Performance Improvement: Forget “Excellence”

This is a transcript of REPSradio.com Episode 004. To listen to this Podcast, Click Here.

Hey, hey, hey…welcome to Episode 4 of REPSradio.com!

As we just heard, “Any way you want it- that’s the way you need it!

Here’s your question for this episode: HOW do you REALLY want it?

Do you want things to be good?

How about “great”?

Here’s a more pointed question- are you…pursuing “excellence”?

Let’s talk about a very specific aspect of how I believe many well-intended leaders are totally screwing things up when it comes to performance improvement- and it deals with...“excellence”.

Quite honestly, this may upset you- especially if you are currently purporting the dreaded term. If you are, I strongly recommend you STOP!

As far as I’m concerned, focusing on “excellence” is a major “cop out”.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you’re doing this, you likely have good intentions. However, not only is it NOT serving you or your organization, it tends to INHIBIT [honest] performance improvement.

How?

While the concept itself can be admirable- while it might sound good…and looks great in big bold letters on the banner above your facility entrance, using “excellence” as a mantra for performance improvement is a VERY bad idea.

Why?

I’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s talk about how the term “excellence” became so popular in the first place.

Is the name Tom Peters familiar to you?

He’s been a management guru since the 80s- brought into the mainstream in 1982 when he and Bob Waterman wrote, “In Search of Excellence”.

The book sold like crazy- more than 3 million copies in its first 4 years. I bought a copy. It’s still sitting on the shelf in my office.

Thirty-five years ago, Peters and Waterman identified 43 companies that “had their act together”, and to quote Tom from his Fast Company interview 20 years later, “…were doing ‘cool things’.”

Some of those highlighted companies fared well (like Walmart and McDonalds). Others, like Wang Laboratories and NCR, no longer exist. The point is- what was ‘cool’ in 1982 ain’t necessarily so in 2017.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a great title for a book; however, for the life of me, I can’t figure out WHY the term is still being bantered about today- still often being released within organizations as something “new and exciting”.

As an interesting note, a search on “excellence” within “books” on amazon.com revealed 24,149 results. Amazing!

I’ve learned a LOT from Tom Peters over the years. I’ve read most of his books. I’ve been a huge fan of his irreverent, challenge-the-status-quo attitude.

My issue is the word- “excellence”.

While the IDEA of “excellence” is good, when it comes to implementation and execution…it falls flat on its face in the mud.

This is because the term itself cannot be clearly defined.

Let me illustrate using a little scenario…

Let’s say you’re my boss.

The company is launching a “brand new” performance improvement initiative.

This is going to be the best thing ever, having been brainstormed by the senior leadership team during a recent retreat. It must be good. After all, the offsite session was facilitated by an extremely expensive consultant.

The initiative was unveiled during last week’s management meeting. With excitement and grandeur, the new mantra to solve all our problems will now become: “Our Pursuit of Excellence.”

As a mid-level manager, you’ve now been tasked to communicate the details, the excitement, and the enthusiasm with your department.

Using the pre-prepared PowerPoint and associated talking points, you do your darndest to demonstrate passion for our new endeavor. As a member of your team, I’m sitting there listening.

I’m an “A Player”. I care. I’m engaged. I tend to take the lead whenever something appears to be in everyone’s best interests.

After our meeting, though, I’m a bit confused. So, I hang around to ask you a question.

“Okay,” I say, “I get that you’re onboard with this. I like the concept…but…WHAT [precisely] do you want me to do different?”

Well- the answer to this question was not included in your talking points.

Following an involuntary glance toward the floor, you say the first thing you can think of, “Let me get back to you.”

Back in your office, you pull your 11th edition Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary off the shelf to get some clarification. Looking up “excellence”, you discover its definition to be, “the quality of being excellent”.

Now…I’m kind of a “word junkie”. Using words is what I do for a living.

While you may not be into the study of words and their use, surely you recognize that when the root of a word must be used to define it- you have a problem. You simply cannot come back to me and say, “Well, Tim, I want you to exhibit the quality of being excellent!”

My reply, because I have an enquiring mind, would likely be, “Okay- what does “excellent” look like?

So- before you leave Webster’s, you dig deeper and look up the definition of “excellent”.

There, on page 435, you discover that “excellent” means, “very good,” “superior,” “eminently good.”

So- what are you supposed to tell me? What, precisely, do you want me to do different? What behaviors am I supposed to change? How am I supposed to change them?

A bit of a conundrum, isn’t it?

So- you have no specific answer to my question, “WHAT [precisely] do you want me to do different?”

I want to succeed. I want our organization to succeed- but you’ve given me nothing tangible to work with. You have asked me to do something that is essentially undefined.

My brain processed it. I even cared enough to ask for clarification. Because there is no clarification, my brain remains confused- at least about whatever the company, or you as my boss, consider “excellence” to be.

So- I do nothing different. And I’m an “A Player”!

By the way, I’ll be going into “A Players,” “B Players,” and “C Players” in a future episode of REPSradio.com. In the meantime, details are contained in Chapter 9 of 6-Hour Safety Culture.

So- why will I do nothing?

Because…I’m confused!

And here’s a bit of psychology for you. [Man, I love psychology!]

If you’re in a place where you can do so, write this down:

A confused mind says, “NO”.

Let me repeat that: A confused mind says, “NO!”

So…bantering about with “excellence” on your lips, your posters, your webpages, your hallways, and your meeting room walls is directly CAUSING confusion. And confusion causes people to RESIST.

Is this your intention? I would certainly imagine not!

If you truly WANT to improve…

If you truly want people to change team member behaviors, you must give them something TANGIBLE, something SPECIFIC, something OBSERVABLE- with MEASURABLE results.

What might that be?

What might be an exceptionally good replacement for “excellence”?

Start using the term, “Next-Level”.

When properly deployed, “Next-level” can be just as exciting and sexy as “excellence”. HOWEVER…it can also be clearly defined and explained.

You can explicitly define what your “next level” is- specific measurable outcomes and results (and why they’re important), as well as the needed efforts and desired behaviors that go along with them.

Once you do this, and properly communicate it, your team members will know precisely what’s important…and why.

You will now be able to answer my question of [specifically] WHAT you want me to do…differently.

In future episodes, I’ll be talking about how to communicate and grow desired behaviors- those directly aligned with your Core Principles. This is where the ‘magic’ happens. And the great news is, there are only a handful of such behaviors, known as vital behaviors.

If you’re an over-achiever and want to jump ahead in this journey, I identify the 12 vital behaviors on pages 303-304 of 6-Hour Safety Culture.

For now, here are some tools and opportunities for you to identify and define “how you want it and need it” (as the Journey song goes).

You can access these tools, which are for your use free of charge, at REPSradio.com. That’s REPSradio.com. Once on that page, click on the graphic for Episode 4. You’ll find the links for these Resources toward the bottom of the page.

By the way, while you’re there, become part of this conversation! I’d love to hear your comments about “excellence”, even if you’re still a fan of the term!

Here are the tools you can put to immediate use:

First, if you’ve not yet completed your Transformation Conversation, you SHOULD. This will help you get CRYSTAL CLEAR about what you truly want (and why you want it).

Second, I’m giving you an opportunity for a free PULSE CHECK of your current culture. This will help you plot your pathway to your Next-Level. You’ll be able to focus on your organizational culture, which is the ONLY way to achieve SUSTAINABLE RESULTS.

And finally, an opportunity to download the REPS Report, which details HOW to achieve a “one-team” approach to all your performance improvement efforts.

***

Today’s episode has been brought to you by the Human Performance Association, publishers of the best-selling book, 6-Hour Safety Culture: How to Sustainably Reduce Human Error and Risk, and do What Training Alone Can’t Possibly Do.

You can discover what this work has in store for you at 6hoursafetyculture.com, that’s 6hoursafetyculture.com.

***

So that’s it for Episode 4.

As Steve Perry sang at the beginning of this episode, “Any way you WANT it- that’s the way you NEED it.

Very true.

HOWEVER…you must be clear on what you WANT…AND you must communicate this in tangible, concrete, “here’s what looks different” terms to your team members.

That’s it for now.

Hasta la vista baby!

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