How to Create a Culture of Excellence

While very few business owners would ever say, “I don’t want a culture of excellence,” the reality is that very few businesses actually do create a culture of excellence. If you don’t believe me, just think through how many customer service issues you’ve had with the businesses you’ve used! I’m guessing it’s a lot.

Now, the reason why there are so many customer service nightmare stories out there is because, while excellence is a value “everyone” likes to talk about, very few businesses are willing to do the hard work necessary to make excellence a reality.

However, if you’re one of those leaders who doesn’t just want to talk “excellence” but actually wants to deliver it, here are a few ideas for how you can go about creating a culture of excellence which will produce better products and services, attract more customers/clients, retain more customers/clients, create more raving fans, and accelerate your word of mouth marketing.

I. It All Starts With You

At its core, values are caught, more than taught. Which means that if you want to radically increase your people’s commitment to excellence, then you need to evaluate your own commitment to excellence first. I’m not trying to be mean here, I’m just saying that excellence flows from the top down. So if you don’t like the level at which your people are delivering excellence, then the first place to start would be your example.

Why? Because the two fastest ways to create culture are through stories (point 2) and example (point 1). People do what people see. So as you look at your own example, what do your people see? To help you evaluate your example, let me give you a couple of scenarios to get your mind wrapped around this idea.

a. When you send an email, do you re-read it to make sure your spelling and grammar are correct? Do you use complete sentences? Do you check dates and times to make sure they’re the correct ones? Do you address the person you’re writing to or jump right into the content?

b. When you give a speech, do you “wing it” or do you prepare ahead of time? If you’re using slides, do they look awesome or more like “Death by PowerPoint”? Would you give yourself an “A” or not?

c. When you’re given an assignment, do you come back to the next meeting with all of your data laid out and professionally designed for them? Do you add the “little bit extra” to your assignments so that your people are wowed?  Have your thought of the opposition’s responses—and prepared for them as well?

d. When you look at your office, does it say, “Excellence” or “Mess”?

e. When you look at your own personal output, would you say it screams, “Excellence” (or not)?

If you’re not personally committed to a life of excellence, then your people won’t be either. Remember, excellence is caught more than taught. So make sure your people see excellence in everything you do. The more you do so, the more your people will figure out, “This is the way things are done around here!”

II. Continually Share Stories of Excellence

Since the beginning of time, cultures have been shaped by the stories they’ve told. Jewish culture was shaped by the stories of Abraham and Moses. Greek and Roman cultures were shaped by the stories of their Greek and Roman Gods, along with their warrior stories. Viking culture was shaped by their stories. American Indian culture was shaped by their stories. Every culture has been shaped by story.

And the way culture is changed, is by changing the story. For example, here in America, when I went to school in the 60’s and 70’s, European settlers were heroes. Today, American schools are telling a different story and now those same European settlers are seen as evil/bad. Same events. Different story.

The same is true for your business. If you want to change your culture, you have to change the stories you’re telling. And the best way to do that (concerning our topic today) is to find stories of excellence anywhere you can and start sharing them.

For example, lets say you went out last weekend to a great restaurant (yes, I am food obsessed … but hey, the restaurants here in Charleston SC are pretty amazing :-).  And let’s say that not only was the food excellent, let’s say the whole experience was excellent (from the decor to the wait staff to the cutlery to the bathrooms etc.). If I were you, I’d use that story this week.

“Hey team, I have to tell you about my experience last Saturday evening at the XYZ Bistro because they’re doing right now what we’re attempting to create here at ABC company. And it wasn’t just the food that was excellent. I expected that. What WOWed me was how they paid attention to all the little things. They hung sound attenuation boards in the ceiling so the noise level was perfect. The wait staff didn’t hover, but they always anticipated our needs and either brought what we needed before we asked or took what we didn’t before we asked. Each menu was customized with our names on it. The bathroom was spotless and they even splurged for Charmin toilet paper … (you get the idea).”

You can get excellence stories from books, magazines, TV, sports, conversations with friends, etc. But the best stories come from your own people. For example, let’s say your CRM doesn’t do three things everyone on your team would like it to do. Everyone is ticked off by this. And let’s say your admin and your IT guy decide to stay after work one day and create a patch (as well as test it). If I were you, I’d probably say something like this,

“Hey team, I don’t know how many of you are aware of this, but two nights ago, Angie and Ahmad stayed after work to fix those three things that we’ve all been complaining about for the past two months concerning our CRM. Ahmad wrote the code and Angie tested it. And the work they did was flawless. The best way I can describe it is to use Steve Jobs’ famous phrase, “It just works!” So, let’s all give a round of applause to Angie and Ahmad for holding up our value of excellence—and for making all of us more effective in our jobs!”

III. Mean It!

In other words, you have to enforce it. You can’t simply talk about the ideal of excellence. Nor, can you simply put in in a list of core values. You have to ensure excellence is practiced day in and day out—and you have to be consistent about it.

In fact, if you’re a parent, you know this. You can’t simply say to a child one time, “Do this …” and expect them to do it. Nor, can you be fickle and enforce it every now and then or even most of the time. Nor can you have one parent (if you’re in a two parent situation) where one enforces it but the other doesn’t. Change doesn’t work that way. If you want your kids to do something, you have to be absolutely consistent. The same is true at work.

Remember, your job as a leader is not to be liked by everyone (note: this does not mean a leader can be a jerk). Your job as a leader is to produce results through other people—and that often means being the “bad guy.” The one who has to say, “I’m sorry, that’s not up to our standard of excellence. You need to do it all over again.”

In my former career as a pastor of a large church there were more than a few people who thought I was too hard on people—even though our church was known for our standard of excellence. What’s been interesting to me is how some people’s attitudes about that have changed since I left and a new leader took over.

On several occasions, people have said to me something like the following. “Boy, have things changed. Often on a Sunday morning I’ll see something happen. Maybe a typo on a slide or in the program. Maybe a missed lighting cue. Maybe a rough transition between elements. Maybe a sound issue etc. And I’ll think to myself, ‘That never would have happened if Bruce were still here!'”

Note: While I appreciate the sentiment, mistakes were still made when I was leading (hence the belief by some that I was “hard on people”).

In fact, one of the people making one of those statements followed it up by, “So, I now know why you were so “hard” on people. If you’re not, the standards creep low.” Exactly!

Creating culture always involves three key elements—example, story, and enforcement. If you remove any of the three from the equation, the probability of creating a new culture dies quickly. Moreover, if those three things aren’t done consistently and continually, culture change dies with it as well.

So, as you look at your business (or organization or family), which of these three do you need to work on to create the kind of culture of excellence that you want your business to uphold and your customers/clients to experience?

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have any other great ideas for how you’d create (or have created) a culture of excellence, include them in the comments section below (or if you’re reading this by RSS or email, click here >>>)

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