Have you ever been stuck trying to figure out what’s holding your business back? As you look around, you can’t find anything bad. You have a good team of people. You have a good product and/or service. You have good customer service. You have good marketing in place. Etc. Everywhere you look, you can’t find anything bad … other than you’re not growing.
Well, whenever you find yourself there, chances are the problem is that you’re just good. Unfortunately, in a competitive marketplace good isn’t good enough. Good doesn’t inflame anyone’s passions. Good doesn’t create raving fans and viral word-of-mouth marketing. Good doesn’t create great products and services. Good doesn’t produce excellent work. Good doesn’t exceed expectations. Good doesn’t move markets.
If you want to create a great company, then your company standards have to change. “Good” or “Good Enough” has to become unacceptable. You have to raise the bar and establish excellence as the floor/expectation.
So, how can you do that? Well, here are a few ideas.
I. Model the Excellence Standard
Culture is primarily set by three things, example, story and reinforcement. Moreover, it’s usually created from the top down which means that whatever example you set tends to be true of your organization (i.e. if your people are okay with “good enough” it’s probably because you’re okay with it).
In my work with business owners, entrepreneurs and church leaders, I find this to be a frequent problem. The expectation they have of themselves and their people is way too low (i.e. they’re okay with “good enough.”).
For example, after an event, whether it was a speech or a trade show or a planning session or a marketing campaign or a team training, etc. I’ll often ask, “So how did it go?”
Their answer is almost always the same, “It was good.” And they’re okay with that.
Of course, you know me, I can’t let them off that easily so I’ll follow up with questions like, “How do you define good?” “Have you done an after action review?” “What could you do to improve that [event] next time?” “What would excellence look like for [this event]?” Etc.
Why? Because if the senior leader of a business or organization doesn’t hold themselves to a higher standard and constantly evaluate themselves to improve, the rest of the business or organization won’t.
This tends to happen frequently because what most business and organizational leaders want to hear after they’ve completed something is, “That was good” (and nothing more). But just hearing “that was good” won’t make you any better, nor will it create the kind of culture your business needs.
The example I often use with my clients is, “Can you imagine the coach of a winning football team saying, “Hey, good game. We won this week. Let’s get ready for next week?” Never. Why? Because that’s not how winning teams act.
The coach and the staff of that team, along with the players, will go back and dissect that game. They’ll watch and re-watch the footage. They’ll go play by play, “In the second quarter, when we had third down and eight on our own 48 yard line, we called X play when they were playing Y defense … and it was the wrong call. What should we have done differently?”
They’ll even get granular like saying to the quarterback, “On that interception in the third quarter, the problem was your shoulder alignment queued the defense as to your real intention. Your head and your shoulders weren’t in alignment which is why they didn’t buy your fake.” Or, “If you look closely, you’ll see you had too much weight on your back foot when you went to throw that pass.”
Bottom line, no one gets better by just hearing, “Good job!”
Therefore, my encouragement to you is to make sure you set the example of what you want from them. Invite critique. Evaluate everything. Give people permission to share ideas for how you can get better. Keep pushing yourself to never settle for “good enough.” And, over time, you’ll begin to notice that your whole business/organization has come to the conclusion that good enough isn’t good enough here. Excellence is the only acceptable standard.
So, how are you doing at modeling the continual pursuit of being the best version of yourself?
II. Cast Vision for Excellence Every Chance You Get
If you remember our triad (example, story, reinforcement), the second key to moving your business beyond the “good enough” barrier is make sure you’re sharing stories of that higher standard. Note: At first, you’ll probably be primarily sharing from sources outside your business or organization … but that’s okay.
As you’re reading magazines like Inc. or Entrepreneur or Harvard Business Review; or reading papers like the Wall Street Journal or listening to podcasts or reading blog posts or attending conferences or just experiencing life (like eating out at a great restaurant), you’ll want to collate and then share every one of those stories that you can about excellence (or the lack of it). Basically, any time you read or see or experience something that’s excellent (or on the negative side, just “good enough”) share that.
As your people catch on and start demonstrating more excellent behaviors, make sure you share every one of those stories too. “Hey Team, I just have to tell you a story I heard yesterday. Angela, in accounting, went over and above the call of duty when she … (and you tell the story).”
Then, and this is key, if you want to cast vision, you have to make it about your whole team. “Can you imagine what our company will be like when all of us are being proactive and creating innovative solutions like Angela?” Or, “I get so excited when I hear stories like this because it tells me that we’re becoming a company where excellence is the norm. As more and more of us act like Angela, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be the number one company in our market by the end of this year …” In other words, don’t just tell the story, tie it to your whole company and where you’re headed.
So, how are you doing at casting a vision for excellence with your people?
III. Consistently Reinforce that Excellence, Not “Good Enough,” is Your Expectation
As you know, words without action are meaningless. Plenty of business leaders speak a good game but do nothing to reinforce their ideas or establish consequences for the failure to perform to those standards. Don’t be like them. Words alone rarely change behavior. However, reinforcement consistently does.
And when it comes to reinforcement, there are three simple keys to remember
In other words, if you want to create a culture of excellence you have to talk about excellence as the standard (not “good enough”) all the time. You can’t simply mention it once or twice a year. It’s got to be a regular daily/weekly conversation. And you’ll know when you’ve talked about it enough when your people continually mimic you as soon as you start your excellence conversation.
The second key to reinforcement is to make sure you have systems in place to turn your ideas into reality. For example, if excellence is the standard, then you might set up a checks systems against a list of criteria that someone else has to verify before a communication goes out or a new product is launched. Or you could make excellence one of the criteria in your annual evaluation process. Etc.
Finally, excellence rarely takes root in a business or organization if the leader doesn’t call their people out for any lack of excellence. This is one of those issues I’m forever talking with leaders about. What we tolerate is the standard at which others perform. So, if Frank does “good enough” work and is never held accountable for not raising his game, he’ll continue to produce “good enough” (i.e. non-excellent) work. If Susan can send out marketing communications with typos and Jerry can get away with not customizing his sales presentations with each prospect, that’s what they’ll each do.
However, if you want your employees/teammates to perform at a higher level, then you’ve got to challenge them to perform at that higher level—and then call them any time that they fall short of that standard. “Keisha, I know you had a lot on your plate this afternoon, but in your rush to get that mass email out, you sent it out with two typos. Based on our core value of excellence, did the email you sent out this afternoon meet our standard?”
Remember, “good enough” isn’t good enough. If you want to develop a great team of people who will consistently deliver exceptional products, services and experiences to your clients/customers (without you having to continually watch over them), then you’ve got to follow these three principles consistently.
1. Model the excellence standard
2. Cast vision for excellence every chance you get
3. Consistently reinforce that excellence, not “good enough,” is your expectation
If you choose to do these three things on a consistent basis, you’ll start developing a culture of excellence. And once you have that in place, you’ll start seeing your growth curve take off once again.
To your accelerated success!
P.S. If you have some other ideas about how to get a business away from the “good enough” trap, make sure you add your ideas in the comment section below (of click here >> if you’re reading this by RSS or email)