Leading Forward to World Class Excellence
Ask anyone if they want their organization to improve, and you’ll get a resounding “yes!” Ask them to go through some change initiative and you’ll likely see resistance. It’s human nature. Everyone wants excellence, but few embrace new corporate initiatives—even if they come with clichéd slogans on T-shirts and coffee mugs.
We’ve all heard the tired consultant mantra that “change is good”—so why do the majority of people resist it? The truth is, we know from personal experience that not all change is good. Everyone has a personal story where they’ve been burned by changes that were ineffective.
American Journalist Charlton Ogburn once summarized the Burma Campaign in World War II as follows:
We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized…. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.
When managers are told to “create change,” they immediately respond by reorganizing the organizational chart or establishing a new policy or process. While this usually leads to the appearance of change, it’s often lacking any substance—which means that it won’t actually work and will eventually be replaced by the ideas of next hapless manager assigned to “create change.”
It’s a vicious cycle that disengages the most well-meaning employee. Following the concepts in this book replaces empty promises with relevant customer-centered actions that naturally result in growth.
Your ability to deliver improvements despite these challenges will make the difference between a successful transformation and another frustrating “program of the month” failure. Sexy taglines and posters are nice, but that isn’t what creates meaningful results. Before you launch your next “all-hands meeting complete with banners and slogans,” consider instead making a “no-name change.”
Remember, your job is not to introduce a new initiative. It is to transform the culture and brand of your organization to achieve its potential in a sustainable way. That’s why hard-wiring alone typically doesn’t result in lasting change. Most organizations are missing the key reason for failed change initiatives: the people aspect. This is what makes soft-wiring so critical; it focuses on employee and customer engagement—the heart of your culture and brand.
So, what is no-name change? It’s approaching your company’s improvement effort by focusing on profound foundational issues rather than superficial marketing soundbites. No-name change uses ongoing conversations about supporting what is working and how to stop what is not working, rather than hiring an outsider to do an assessment and implement off-the-shelf change program. In fact, our approach has always been to enable clients to create improvement from within their current culture—to build on what works, rather than getting everyone in the organization to accept a program brought in by a group of outside experts. Legitimate improvements in your culture and brand are the result of people throughout your organization engaging each other and creating your own legacy—not borrowing someone else’s one-size-fits-all product offering.
Excellence is not merely an initiative. It’s the very character of an organization. As Will Durrant summed up in his study of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
The Courage to Create Meaningful Change
Still, even with this proven approach, it’s not easy. Any would-be leader struggles to make it work. How do you create that kind of meaningful, sustainable change that gets people on board?
The answer is to courageously start. Quite frankly, the most common reason for initiatives not coming to fruition is because no one had the guts to actually begin. “Courage” comes from the French word coeur, which means to have heart. The heart is a common symbol of inner strength. So, courage means to have the heart, the inner strength, and the will to do something. We draw courage from what we believe in, what we value, and what we love. The level of courage we bring to a situation will be in proportion to how strongly we believe in the purpose of the situation.
We best apply courage when we directly face our concerns and fears. However, fear seems like a strong word, which we usually associate with a life-and-death situation. Fear makes it difficult to lead with your customer. Walt Disney once stated, “Sometimes I wonder if ‘common sense’ isn’t another way of saying ‘fear.’ And ‘fear’ too often spells failure.”
Call these concerns or call them fears, but in the end, you must have the will to overcome them. How do you get this will? By focusing more on your goal than your obstacle. What is really needed to bring about change is choosing to act more on what we value than what we fear.
And what do we value? Look back at the first chapters of this book. The driving force—the catalyst and fuel for action—rests in an organization’s core vision and values. Average organizations may treat values like things that are nice to have, but world-class organizations are energized by their values and actively use them in every part of their daily operation. They live and breathe these core truths and, in doing so, they stand apart as different from and better than their competitors. They make what they value matter, and, by embodying their values, they create a compelling example for how to move forward toward their vision.
Ambrose Redmoon said it well: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Facing the challenges of an unpredictable work environment and holding true to the values and vision that ultimately create a legacy that matters is always bigger than any fear.
Too often, we think that we will try to implement the kinds of ideas described in this book when things “get better.” The truth is, taking action is what makes things better. Waiting for “better” only makes things worse. If you truly want better results for your team and your customers, then your role is to act now—despite the fact that your situation is less than ideal.
Choose to Lead With Your Customer
The greatest power that a person possesses is the power to choose.
—J. Martin Kohe
Courage is choosing to act in the face of fear for a purpose. “I choose” is one of the most powerful statements you can make to demonstrate ownership. Similarly, “we choose” is one of the most powerful statements a team can make. It is a statement of ownership and accountability as well as courage when we choose to implement new ways of doing things—even in the face of fears related to our job security or ability to adapt—and are willing to be held accountable for the consequences.
We encourage you to choose. Choose to do something. Choose to exercise influence wherever you can. Choose to walk in the shoes of others. Choose to understand others’ needs, others’ expectations, others’ individual styles. Choose to respond to something you value most. Choose to follow a vision that will drive your organization toward excellence. Choose to create truly outstanding service. Choose to engage your fellow employees.
Choose daily and constantly, and in the little things. Choose to do some little act today to start. Choose to do something each and every day to make a difference. Choose to make a habit of being excellent. Excellence, after all, is not an act but a habit.
You really can be world class. You only need to follow that path—and choose—then take action.
Choose to lead with your customer.