Don’t Settle for Less

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Last year, one of the common leadership themes which our CEOs started addreessing is the negative effects of tolerating inferior performance from staff. By becoming aware of bad habits we can change!

Unless we’re excellent at time management and delegation – critical goals our CEOs pursue – we often get overwhelmed with things, especially firefighting. As a result, to avoid the stress of adding a new time commitment to help staff improve, we tolerate inferior performances.  In addition to the damage that sub-par performances produce directly, they have an indirect negative impact – signaling the firm’s acceptance of a lowering of standards. To succeed in today’s world, you need A performances – not less.

We see this especially when we have employees who are not meeting KPIs (performance standards) set for them and also showing no effort to improve. We should dismiss such employees; instead they linger like a virus, usually because of “loyaltyâ€. Yet, when a manager finally releases this employee, others speak out: “What took so long? We all know his/her faults – and they made our lives more difficult!â€

This year, the CEOs that I have the privilege of coaching/mentoring, are going to take it to the next level – Don’t Settle for Less. You should too!

Tom Koulopoulos, in a blog posted in Innovation Excellence, notes a conversation he recently had about Steve Jobs with his co-founder of Apple – Steve Wozniak. Woz told him that one of his management techniques explains why Apple’s culture creates such innovatively-well-designed products like the iPhone.  “Jobs had a habit of sometimes just popping into meetings. He’d quickly survey the room, take stock of the problem being addressed, and without so much as five seconds of prelude, he would announce to the people there, ‘You can do better than this’. And with that, he’d leave the meeting. His comment wasn’t necessarily delivered with a tone of arrogance or even disappointment, but rather as a statement of fact– simply put, ‘Don’t settle!’â€Â  The net result is that everyone went back to the drawing board to do better – and created a culture encouraging everyone to do their best.

Henry Kissinger, a foreign policy expert who helped President Nixon open the doors to US-China relations in the 1970s, pursued a similar goal.  As the story goes, he would often request from a staff person a policy position paper.  A few days later, the colleague would put it into Kissinger’s  inbox, and be told to return the next day. The next day, the colleague would return, and Kissinger would hand the paper back to the person with the following comment; “you can do betterâ€.  A few days later, an improved paper was produced and submitted. The following day, Kissinger would hand it back saying, again, “You can do better.†A few days later, a third version of the paper would be submitted. Mr. Kissinger would accept it, saying to the colleague, “Thanks, now I’ll read it.â€

He knew that the first set of papers were not thought through well enough and refused to settle for less.  How often does do you get “data-dump presentations†rather than fully developed products that meet the standards. Several CEOs I know complain that even new analysts hired from top schools often don’t pay an attention to detail. Also they follow the prescribed presentation template, focusing on detailed facts, with no attention to crafting a persuasive, compelling presentation that drives the audience to the desired conclusion (e.g., not following our ADAP (Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentation) standard.

So this year, make one of your leadership themes not to settle for less! 

Share with us, how are you inspiring people to take the time to submit their best work possible?  Are you creating a CILO (Continuous Improving Learning Organization) where staff are held accountable for improving skills? (For more on how the Eval2Win Job Description and Performance System guides the worker and supervisor dyad to constantly improve, contact or 646-290-7664).