The Standard of Excellence

Excellence is the goal of every organization. You will not find any company or agency that wants to do things just okay. Every organization seeks to be the best. If you have the best organization, it gives you the best opportunity to create the best products or services and garner the most customers. At their core, every methodology that aims to improve the organization is primarily trying to achieve excellence. Read below for ways to drive your organization to excellence.

Your people are not engaged; they don’t care about excellence. We have all worked with these kinds of individuals. They are there to do their job. They are not passionate about what they do and are merely trying to do enough to meet the standard. They are not bad people; they just need a leader that knows how to get them to engage and inspire in them a desire to help the organization achieve excellence. This is not easy to do, but if you have people that are not passionate about what they are doing, find out what they want to do and make every effort to connect their duties to their passion. If you can’t do that because they are completely different, reach out and find opportunities for them to connect with the passions in other ways. For example, if you have someone that wants to be a nurse, but is currently working in construction, create a position for a worksite first aid station and pay for them to get some formal training. If doing something like that doesn’t get them to be committed to your organization, I don’t know what will.

You expect everything to be excellent. To what standard they complete the work is your job to determine, as the manager or leader of the group. Tasks that directly support your core mission and vision need to be the focus and should be how you measure excellence in the organization. Other tasks that need to be done but do not directly contribute to the mission/vision should be done “good enough.”

You continue to lower the standard to ensure the organization is achieving excellence when it is not. The other day I dropped off some paperwork to our administration section. I have a firm thirty-day deadline. After this section does what it needs to do, they must send it to another section to further process the paperwork. The entire process generally takes a few weeks, but in this case, I was told both processes would be expedited to take about a week. One week later, I received an email asking for clarification of the paperwork. I was very unhappy that it still hadn’t made it through the first phase of the process, but the response I got was that they had extra people out and this is the best they could do. I asked if they felt they still met the standard of excellence and thief managers unanimously agreed they are still meeting the level of excellence. Because they had more people out than normal – they were on vacation; this is self-inflicted pain – they increased their allowed processing time and made it seem as if they were still meeting the high standard. Temporary changes do not warrant changes to the standard. The standard for excellence should be determined, then left alone. Altering the standard should occur very rarely.

Confrontation for Dummies – 3 Steps to Help

The problem with confrontation is that it is freaking scary!   We all have those people we supervise that are confident, charismatic, witty, and difficult to deal with. When it becomes necessary to address the behavior of these individuals, it can become difficult. They normally have plenty of excuses and can talk their way out of anything. They don’t take responsibility for issues and are masters at deflecting. Personally, I don’t mind confrontation in a professional setting. I found a few things to do to help with the anxiety that comes with this aspect of management that make it less painful and turns it into a useful tool.

Preparation is the key to confrontation. Before confronting someone, whether it is a subordinate or supervisor, there must be a fact-gathering stage. If you suspect the person of stealing money or coming in late to work, you need to ensure you take plenty of time to make sure you have all the facts. I doubt I have to say this, but if the behavior is seriously criminal, call the police, or use your best judgment to decide when this is appropriate. Make sure you have as many facts as possible, then see the person you need to confront.

Confrontation is about teaching or correcting behavior. One of the biggest mistakes one can make when confronting someone is to use the confrontation as a means to punish. Take a different approach. Instead of saying, “You were late for work again today. That is the third time this month. If it happens again, you are fired.” Try, “You were late for work again. What’s going on? Is everything ok?” This approach will keep the person from going into automatic defense mode and will help start the dialog. The last thing you want to do is start yelling at someone for being late only to find out his or her child has been diagnosed with a terminal disease or some other horrible thing. The dialog is what you are after. The company hired that person for a reason, and it’s never fun to fire someone. Get the conversation going and find a way to end on a positive note.

Check your ego. Your ego can get in the way in many instances, but if you recognize this up front and temper your ego, it will go a long way to ensure the confrontation doesn’t delve into a hurtful and mean-spirited engagement. Be ready to admit you were wrong or that you didn’t have all the information if that is the case. If you are unsure of how to handle a situation or if someone has convinced you that you are making a mistake, it is perfectly okay to ask him or her to give you some time. This way you can think without pressure. You will lose credibility if you stick to your guns when you were wrong only because you can’t let your ego take a hit. When the confrontation is over, you must understand the other person will share their experience with everyone they work with, and you will lose credibility and trust with your entire team. The ego is not worth it.

Don’t Hate, Appreciate!

A person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated. I forget where I read that, probably on the never-ending interwebs or a book…never the less, I still feel appreciation is the most underutilized tool in a leader’s toolbox. Perhaps calling it a tool or tactic is wrong. It really should be a lifestyle, something you integrate into your personality. But unless that is a big-time goal for you personally, using it as a tool in a leadership setting will have to do.

Many authors write books on this subject. One book I thought was great was The Carrot Principle, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton is phenomenal; you should read it immediately. And outside of educational literature, this topic that most mothers have known for centuries is starting to catch on. Guys like Gary Vaynerchuk and Tony Robbins talk about being good to your people and using honey instead of vinegar. Mr. Vaynerchuk often speaks of a “honey empire” and Seth Godin often talks about recognition, which if it isn’t the same thing as appreciation it is its twin. Being recognized by the waiter at the restaurant you frequent is being appreciated for deciding on that restaurant. Being recognized at work for doing a great job is certainly appreciated. All credit goes to Mr. Godin. See his blog HERE.

As someone who is in a position of authority, it is generally understood that you have many spinning plates to keep balanced. You must be everything. You must be honest, fair, encouraging, inspiring, goal-oriented, have high standards, and the list goes on and on. A deliberate objective for you and your team should be to focus on appreciation. It is very tempting to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, especially in the military, but this type of leadership only works for very few. Mr. Jobs was a unicorn; someone truly built to be so visionary and exceptional that he could use mostly vinegar. It won’t work for you.

There are many ways to integrate appreciation into your daily management style. Here are several ideas to get you started. Do it outside of a formal recognition or appreciation program. Everyone loves being the “Employee of the Month,” but there can only be one a month. Instead, take a much more deliberate approach and look for reasons to recognize great work. It can’t be used so often that it is watered down and you are always telling people they did a great job, especially if their work is not great, but typical. Look for exceptional behavior. Take time to send an email or find them in person and tell them a few things they have worked on that you appreciate. Doing so is far more effective than waiting for them to make a mistake and then crushing them. Also, make sure you are always reinforcing the culture you are trying to establish or maintain. In this case, the performance doesn’t have to be exceptional, as long as you tie it to progress on a goal that reinforces the culture.

It will feel weird at first, especially if it isn’t your typical approach, but it will get better and the difference it will make in the culture of the organization, the performance or the employees, and most importantly, the happiness and satisfaction of your people will be extraordinary!

When to Battle (The Art of Effective Leadership)

We have all heard the saying, “Pick your battles wisely.” It is phenomenal advice and is great to think about, but is frustrating and difficult to apply to real situations. So, when do you fight and when do you concede and go along with others ideas? Let’s explore this topic.

Don’t battle everything. Picking when to battle is an area I am still learning to master. I usually find myself arguing over things that have little benefit to my team or me. Not that the benefit is the only thing one must consider to make the decision on whether to battle or not, but usually it is better to take it as a sign that if there will be little benefit, then it might not be worth the effort. My father used to say “Don’t sweat the small stuff man.” Most often we argue to win even when it isn’t that important. Doing so creates unnecessary conflict. The problem with conflict is that it can easily harm relationships if the people involved in the conflict are unaware of how to handle it. Take care to cultivate your relationships by giving in and letting others get their way even if you disagree. It will do great things for your relationships.

You must battle some things. Don’t be a pushover; some things are very much worth the fight. Some examples that are always a good idea to fight are, taking care of your people, doing the right thing and not what is easy, and probably most importantly is when you feel your people are being taken advantage of. Many supervisors and managers find it tough to take a stand against their superiors or even other managers. But to those of you that find it difficult, please take some time to analyze why you find it challenging and make some adjustments. Often, a lack of confidence is the reason people don’t want to take a stand. But confidence will come with experience and knowledge.

Self-awareness and honest assessment. Something I find lacking in most people is self-awareness. We have a tendency to think we are how we want ourselves to be. Most often, we are only a shadow of what we want to be. It takes a brave person to assess him or herself honestly and see their behavior. But to be good at picking your battles it is critical to know yourself and your tendencies. By knowing how you react, you can start to audit yourself and know your triggers. If you start to feel a certain way when there is conflict, you can then steel yourself for a discussion about the way forward, or you can know to take some breaths and ask if it is important enough to argue.

The nuances of when to submit your opinion or ideas and when to let things go are never easy. Practice will help. Most of all, be deliberate in your approach to this topic and things will become more natural. You will find a cadence to your battles, and hopefully, this cadence will be a good balance between the two ends of the spectrum.

Senior Leaders Break All the Rules

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I was told, “you can break the rules as long as your rank can handle it.” The takeaway from this statement is – as you grow in position, you lose the responsibility to follow the rules and directives. It means you won’t get into trouble unless you fall at the lower portion of the employee totem pole.

This story is going to ring true and be very familiar to my fellow military veterans, but it will also strike a chord of familiarity with the civilian workforce. The individual who made the above statement was a young officer. At some point in their approximately 6-8 year career, they were told by a more senior officer that they had a responsibility to break the rules as long as the goal in not following the policy was to show a change was necessary.

I think everyone will agree that old and ineffective policies should be modified or cut as soon as possible, but identifying these items for correction in the right way is vital. Many people in positions of power fail to realize this and instead aim to boost their already inflated egos. If you find yourself working for these kinds of leaders, you must take care. I have found them to be less concerned with their subordinates and mostly concerned with their promotions and making sure their boss knows their names.

Another way senior leaders fail their people is through either laziness or simple lack or respect for the subordinates time. The behavior is recognizable by their asking for you or your team to complete work that is not your responsibility. Usually, they do this because they lack the authority to get information or items from other departments. So instead of doing things the right way and letting data flow naturally or requesting the information from the proper department, they demand you or your team complete this work.

Sorry everyone, but there is very little if anything you can do about these type of leaders. This post is, in essence, is begging senior leaders that read it to stop doing these things. They create such a burden for your people! There will be times when this is ok, but they are emergencies. And real emergencies are rare.

So what do you do? The worker, the middle manager, the top manager with a CEO like this, the junior military member or senior military member under a leader that doesn’t value your time. The best thing I have found in this situation is to try to leverage peer pressure. Find one of their peers you trust and have a conversation. There will be times when a direct approach is appropriate, but with these kinds of leaders, they are rare. If you carefully approach the issue and are clearly not getting anywhere, then it is time to find someone they trust and respect to help your cause.

The bottom line is this: Once you are put into positions to get away with breaking rules, you must fight it! Don’t ask your people to do things that are clearly others jobs. And if your people tell you that you are asking them to do something another department already does, stop being lazy and go through that department. Great leaders never put their people in situations like these.