Just about everything has changed in the work world in the last 25 years. In the old system, people took orders. Employees were expected to park their brains, shut their mouths and work their forty hours a week.
But somewhere along the way, some entrepreneurs and organizations got smart. They began to realize they could do more than buy their employees' time. They could engage their employees' heads and hearts as well.
In the new world of work, it's all about taking responsibility. Employees are expected to take responsibility to use all their talents and to perform with excellence.
So what can you do to encourage your people to take responsibility and perform with excellence? I've found seven things that work.
1. Help people get a vision of excellence.
Lots of people don't even know what "excellence" means. After all, they're doing their job and think that's good enough. They're competent but not excellent. Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, says that's dangerous explaining, "Competence is the enemy of the great."
So show them your vision of excellence that goes beyond competence, or create such a vision together.
2. Expect excellence.
Sounds simple enough. But all too many leaders and managers do just the opposite. When they oversee every detail of every function, they’re saying, in effect, they don’t expect excellence from their people. They expect failure.
Just be careful. As Sterling says in the book, Pygmalion in Management, it's very difficult to disguise your expectations. If you expect others to shrug responsibility and do just enough to get by, they will sense that and act accordingly.
Expect and project. Expect excellence from others and learn to project your expectation. And then…
3. Lead by example.
A German proverb says, "When you walk your talk, people listen." In other words, if you take responsibility for excellence, chances are the people around you will also take responsibility and practice excellence.
Simply put, your coworkers won't take responsibility for excellence until they see you demanding excellence from yourself and everybody else. Only then will they see that excellence is more than a hyped-up, flavor-of-the-month buzz word or training class. Rather, excellence is something that mature people, effective entrepreneurs, leaders, managers and parents take seriously.
Walk your talk. Don’t ever say something like “quality is king around here” and later ship out a few defective items when you’re crunched for time.
4. Get a commitment to excellence.
It’s unbelievably powerful. As F. W. Woolworth, the founder of the F.W. Woolworth retail chain noted, "We would rather have one person working WITH us than three merely working FOR us."
When you want people to take responsibility for excellence, get a commitment from the other person that he/she CAN do it and WILL do it. Get the other person to make a decision. Brenda Ellsworth tells her team at Tastefully Simple, "It all begins with making a decision and saying, 'This is what I'm going to do: I'm going to make it happen, no matter what!'"
To get that kind of commitment, ask the percentage question: To what degree are you committed to excellence on this project? And what will it take to get you 100% on board? After all, there comes a time when you need to move from deliberation to decision and from consideration to commitment.
5. Reward responsibility.
When people take responsibility for excellence, they typically do it for a reason. Maybe the work makes them feel good, helps them master a skill, or move ahead in their career. But there's always a reason.
One of the main reasons people take responsibility is because they want to receive praise. So give it to them. Praise excellent performance. You might be amazed at the difference it can make in someone's life or career.
Take John Huber, for example. Praise for his excellence turned him into an entrepreneur. As he said, “After reading your Tuesday Tip newsletter, I decided to put my woodworking talents to use and build Christmas gifts for my family. The gifts turned out awesome, and it was the best Christmas for me seeing the looks on my loved ones when they opened the gifts."
John continued, "Later I happened to show one of my friends what I was doing with woodworking. He got interested, indeed excited, and wanted to help. We started showing pictures of my products to various people, found an investor and I am now one of three partners in a successful, growing woodworking company."
Others are encouraged to take responsibility when they get something tangible. That's what they discovered at West Valley Nuclear Services. They implemented a suggestion program for its 800 employees, from engineers to cafeteria workers. And for their suggestions, the employees received everything from free coffee to gas grills to ocean cruises. The result was an incredible $2.2 million in savings and cost avoidances in just 18 months.
Make sure you’re doing something that rewards others for taking responsibility. And if they make some mistakes along the way, all you have to do is...
6. Use responsibility-encouraging words.
When people take on more and more responsibility, they’re bound to make some mistakes and some correction is needed. That’s normal. In those cases, you would be well advised to follow Goethe’s advice, "Correction does much, but encouragement does more."
To be specific, don’t talk to someone about his “weaknesses.” That sounds too much like a set of permanent character flaws. A focus on “weaknesses” will turn a person into a pessimist because he'll think, "That's just the way I am. There's nothing I can do about it."
Instead, when you're correcting less-than-excellent performance, talk about the person's "improvement opportunities." That way you're describing a process they'll take responsibility for fixing. And that puts them back on the road to excellence.
Use words that tell the other person he/she can do some things to improve. It’s within his/her power.
7. Analyze the process and payoff of taking responsibility.
Excellence does not randomly strike like lightning. It's the result of certain acts of responsibility taking. And the process can be replicated, if it’s understood.
So it’s not enough to acknowledge the other person's excellence. The best way to keep it going is help him understand the reason it came about in the first place. WHY did things turn out right and HOW can he replicate that?
For example, if an individual had an unusually good month in sales, recognize it and ask her why. Did she use a different approach to prospecting or in closing the sale? Did she make more sales calls or approach a different type of clientele? Did she create a new presentation?
By asking such questions, you help the other person understand how the process of responsibility taking led to significant payoffs.
In days gone by a person could say “that’s not my job” and get away with it. In today’s world, the only ones who will survive are those who take responsibility for excellence. With these seven strategies you can get people to do exactly that.