“Your job is to leave the organization better than you found it. You are its steward,” states John Addison, and the way to assure that happens is to always be striving for excellence in every area of both your own leadership and your business processes. There must be a discontent with the status quo, or “business as usual.”
Some leaders don’t want to “mess with things” as long as they are going relatively well. But that is the opposite of a continuous improvement mentality. Sure, when you tell your team that you want to evaluate a process for how you are conducting business, to make it even better (more profitable, more streamlined, more attractive to customers) than it is now, you are going to get some eye-rolls and deep sighs. But you do it with the vision of a better tomorrow as the goal, not just to make change for change’s sake.
Excellence is defined as: to be superior in some area, to do extremely well, to surpass or outdo.
There is always a better way to do things, even if it’s just 1% better. In fact, when you brainstorm solutions with your team about making something more excellent, use that language: What are some possibilities for making ____ 1% better? If you did that every week at your leadership team meeting, do the math: how much better would your business be in 52 weeks?
Whatever stage of your business you are in (start-up or growth), you either put some processes in place just to get going and they became commonplace—and thus need a check-up for efficiency—or it’s been a couple years doing things the same way–and it’s time to take it to the next level.
Go to those on the front lines for implementation wisdom. Ask your social media person, What’s one way to increase our visibility? Ask your web master, What’s one way to make online ordering easier? Ask your receptionist, What’s one way to increase our courtesy when greeting customers? Ask your cyber security people, What’s one area where we are most vulnerable to a breech and how can we get ahead of that? By asking for staff input, they will most likely be bought-in to the solution and will eventually have even more pride in their work.
Another question to ask your team is “What would a typical customer expect in their typical experience with a business like ours?” Consider the before, during, and after experience with your business. Once those typical answers get discussed, take it up a notch and ask, “Now what could we do that would be going beyond that expectation, that would WOW the customer because it was such a pleasant surprise?” And use those answers for motivating a pursuit of excellence. People return to businesses that give them a WOW experience.
Driving for excellence is not just about knocking the socks off your customers, but it’s how your treat your employees. Find ways to upgrade their benefits within your budget, whether it be offering medical insurance, expanding your time-off policies, granting them professional development opportunities, or even meeting an emergency need that comes up—just to show you care. How about that for creating an internal culture of excellence!
With those same employees, you also expect excellent work ethic from them. You hold them accountable whenever they don’t hold themselves accountable for delivering excellent results. Ask them periodically at the end of their shifts: What percentage of your time today did you pursue excellence in the roles you played? 30? 60%? 90% What can you do tomorrow to up your game?
Set metrics for each employee so they know what winning looks like. Everyone needs to know their “number,” and it must be something within their control—something they can accomplish each day or week with hard work. That’s called a “lead measure” (rather than a “lag measure”, which are things like customers coming through the door or reviews left on social media). As the boss, you get to set these high standards to keep the bar high and to prevent plateaus in performance.
Has each person on your team been appraised this past year? Performance reviews are the perfect time for giving feedback for ongoing improvement; in fact, don’t deliver an appraisal without a few practical ways that team member can get a little better. Consider shortening the time between reviews so that there is more real-time feedback and so that you don’t go too long without addressing sub-excellence behaviors. Some companies are now doing reviews twice a year or quarterly (and more informal with their process) so that momentum can be maintained.
Certain employees will rise to the occasion whenever you challenge them to improve something for which they are responsible. Or, they are the ones who, on their own initiative, are experimenting with ideas or speaking up about what needs to be fixed with a solution with which they are considering bringing up to you. Watch for these emerging leaders who have that constructive (not destructive) spirit of discontent. They need to be put into the succession plan for positions one level up from where they are now. You never know when someone might leave and you will need someone to step up without major transition stress—because you’ve groomed them for what’s next.
Basically, you are trying to keep the company’s staff in the place between under-challenged—where people are just going through the motions—and overwhelmed—where people feel “piled on” with more and more responsibilities. That’s a tough balance, for sure. Observe them and their energy levels, and listen to their stressors, to gauge if and when they can handle the next process improvement.
Oh, and by all means, follow-through! Don’t just talk of the ways to be more excellence-driven. Assign a champion to put those wheels in motion, either by him/herself or with a small task force who have a set goal and a deadline. Nothing is more defeating to the superstars on the staff than to get their hopes up for positive change, and then dash it to pieces with neglect.
“At the gates of excellence stand 2 fearsome sentries: risk and learning. The keys to entrance are faith and courage.” –Robert Quinn
Unless you struggle with perfectionism, “good enough” will never produce the quality that will make your business stand-out. Effective leaders are “averse to average” and always thinking about how to make every area of their business more excellent. Growing Forward Services is all about taking your life and leadership to the next level, and it would be my honor to come alongside you in that pursuit, whether informally (through staying connected through my videos and posts on social media) or formally (through becoming your coach or team-builder). Reach out today at firstname.lastname@example.org