Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

How to get your team to the top

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One of my clients recently asked for my advice on how to get the people in his company motivated to take on the challenge of truly becoming world-class. A very tough question – here is how I answered him…

In our last conversation you asked me about how to get your entire company excited and motivated to be “the best”, to really strive to deliver excellence. My friend, this is an incredibly tough challenge, perhaps one of the greatest in business. For a few of us the drive to achieve and succeed seems innate, for many others though the fire is just not there. I actually had a guy say to me the other day “I have always felt that ambition was over-rated.” Being the best is just not a big deal to some people, and there in lies the rub.

I gave your question a lot of thought and here is what I’d like to share with you.

To me the first step is defining what “excellence” really looks like. Creating a clear, specific and most importantly… measurable… vision of exactly what you mean when you say “the best.” Lots of companies talk about being an industry leader, or world-class or best-in-class, yet it is impossible to achieve that unless you can specifically quantify what you mean by those terms. Is there a third-party industry ranking system? Is it a specific award that would tell you you’ve reached the top, such as the Malcolm Baldrige Award? Can it be measured in market share, six sigma quality, ISO 9000, industry awards? In other words, if you want to challenge people to win the race, you have to show them precisely where the finish line is.

Next, you have to tell them what they will win if the cross the line. Is it more money? Prestige, honor, regard, awards? The tough thing here is that it is different for everyone. As Napoleon pointed out “Men will not fight for money, but they will die for a ribbon.” So the idea of pride and honor might be enough to stir the emotions of some of your folks. Others (who apparently did not read any Napoleon) are truly motivated by cash. Still others simply love competition, and the drive to crush a hated competitor might be enough to stoke their energy. Your job will be to uncover these different motivations and then deliver the necessary fuel to spark them. You and your management team will need to keep people focused by creating a motivating and rewarding reason for your employees to go above and beyond in pushing to be the best they can be. Once you have a clear and measurable goal and an incredibly motivating reason to go for it, the next step is building consensus and commitment. This should start with 100% buy-in from your entire management team. Do they believe the goal is realistic? Are they excited to go for it? Is each of them personally committed to being a leader, cheerleader and a living example of what it takes to achieve the goal? Without real buy-in for the entire top team, there is very little chance of success, because the next step is to go out and sell the idea to the rest of the company. To communicate in every single way possible (over and over again) where you are trying to go, why it is important, what is in it for them if they achieve it, and that the management team is fully committed – so they need to be too.

The key word here is: over-communicate. When you are absolutely sure every person in the company is sick of hearing about your quest to be the best and how to do it – the lowest level people just heard it for the first time. You must be relentless in communicating the “where, why, how and what is in it for you” messages.

Next is yet another tough stage… execution. It might take months or even years to finally achieve the goals you set. So along the way you’ll need superhuman discipline and focus to keep your people on the path. Key targets will need to be built into everyone’s plans, the goals must be discussed regularly, progress tracked diligently, and all in a atmosphere that demands accountability and refuses to tolerate mediocrity.Lastly, it is critical to celebrate the small wins. Break the goal down into bite-sized pieces and then every time one is achieved find a way to celebrate it. A small bonus, a day off, more flex time, a note from you, an award in front of their team, a gift… lots and lots of praise and celebration when things go right.

Oh yes, one more thing. You must also deal decisively with those who do not buy in or do not meet their commitments. As I have said before, you have to first do everything in your power to help them, support them, train and assist them – but at the end of the day if someone decides they just do not want to play, they need to be removed from the team. Letting one person sit on the sidelines will everyone else is working hard is not an option, as it will quickly destroy motivation and team spirit in those around them.

Obviously there is a lot of work to actually implement the overview I have just presented, but to me these are the major hurdles that any leader faces when attempting to get their people to rally behind the idea of truly striving to be the best.

Hope that helps — John

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