How To “Demand” Excellence Without Being a Jerk

You want your employees to perform at an “excellence” level. You want them to deliver excellent work—both externally to your customers as well as internally with any work product produced for you or anyone else inside your company. The question is, “How do you get them to produce at that level of excellence on a consistent basis?”

For some of your employees, it’s no big deal. You give them an assignment and they always do it to the best of their ability. They’re like you or me. Unfortunately, not everyone is like us. In fact, I’d guess that most of your employees aren’t like that. So, what can you do to get that more than half of your employees group to up their game and consistently produce at an “A” or “A+” level?

Well, here are five ideas for how you can do that … and do so without being a jerk.

I. Recruit for It

I know this doesn’t impact your current employees, but one of the first steps any business owner/entrepreneur ought to take in creating a culture of excellence is to make sure they recruit people who perform at an excellence level. In other words, if you only hire “A” players from this point forward, you’ll automatically increase your corporate level of excellence.

The problem is that most business owners/entrepreneurs don’t hire only “A” players. They often hire fast to get someone in the job. Or they hire based on their “gut” or their desire to “help someone out,” or believe that they can turn anyone around, etc. And the result of all of that is a lot of bad hires.

In other words, the primary reason we’re having this discussion today is because of some bad hires. If you only hired “A” players, you wouldn’t have to “demand” excellence because excellence would be the only thing your people would be producing.

So, the first step to “demanding” excellence would be to go back and revise your hiring process (remember, at Wired To Grow, we’re all about systematizing everything). How can you change the expectation? How can you check for examples of it? How can you test for it? What questions should you be asking in the interview process (and the reference checking process)? Remember, if you stop hiring less than excellent people, your people will automatically produce at a higher level.

II. Set the Expectation For Excellence Early and Often

In your recruitment process, you should be setting the expectation. In your on-boarding, you should be setting the expectation. In your communications, you should be setting the expectation. In other words, it should be impossible for anyone who works for you to not know that excellence is your standard.

If anyone thinks that they can do less than excellent work in your company and get away with it—then you know you have some work to do. Clearly they don’t understand your expectation (which usually suggests a “you” problem vs. a “them” problem).

This is especially true for any task you delegate. You need to clearly communicate your expectation for what excellence looks like for that task when you’re delegating it. If they don’t clearly understand what your expectations are, you can’t hold them accountable for something they didn’t understand.

So, what expectation do your employees have related to your excellence standard? How often do you remind that of that expectation? And how clear are you on setting what excellence looks like per task?

III. Cast Vision for What Excellence Looks Like Everyday

In general, it’s difficult for most people to create something that they haven’t seen (i.e. it’s the reason why it’s easier to put together a jigsaw puzzle with the box top than without it). So, help them see.

Share with your employees examples from other companies. When you see excellence in a service (a restaurant, a hotel, an airline, an HVAC contractor, etc.) or a product (a car, a smartphone, a knife, a power washer, etc.) share that story with your people during a meeting or in a video or in print or one-on-one.

Likewise, if you’re working on a marketing piece, keep a swipe file of marketing pieces that you like so that when you’re delegating that task, you can show them, “This is the kind of quality I’m looking for.” Or, if you’re working with a sales person, keep a swipe file of sales presentations so you can show them, “This is the kind of quality sales presentation I want you to shoot for.”

Also, make sure you keep some bad examples that you can share with them as well so you can say, “I don’t want you to do something like this.” For example, if you were to show someone on your marketing team some examples of direct mail you don’t like (you know, the kind with clip art 🙂 ) they would have a better idea of what not to shoot for. Then when you combine that with some positive examples you do like (e.g. those with nice glossy images on both sides, a great hook to a need/want of the prospect, lots of white space so it doesn’t feel cluttered, a clear call to action, benefit-focused copy vs. feature-centric, etc.) they can easily understand what excellence looks like for you.

Note: this is one of the easiest ways to “demand” excellence without being a jerk. By showing your people BEFORE they execute what excellence looks like, you won’t be a jerk. You’ll simply be a great boss.

Another great source of examples of what excellence looks like is from your own team. Anytime someone does something great, share that with your team. It’s an easy double win—the employee who did the excellent work will love it, and everyone else will get another picture of what excellence looks like.

Bottom line, everyday, whether you’re at work or not, you should be looking for ideas and examples to share with your team of what excellence looks like.

So, how are you doing at casting vision for excellence? Do your people get it? And are they hearing it often enough?

IV. Hold Your People Accountable To It

The primary reason why most people can get away with “less than excellent” work is because their bosses let them get away with it.

So, if you want to “demand” excellence, you have to stop tolerating less than excellent work. You have to be the one who calls someone on the carpet for not holding up to your expectation/core value of excellence.

But, how can you do that without being a jerk? Well, here are a few ideas

  1. Ask questions vs. make statements.
    In other words, become Socrates. Ask, “Betty, do you think this email hits our standard of excellence?” vs. “Betty, this email is terrible. The design is bad. The content stinks. There were two spelling mistakes and three grammatical mistakes.” The former is non-jerky, the latter, jerky.
  2. Refer to your core values. 
    In the above question to Betty, did you notice that I referenced the core value. In other words, I was asking a question that connected Betty to something greater than the task at hand. Whenever you’re referencing a core value, you’re reminding the person of an agreed upon standard of behavior—which makes it less about you being a jerk and more about them not living up to the standard.
  3. Don’t get emotional.
    Anger leads to jerky-ness. So, don’t give in to it. It’s not in your best interest to hold someone accountable when you’re angry. Instead, get past the anger and confront the employee once you’re back in control. Then, in a calm voice, you can ask them about the thing they just blew.
  4. Never scold (and definitely not in public).
    Scolding is what parents do to children (and, by the way, wrongly). Adults hate to be scolded. So, don’t do it. Scolding is about making someone feel bad for something they’ve already done. That’s not helpful. Instead, you want to focus on changing their behavior moving forward. So you might want to say something like, “Betty, this seems below your standards. I know you can do better and I assume that the next you attempt this you’ll be back on track with what I know you’re capable of producing.”

There are plenty of ways to hold someone accountable without being a jerk (these four will give you a start) but the main idea is to make sure you’re holding your people accountable to an excellence standard and not letting them get away with doing less than excellent work. Remember, people don’t do what you ask them to do but what you inspect. So, inspect continually. Praise them when they hit it, but also make sure you call them on it when they don’t.

V. Model Excellence In Your Own Life Everyday

Everyday your people are watching you. Everyday, they’re taking their cues from you. Everyday they’re assessing, based on what you do, what really matters around here.

Now, if you’ve been reading my content for any length of time, you know I’m a huge advocate of core values. I think they’re critical. They tell your staff, “This is the standard at which we do work around here.” They are the 24/7 culture drivers of your business so your people know what they should do or how they should decide something without even having to ask you.

However, as critical as core values are, your example is even more important. Your example lets people know if your core values are simply words on a wall or the real drivers of your business.

So, what model are you setting for your people when it comes to excellence?

  • Do you check your spelling and grammar before sending an email or letter (or any other communication piece)? Or not?
  • Do you show up at meetings fully prepared? Or do you just wing it?
  • Do you dress with excellence? Or not?
  • Do you take the time to develop well thought through plans? Or go by the seat of your pants?
  • Do you keep your office “reasonably” clean? Or are there messy piles everywhere?
  • Do you prepare well for your talks so they come off “flawlessly” and have additional support (like slides)? Or do you just wing it because, well, you’re the boss?
  • Are you the banner carrier for excellence in your business?

In general, everything tends to run south of the key leader of that organization. So, if you’re not modeling excellence, there’s very little chance your people will. However, if you’re modeling excellence, you should be setting the expectation everyday of what the standard of performance is in your company. And you will, in essence, “demand” excellence without being a jerk. Your sheer example will drive everyone else to up their game.

So, if you want to “demand” excellence in your business without being a jerk, I’d encourage you to use all five of these ideas.

  1. Recruit for it
  2. Set the expectation for excellence early and often
  3. Cast vision for what excellence looks like everyday
  4. Hold your people accountable to it
  5. Model excellence in your own life everyday

The more you systematize each of these, the more you’ll get the behavior and company you want—a business where everyone on your team is producing at an “excellent” level—both internally and externally—to the delight of you, your customers and the rest of your team. It’s a triple win!

To your accelerated success!

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