You can’t dumb down excellence

Excellence is not normal . For examples of excellence to exist, by definition, examples of good, o.k., average and poor need to exist too. People who fit into the different categories need to be aware of which type of performer they are, however tough it might be to admit to them that they’re great or, well, poor.

If you’re serious about performance you’ll be really keen that you and those you perform alongside really understand excellence so there’s no chance of people who are good, or o.k., starting to be given the message they’re anything other than that. Too often, for reasons that might be valid but have little or nothing to do with performance, people seem scared to use the full range of descriptors available to them when it comes to rating themselves or others. Organisations who believe performance must be rated to fit in with the amount of cash available to pay performance related bonuses are stopping excellence being recognised when it’s really there. So, why not label performance as excellent when you see it and definitely say when it’s not…

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High performance headlines

      • Achieving standards of excellence is for the few. Using the habits and approaches that deliver excellence for the few is open to anyone.
      • A business full of people striving to be excellent, without the need to actually end up there, will still drive performance standards to new levels.
      • Telling people they’re excellent because you’ve got to distribute people into different categories or because you don’t want to upset them by telling them they haven’t achieved excellence, will result in a culture of mediocrity.


The full viewpoint

If you’re in a role that requires you to role model excellence, or identify it in others, the following might be useful for you.

A reputation, or demonstrated track record of being excellent is an appropriate label for someone when:

  • There’s been a relentless quality and consistency of core behaviours/skills that have been led with over at least the last 12 months.
  • The most relevant performance choices have been taken and delivered in the right way, to an outstanding level, regardless of the nature of the challenge being faced.
  • They have constantly managed personal time and preparation so that they have the intelligence, energy, skill and perspective to deliver their role with confidence and high impact.
  • They have stayed repeatedly curious about how they can perform with equal or greater effect in different scenarios and with different colleagues.
  • They have systematically kept working on their core abilities over time, generating feedback for themselves and seeking feedback from others – they have role modeled the learning cycle of Plan – Do – Review.

Achieving excellence comes from someone leading their own development with: persistence, discipline, consistency, determination and with a clear knowledge of the value and importance of their role. They do this as a way of being and not because some initiative has required it of them.

We’ve talked in our work for a long time about high-level performance, or excellence, in any form of performance, being described as consistent, sustained high level execution . It has to be all of those things and when a performance is delivered in that way, then someone’s reputation rightly gets elevated to a rarefied level of excellence.

Contrast the level of excellence with a performer who produces the right behaviours pretty well, most of the time, and in a safe and predictable way. They’re probably doing a good job and are a valued performer, but they’ re not excellent. They have a foundation for becoming excellent, but they’re not there yet.

For the ‘not yet excellent’ performer, their challenge is to start living the habits of excellence because they want to see how good they can be… not because they want to be guaranteed to be excellent. Consistently and purposefully focusing how to challenge yourself to be better is the starting point. Regularly and honestly appraising how well you’ve delivered your plan to be excellent is the essential glue. With these two ingredients in place, you give yourself a real shot at excellence.