Transforming Employees From Mediocre To Excellent

There comes a time when you need to move from deliberation to decision and from consideration to commitment.

Mediocre employees say, “That’s not my job.” Excellent employees say, “Whatever it takes.” Mediocre employees put in their time. Excellent employees put in their time … AND their energy.

And in today’s world, you need EVERY employee to be excellent … if you’re going to compete … serve your customers well … grow your business … and be profitable. Any employee who is not excellent will be an impediment to those goals.

Last week, I gave you three tips on how you can encourage your employees to be excellent. I said you needed to: 1) help your people get a vision of excellence, 2) expect excellence from them, and then 3) lead by example. Let’s take that discussion a bit further by exploring points 4 through 7.

=> 4. Get a commitment to excellence.

That’s what Mike Krzyzewski, the basketball coach at Duke University did when they went into overtime in the NCAA Regional Championship game against Kentucky. Kentucky was leading with 2.1 seconds left.

During the final time out, coach K told Grant Hill that he wanted him to throw the inbound pass to Christian Laettner who would be at the top of the key … 75 feet away. He said, “Grant, we need a three-quarter-court pass. Grant, can you make the pass?”

“YEAH, coach. I can DO it.” The coach got commitment.

Coach K then said, “Christian, you’re going to flash from the left corner to the top of the key. Christian, can you catch it?” Christian nodded that he could. But that wasn’t a strong enough commitment for Coach K, so coach pushed Christian a bit harder.

He got his commitment. Christian said, “If Grant can throw it, I CAN catch it and I can HIT the shot.”

Grant threw the pass. Christian hit the shot. Duke won 104 to Kentucky’s 103.

When you’re after excellence, get a commitment from the other person that he/she CAN do it and WILL do it. Get the other person to make a decision. As Brenda Ellsworth tells her team at Tastefully Simple (“Tastefully Simple is a registered trademark of Tastefully Simple, Inc.”), “It all begins with making a decision and saying, ‘This is what I’m going to do: I’m going to make it happen, no matter what!'”

Civil rights activist, Joseph Lowery, had a clever way of saying it. He said, “If you can take care of the internal, you can easily take care of the external. Then you can avoid the infernal and catch on to the eternal.”

Once you’ve got the other person’s commitment, then…

=> 5. Use praise and reward.

When people strive for excellence, they typically do it for a reason. Maybe the work makes them feel good, helps them master a skill, or move ahead in their career. But there’s always a reason. As movie star Ava Gardner said, “I do everything for a reason. Most of the time the reason is money.”

Well one of the main reasons people pursue excellence is because they want to receive praise. So give it to them. Praise excellent performance. You might be amazed at the difference it can make in someone’s life or career.

John Huber, one of my “Tuesday Tip” subscribers, made that clear. When someone recognized his excellence, his life and his work changed dramatically.

As John told me, “I worked with wood in high school, and everything came naturally to me. So I assumed that what came naturally to me was natural to others. Boy, was I ever wrong! Anyway, after reading your Tip, I decided to put my woodworking talents to use and build Christmas gifts for my family. The gifts turned out awesome, and it was the best Christmas for me … seeing the looks on my loved ones when they opened the gifts.”

John continued, “Later I happened to show one of my friends what I was doing with woodworking. He got interested, indeed excited, and wanted to help. We started showing pictures of my products to various people, found an investor, and to make a long story short, I am now one of 3 partners in a successful, growing woodworking company.”

Obviously, John’s friend gave him the exact praise he needed. You’ll find all those skills … and dozens of other skills … outlined in my 6-pack CD album entitled “The Relationship Factor: How To Make Bad Relationships Better and Good Relationships Great.”

Just don’t make the mistake of praising everything a person does … or praising ordinary performance. You’ll kill off the other person’s desire to do more or do better.

Praise extraordinary work … like the one man did when he walked out of church. He told the preacher, “That was a d— good sermon.”

The preacher replied, “Watch your language.” To which the man said, “Okay, it was a really d— good sermon.”

Again the preacher rebuked, “Watch your language.” So the man said, “In fact, it was so good I put $100 bill in the collection plate.”

The preacher said, “The h— you did.”

So use appropriate praise … and then sprinkle in some appropriate rewards. As Bill Sims, Jr., president of The Bill Sims Company, says, “Recognition is key, and when coupled with tangible awards you multiply its impact at least five times.”

That’s what they found out at West Valley Nuclear Services in Buffalo, New York. They implemented a program for its 800 employees, from engineers to cafeteria workers. The program was intended to help the company meet its new guidelines for energy savings by taking suggestions from the employees. And for their suggestions, the employees received everything from free coffee to gas grills to ocean cruises. The result was an incredible $2.2 million in savings and cost avoidances in just 18 months.

Of course, as you push people towards excellence, they will make some mistakes. No problem. All you have to do is…

=> 6. Correct their performance when it is less than excellent.

Goethe, the classic German author said, “Correction does much, but encouragement does more.” He’s right. I just talked about encouragement above. But there comes a time when course correction is needed.

Just don’t make the mistake of talking to someone about their “weaknesses.” “Weaknesses” sound like permanent character flaws.

And a focus on “weaknesses” will turn a person into a pessimist … because he’ll think “That’s just the way I am. There’s nothing I can do about it.” That’s why one pessimist carries a card in his wallet that says, “In case of accident, I’m not surprised.”

Instead, when you’re correcting less-than-excellent performance, talk about the other person’s “improvement opportunities.” That way you’re describing a process she can pursue. And she’s back on the road to excellence.


=> 7. Analyze the excellence and the resulting success.

It’s not enough to acknowledge the other person’s success or excellence. The best way to keep it going is help him understand the reason it came about in the first place. WHY did things turn out right and HOW can he replicate that?

For example, if an individual had an unusually good month in sales, recognize it and ask him why. Did he use a different approach to prospecting or in closing the sale? Did he make more sales calls or approach a different type of clientele? Did he create a new presentation? By asking such questions, you help the other person make the most of his success.

In summary, excellence does not randomly strike like lightning. It’s the result of certain actions you take … in concert with other people. And if you take the 7 actions I described, you’ll make excellence a habit in your organization.

Action:  Think of three questions you can ask an individual the next time you observe a success he is having. Ask questions that will help him understand what brought about his success.