At that time, the chamber in this community had pretty much hit the bottom. Membership was off drastically. The public’s perception of integrity and credibility of the chamber was weak because it had not taken any public stands for business. It appeared to be a dying organization.
I have never been one to pass up an opportunity to try to turn around such a situation.
I ran for the office and was elected. The chamber’s board agreed to some conditions:
- I would get to choose at least two board members from the business community to chair my finance and outreach committees.
- All chamber activities were on the table for an intensive review to see if it made sense to keep the committees and tasks that had been under way. If not, then we would agree to stop doing the same old same old.
- The entire board would agree to a strategic planning session where we would develop a written plan of action and a develop set of measurable goals.
- This plan would be reported to the membership and the public following the retreat. Then one year to the day, we would issue a report card on whether we had succeeded or failed at our commitments. This was not universally liked by the board, yet it agreed to do it.
- I also challenged the board to help build a chamber with a culture of excellence. This would not be a perfect organization, but one that would strive to excel at the work plan that was decided upon and that it, and our membership, built from the ground up.
They are not the same thing. Perfection is simply not possible in any organization or person. However, striving for excellence is an achievable goal.
In a culture of excellence, we will make mistakes and have failures because they are unavoidable. But when we are working within a true culture of excellence, we recognize that mistakes and failures will be examined and learned from. This will keep us from making those same mistakes in the future, hopefully.
Working within the concept of creating and striving for a culture of excellence means that we will use the mistakes to help us better understand what it takes to achieve a higher level of performance.
Within a culture of excellence, employees and leaders are given permission to take certain risks, to make mistakes without dire consequences and to demonstrate competency about making changes. All of this will help move the entire organization toward an even better culture of excellence.
Simply, a culture of excellence creates an atmosphere that is supportive because without it, change will be hard, there will be employee and management resistance, and there will be a likelihood of failure.
Studer says there are seven steps to creating a supportive environment:
1. We have to reconnect to the passion we have for our work. If we have lost that passion, we need to find it. We can do that by talking to our customers about what the products and services we provide them mean to them. We should continually be asking what we can do to meet their needs. Whenever possible delegate those duties that you no longer have a passion for performing, and reconnect with those parts of your work that first excited you about the position. Without passion you will never achieve excellence.
2. Don’t make excuses and don’t tolerate them. Let all your employees know that you will not tolerate excuses, and then live by the declaration. Empower your leaders to do what they think and feel they need to do to achieve excellence within your organization. When your employees know that they have the responsibility to develop solutions, and have your permission to do so, they are less likely to fall back on excuses. If employees provides excuses, call their hand in a constructive manner but don’t tolerate them.
3. When you make a mistake, admit it. We all make mistakes. We are all vulnerable and we all need others to be of help to us. Vulnerability is scary for leaders perhaps because it acknowledges their humanity. Many leaders feel they will be rejected if they show weakness or admit they have failed. However, experience shows me this is not true. Leaders actually gain respect and loyalty when their employees recognize they too are human.
4. Accept criticism graciously and don’t take failure personally. You are the model for all your employees. Leaders who take failure personally, or who can’t accept criticism with grace, discourage risk-taking in others. A culture of excellence is one in which principles are more important than egos.
5. A culture of excellence is one in which leaders can be challenged. Encourage your employees to speak up and speak out if they disagree with you. An organization populated by “yes people” will never develop into a culture of excellence. Your employees must be free to express their issues, ideas and concerns freely even if you choose not to act upon their recommendations.
6. Issue challenges publicly not privately. By issuing challenges publicly, you are creating a process of accountability for the challenger and the challenged. Goals that are made public have a way of getting accomplished. Remember we published the plan for the chamber of commerce for everyone within the community to see. It is perfectly acceptable and desirable to make your plans public. It will increase the likelihood of accomplishing them.
7. Never punish someone for an honest mistake. Mistakes will happen. We should all learn from them. As long as your employees learn from the mistake and don’t repeat them, you are on a path of progress to a culture of excellence.
To ensure we succeed with our employees we must standardize our operating goals and processes such that all our colleagues can understand. Then we must communicate those goals across the organization. We have to help our employees connect the dots so they can see where everyone is contributing to the overall goals.
Before we can transform any organization, we must build two foundations, according to Studer.
The first foundation is called the “flywheel,” which consists of purpose, worthwhile work and making a difference. These three components help people to be the best they can be within any organization, and to be better at what they do. Studer notes that no buzzwords, or management fads, or best-selling books, can replace the self-motivation that encourages individuals or organizations to improve. This flywheel generates the behaviors and practices that lead to improvements, better results and organizational success.
The flywheel has three elements, which drive any organizational change: Passion, principles (Studer says these must be expressed as prescriptive to-dos) and results. It requires passion to set the flywheel in motion, the principles lead the organization to achieve their goals. When employees achieve their goals this fuels even more passion, drives the principles and leads to even better results setting in motion Studer’s spiral of success.
Studer notes that the second foundation is his “Five Pillars of Excellence,” which help organizations set goals, measure progress, define excellence and communicate core values. Those pillars focus on service, quality, people, finance and growth. They are all interrelated and give added purpose and meaning to the employee’s work.
When in place, leaders then have to help the employees come into alignment. When people see the big picture they are more likely to support your organization and those five pillars of excellence.
Source: “Results That Last,” by Quint Studer.
Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, Armstrong and Associates, is a consultant and counselor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 1-888-340-2006 or www.armstrongassociates.org.