I was particularly proud of my son’s first class honours degree, which he received last week. An excellent result based on hard work and, I’d like to think, the quality of the inherited gene pool! But as he moves on to the first stage of the career ladder the congratulations surrounding his achievement will fade as he strives to meet his challenges.
What is excellence, and how should we treat it? I know what excellence is not. In fact, I find it easy to spot poor or substandard performance in people I coach or businesses I advise. But sometimes, I find myself stopping short of praising excellent behaviour, performance or results in order to try and encourage even better achievements. Perhaps that’s a good attribute in someone who seeks to unlock hidden potential. Or am I just expecting too much?
Will excellence today simply become the norm tomorrow? It always seemed that way with sales revenues and profit targets in businesses I have worked in, where last year’s stunning performance becomes next year’s baseline. Quite often, managers find themselves recognising great performance in their teams one minute and raising the bar the next. Do you recognise this?
It’s a similar picture with performance reviews. Some organisations operate ‘top grading’ policies in their pursuit of excellence, where only certain fixed percentages of employees can achieve high-performing annual assessments. It must be tough for these employees not to look out for themselves above the interests of the team.
Should we really be in the business of inflating standards in all that we do? Kaizen philosophies have permeated into workplaces across the globe. It may have been good for Japanese businesses in terms of rebuilding standards at the end of the Second World War, but isn’t there a danger of change, in the guise of improvement, for change’s sake? Shouldn’t we allow teams to have some breathing space to flourish and look towards different, broader challenges?
Sure, I enjoy high standards and strive for excellence but once you, your team or your business has raised its game and is playing at a higher level, why not enjoy that state of excellence, create some stability, and be confident carrying a bit of fat for a change?
Glenn Steward is a professional business coach, director of The Trading Edge Co and author of the ebook 16 Rules for Jobseekers