Do Your People Know What an “A” Looks Like?

Posted on by in Attitude, Business, Change, Communication, Managing Talent, Operations, Small Business

If you’re like most of my clients, chances are you regularly get frustrated by the performance of your people. Sometimes it’s because they’re not executing fast enough. Sometimes it’s because they’re not thinking clearly and anticipating issues and problems. Etc. But one of the more common frustrations is “They just don’t execute at a high enough standard,” (which, of course, is a nice translation of, “They dropped the ball”).frustrated seeker

So, what can you do to quickly improve their performance while decreasing their mistakes?

One answer is to raise their standards by clearly defining what an “A” performance looks like. My guess is that if you were to do that right now with your team, you’d probably end up with a fairly divergent set of answers to the question, “What do you think an ”A“ (or ”A+“ or ”10“) looks like?”

If you think “everyone” on your team already knows the “right” answer, I challenge you to have them write their answers out WITHOUT any discussion. Then have them share and compare their written answers and, unless you’re an unusually gifted leader, you’ll probably find that everyone isn’t on the same page. Don’t be surprised by this. It’s normal. Everyone has expectations all the time about everything–and rarely are they ever the same–unless someone has repeatedly defined what those expectations should be (which, by the way, is your job :-).

It’s not a bad idea to have a team discussion about what an “A” should look like–but never ever surrender your responsibility as the leader to set the standards. Hopefully, as the primary leader, you can persuade your people to concur with what you think an “A” should look like. But if you get to an impasse, feel free to use your “leader card.”

CB058340Now, when you’re developing your standards, make sure you’re thinking about both negative and positive standards. For example, in a previous career, I used to pastor a large church. Now, if you’ve ever attended a religious service of any persuasion, you’ve undoubtedly encountered a few mistakes during their service (a Power Point slide has a typo or the person on the Power Point isn’t in the same place as the speaker or worship leader. The lighting person has lights off when they should be on. A microphone crackles or dies during the message, etc.).

Obviously most religious leaders don’t want that to happen during their services–but they do–and almost every week, at least in any religious service I’ve ever attended. So, to combat that, one of my standards for our services was, “No Dropped Balls!” Now, I could have chosen a positive standard, “Every cue right!” but the power of the phrase, “No Dropped Balls!” was so much better and clearer that I chose that one.

On the other hand, here’s a positive one. Have you ever been in a religious service and the music just didn’t “move” you? Why isn’t that? Forget the words and the quality of the musicians, there are songs (secular and religious), that either cause you to want to tap your foot or not. The ones that cause you to want to tap your foot (they can be slow or fast, the tempo is irrelevant) are songs that have an intrinsic beat. The words are a distant second to the rhythm when it comes to people feeling moved. Therefore, one of my standards was, “Every song chosen needs to cause someone to want to move physiologically.” So some of your standards might be worded positively, while others might be more powerful if worded negatively.

Now, I know most of you aren’t leading a religious organization, you’re leading a business. But the principle I’m sharing with you is just as valid. Unless your people have a clear vision of what you want them to produce, chances are they won’t hit it. You’ll be frustrated with them continually and they’ll feel they can’t make you happy. So, eliminate that.

Clearly define what an “A” looks like in terms that everyone can understand. Hopefully, you noticed as you read this post that I came up with simple phrases like, “No Dropped Balls!” to describe what the standard was. Then, once you set the standards, you’ve got to cast vision for them every week (not once in awhile–every week). Then ensure that the systems, accountabilities, and resources are in place to ensure that week in and week out, your team is performing at an “A” level.

If you make this simple change, I’m confident you’ll see a massive difference in your people!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. Just as an aside. I left my church four and a half years ago and one of the common refrains I hear from people is, “It’s just not the same. Every week something happens where I think, ‘If Bruce was here, he wouldn’t have let that happen.’“ In other words, unless a leader casts vision for excellence (an ”A“) and holds people accountable to those standards, every organization and group of people will slowly move toward accepting something less. It is your job to ensure that doesn’t happen.

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One Response to “Do Your People Know What an “A” Looks Like?”

  1. Steve Sjogren 20 November 2009 at 3:41 pm #

    Thanks for sharing from your heart Bruce. Excellent thoughts that transfer to others throughout.


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