Is Your Company a Perfect “10”?

“10” is within every company’s reach!

The whole cannot be greater than the sum of its parts.

Some of us may remember this statement from elementary math, but its principle seems forgotten when it comes to organizational structure. Recently, I was dining with three C-Level executives at a well-known and expensive restaurant. The purpose of this meeting was exploratory in nature. The BOD’s P/L goals for the company had been repeatedly missed over the past 3 years and wanted something done about it. The goals had been reasonable, the marketplace had been strong and, unfortunately, the competition was doing well.

As we discussed the situation, they painted a picture of a company with barely any turnover, but also acknowledged that there was very little motivation for employees to excel. By the time dessert came, it was clear what their problem was and why business had been suffering.

At this point I reminded my clients that our waiter had missed a few basic service standards that evening. One of our meals was wrong (and not corrected), we were never asked how the food was and we sat with empty drink glasses for most of the evening. Our server was also generally rude and impatient towards us and another couple sitting nearby. I asked the three individuals sitting with me if they would give him a 10 for this service. They all agreed that a 4 was about as high as he would rate. I then asked if they felt the food was a 10. We all agreed it deserved a 10. I asked them to rate the oveall restaurant itself; decor, music, menu selection. For these aspects in total, again, they gave a 10.

I then asked, “What final score would you give this restaurant?” They all agreed that it would recieve about an 8.

“That,” I said, “is exactly where your problem lies. You want to operate as a “10” but you have too many “3s” and “4s” in your teams.”

This is not an uncommon problem. In fact, because of weak human assets, I have watched entire companies go into the red and disappear despite having solid products and great market penetration. Yet, turnover is thought of as a bad word in corporate circles. It is often interpreted to mean a company can’t retain employees and that it likely spends too much on hiring and training initiatives. This view of turnover inherently dibilitates a company’s ability to grow. When it is purposeful and strategic, turnover can be extremely beneficial. When you let go of people who are not pulling their weight, it sends a message to the rest of your staff that:

  1. Those who give 110% to the company deserve to work with people who will give as much.
  2. The company is striving for perfection.
  3. The company will reward those who take ownership of their jobs, and remove those who do not.

Here is an excellent exercise to put things into perspective. Make a list of all your employees or, if you are a large organization, list employees in just key positions. Score each one of them based on their ability to do three things:

  • Consistently meet your expectations for tasks you expect them to own (1-4 Points)
  • Regularly exceed your expectations in terms of attitude, professionalism, work ethics and commitment to excellence (1-3 Points)
  • Effectively comprehend, communicate and enforce your expectations to those who do not report directly to you (1-3 Points)

When I work with upper-managers, I don’t reveal the theme of this exercise. That being said, I’ve often seen managers beam with pride in their organizations built with average scores of 7s-8s. After we complete this part of the session, many will make comments such as “This looks pretty good” or “My teams are strong overall in these areas.”

First, let me point out that the scoring is usually on the high side. I’ve learned that most managers will give their teams/employees at least a 3 on the first point (just above average) and 2’s on the second and third point (average). In my opinion, these scores lean towards the higher end of the scale because C-Level execs know, to a certain degree, that their subordinates are a reflection of themselves as managers and leaders. If nothing else, they are a reflection on the executive’s ability to hire and motivate good talent. Scoring their subordinates below average is something few execs are willing to do in front of colleagues or their direct reports (or a “tell-it-like-I-see-it” consultant).

It should be clear how absurd it is to rate your most important company assets (your people) as average and call this result “pretty good.” Without excellence in this crucial aspect of your business, you can never obtain excellence overall. Again, the whole cannot be greater than the sum of it’s parts.

What I am saying is this: You must hire, train and retain all level 10 employees if you want a level 10 company. This is a simple concept. If you have all 7s and 8s working for you and running your business, your company will always fall short of its market potential.

How do you fill your ranks with level 10 employees? It starts with the interview process. Most organizations in this day and age have figured out that you better vet your applicants for key employment positions. I’ve even known one person who had to go through a 2-day interview marathon where they met with 16 individuals and 4 groups (she didn’t get the job, but the person who did get the position had to weather another day and 4 individual interviews for a total of 20). But it’s not the number of interviews, or the number of days, or the length of the interviews that matter. It’s what is asked, what is answered and, most importantly, what is not answered. Be sure you have a firm grasp of this person’s ability to:

  1. Do the job better than the person they are replacing.
  2. Bring some kind of strength/experience to the company/department that does not already exist.
  3. Hold themselves accountable for all of the responsibilities you will be asking them to manage.

Next, incentivize and reward employee behaviors that go beyond normal day-to-day responsibilities. Often, all it takes is a simple personal acknowledgement from someone way up the chain to motivate a person to continue outstanding performance for months on end. Think back to when you were starting your career and what it would have meant to you to have someone way up the chain acknowledge work you made great. It costs nothing, so give praise often and whenever it is deserved.

On the reverse side, do not tolerate laziness, irresponsibility or unprofessional behavior from any of your staff, but especially from those in upper-management. Leadership, or lack thereof, always trickles downward. Once bad behaviors become commonplace deep in the organization, they can be difficult, costly and even impossible to remove.

Finally, remind those that work directly for you that the people who work below them are the “parts” of their “whole.” They are responsible for hiring and developing talent below them that raises the score of their areas to “10s.” Again, to reach a 10, one cannot have a score below a 10 as part of the equation.

It’s really just a matter of simple math.

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About Brendan Witcher
Honest and practical career/business advice for dedicated individuals pursuing sustainable growth towards becoming successful entrepreneurs or business leaders.

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