never been better. I now sit on several boards and have served as president of one. I am involved with my children’s school as the President of the Principal’s Advisory Committee and the chair of the strategic planning committee. I can now accept with confidence the invitation to join the local Rotary Club and not be afraid of giving that speech or networking with the local business community. “
“Through your programs and products, you have drawn out the best in me and improved all of my relationships. You made and continue to make a difference.”
So take a good look at the example you set. Are you ever guilty of saying, “quality comes first” at your staff meeting, and then later allow some defective products to leave your warehouse because you’re pinched for time? Are you ever guilty of telling your kids to always tell the truth, but when the phone rings you tell them to say you’re not home?
In leading, managing, and parenting, you must help the people around you get a vision of excellence. And then expect excellence from them, at the same time you set an example of excellence in everything you do.
As William Bennett, the former Secretary of Education notes, “If you want kids to learn what work is, you should have them work. If you want them to learn what responsibility means, you should hold them responsible. If you want them to learn what perseverance is, you should encourage them to persevere. And you should start as early as possible.”
Action: How do your coworkers “know” you expect excellence from them? Is there a better, clearer way to communicate your expectations?