Over my years in management, one of the most powerful things I learned about driving strong performance was one of the simplest: Expect excellence.
If as a leader all of your actions and behavior consistently convey that you expect a consistently high standard of performance from your employees, that sends a powerful message.
Following are thoughts on what excellence is – and isn’t.
Excellence isn’t wildly demanding micromanagement. Decades ago I used to write speeches for a CEO who maintained that in any speech, which often might run 40 pages triple-spaced, even one typo – one single word that was misspelled or one comma out of place – would ruin the whole thing for him. Never mind that a speech is ultimately spoken, not read. That wasn’t excellence. That was craziness.
Excellence is a consistently high standard of performance employees may not always attain, but even when they don’t their effort is excellent.
Excellence is reflected in management’s formal goals and informal expectations. Formal goals that are aggressive but not so high they’re impossible to reach, which only serves to demoralize. A description I always liked was “ambitious but attainable.” Informal expectations are the casual attitudes you display on an everyday basis: that the work you receive will be high quality, done with care, a person’s very best.
Excellent isn’t perfection. There’s no perfection in life. A 40-page speech with never a typo is perfection, but it doesn’t motivate. It frustrates. It creates anxiety, and no one does his or her best work anxious.
Excellence is the clear expectation that employees won’t rush through a project, or turn in something half baked. It’s the clear knowledge they’ll be held accountable if they do. Odd as it may sound, accountability, despite being a core element of management, is something many managers are weak at. Studies show this.
Excellence inspires. Leaders who by their own example model excellence in all they do send a message to the rest of the organization: Excellence is what we expect here, plain and simple. And they usually get it.
Leaders who demand excellence but by their own example don’t adhere to the same standards they expect of others also send an message to the rest of the organization, but it’s not one conducive to attaining the results they seek.
Excellence is an idea, a mindset, a standard, a way of being. It’s as unmistakable as a sunrise: People know it when they see it.
Excellence is one one of the most powerful tools in a manager’s toolkit. It’s intangible, but it produces very tangible results.
* * *
Victor is author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World (Prentice Hall Press).
Also on Forbes:
This article was written by Victor Lipman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.