The idea of expecting excellence isn’t new, nor is the premise that every leader should expect excellence from his or her team. But just like everything a leader says and does, it’s not so much a matter of “what” he or she does as much as it is about “how” they do what they do.
There’s a significant difference between establishing an environment where excellence is expected and one where excellence is demanded. In the first case, not only does the culture of the organization establish the expectations for excellence, but the actions of your entire team will essentially “put pressure” on everyone to perform up to the standards of excellence expected.
In the second case, where excellence is demanded, “pressure” from you is the only dynamic at play. And you know how most people react to direct pressure – they push back. And push-back usually comes in the form of either passive-aggressive behavior or by working just hard enough to keep from being fired.
So let’s discuss how to go about establishing an environment where excellence is expected. There are two components to this equation. The first is defining what excellence means to you and your organization, and the second is the design of that environment.
How we define excellence is governed by the standards and values we embrace. Standards determine the level of quality we desire. They govern quality of service and quality of product. There are many levels of quality, and only you and your team can determine which level you want to be known for. Excellent quality does not necessarily mean the very best that can be produced. Let me offer a couple of real-world, practical examples. The first comes from the restaurant business and the other from the automotive industry.
If you go to a fast food restaurant, excellent service means delivering the customer’s food within a very short time – typically 2-4 minutes. Much longer than that, and most customers will feel that the service is less than excellent. In contrast, if you dined in an expensive, gourmet restaurant and your food came out within 2-4 minutes, you’d no doubt feel rushed and consider the service to be poor.
The other example comes from the automobile industry. (I’m not promoting or judging any make of car here just offering an example that most everyone can relate to.) If every automobile were made to the very highest of standards, then there would be only Rolls Royce, Audi and Mercedes Benz. There would be no room for Chevrolet, Ford or Kia.
The appropriate level of quality that determines the standards by which you and your organization are governed is determined by the expectations of your market. This doesn’t preclude setting a standard which exceeds the expectations of that market. It just acts as a benchmark by which your performance is measured.
The values which create an environment of excellence govern how we do what we do and are – for the most part – concerned with how we relate to others. Values that may immediately come to mind are integrity, honesty, respect, and fairness. However, there are many other possible values that you and your team may want to include on your list in order to elicit excellence. Here are some additional values to help you get started: Authenticity, Family, Kindness, Commitment, Loyalty, Compassion, Happiness, Empathy, Health, and Humor.
Once you have defined what excellence means to you and your organization by clearly setting an expected level of standards for performance along with the values which determine how you, your team and your organization carry out the work you do, you will be in a position to design an environment which elicits excellence.
Designing an environment which elicits excellence is about establishing an organizational “culture”. A well-established culture will embody and reflect the standards and values you and your organization have agreed upon.
So… what constitutes “culture” and how do you establish it? Culture is established by how well you and your team live by and communicate the values and standards you’ve identified. It’s not so much “whether” you and your team agree to these things, as it is about how consistently and to what degree these values and standards are adhered to. Doing this well will create the proper initial expectations with new team members, will install a sense of pride throughout the organizations, and will fill your organization with integrity – causing the majority of your team to act, think, and speak in a certain way.
Consistency in the effort is all important. The consequences are unfortunate if you and your team profess to embrace and embody a certain culture, but live by it in an inconsistent manner, tolerate behaviors by others which are at odds with the culture, or worse, act in a manner at odds with the so-called “culture”. There is nothing more demoralizing than someone hearing about and believing in a certain culture, only to see a leader speak and act in an inconsistent manner. It absolutely undermines the integrity of the leader and the organization as a whole.
The bottom line is that demanding excellence of your team will only produce modest and inconsistent results. Alternatively, putting in the effort up front to design, implement, and live by a culture of excellence will produce long-term, self-sustaining results.