It’s not uncommon for leaders of organizations to think that their organization’s performance is subpar when compared to similar organizations in other companies. They feel that others must be much more sophisticated and produce far better results. While these feelings may be true the reality is far from it. As with most things in life the distribution of performance follows the bell curve. A small percentage of organizations are spectacular and another small percentage are complete failures. The rest . . . well they are smack dab in the middle, not great, not bad, just good.
There is nothing wrong with being good, but when most leaders think about where they want their organizations to be they set their sights on being great. It’s common for them to believe that the quality of their people is the biggest impediment holding them back from being great. If they could just hire the best people they would be much further down the road to being a great organization. On the surface this seems to be a realistic plan but if you take a step back and look at the big picture the plan begins to crumble. Assuming that people’s performance follows a bell curve too, then there are only so many “best” people in the work force, the majority are average performers. No one organization can afford or entice all the best people to work for them. Therefore, the path to becoming a great organization must follow a different direction.
In athletics, they say that on any given day, any team or individual can beat any other team or individual. What that means is the talent, or raw potential, of any individual or team at the same level of competition is not the overall deciding factor in winning. All professional scouts, coaches and players know what makes great players and teams is the ability to take the raw potential they have and consistently perform at the required level to win. In sports there are individuals with great raw talent who can only intermittently perform as needed to win and there are others with less raw talent who have found a way to consistently perform.
So the question that needs to be asked is, “how does an organization take the raw talent it has in its people and consistently perform at high levels of achievement?” The answer, the same way athletic teams and individuals do.
Know how you are performing. Don’t guess, don’t generalize, just track your performance and find out exactly how you are doing. What this does is help you establish a range of good performance. If you can compare that range to industry standards, that would be even better. Professional baseball players know that if they hit over .300 they are doing really well. That means they get three hits out of every ten at bats. The last five World Series winners averaged a winning percentage of .583. Teams can only know these statistics if they track them. So track your organizational performance, you may be better off than you think. Then publicize it to all your employees. Keep it top of mind for them.
Also, know the best practices that are related to the functions your organization performs. Research it on the web or bring in consultants. You have to know what is possible. Then you can develop a common language around each function. Standardize the way functions are to be performed and identify check points that tell you if you are following the standards or are varying from them. Baseball pitchers have check points in their wind up that tells them if they are off or not. It helps them correct in the wind up or in the middle of an inning. They have a common langue amongst each other that facilitates communication when corrections are needed. They use terms like “stay within yourself”, “you’re rushing” and “get on top of the ball”.
Finally, cycle through the experience, observe, and refine the loop as many times as possible. Managers need to be coaches to their employees. They need to help employees break down their functions into smaller components to work on them independently to get better. Use peer reviews on actual experiences to enhance learning opportunities for everyone. Hitters have drills that help them with each component of their swing. Coaches tape them in games and batting practices to facilitate the experience, observe, and refine the loop. Coaches and players watch them together to gain input. No one gets beat up. There is only constructive criticism and the desire to help each other get better.
For the most part you have the right talent to be a great organization. Yeah, you may need to exchange out a few bad performers but the most important thing is to take what you’ve got and raise the level of consistency in your organizational performance. People will take notice. It’s a great reputation to have.