Expecting – and getting – excellence from your employees does not happen by accident. Rather, it is the product of deliberate decisions regarding the management and operation of your small business.

High up, near the roof line of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (California), the word “excellence” is carved into granite in letters 20 feet high. Is this a boast, a claim, or an order?

Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) is one of the leading hospitals in the country, and excellence is among the reasons why. Of course, it has highly respected doctors, state-of-the-art equipment, and a high degree of specialization. But it is employee excellence lived by all the members of the CHOC family that earn the acclaim.

I am not one to put much faith in sloganeering or posting whimsical signs. Still, it is interesting that – at least in this case – “excellence” is the one word they decided to put where everyone can see it. I’d put up the sign,too, if I wanted all my employees to work for it, or to reward them for pursuing it, or to drive them towards it.

Excellence is a character issue!

The small business owner needs to take ownership of employee excellence, both at home and at work. “Walking the walk” sounds a little superficial and automated. Excellence is a character issue – not just something you work toward, but also something that compels you.
Two obvious measures are found in quality productivity and customer service.

  • Try your best to reduce quality issues to as few key elements as possible. Publish these as “do or die” rubrics and hold everyone to it. Employees listen to the owner; they work to please their supervisor; but, they will fundamentally follow their own interests. You need to make these coincide.
  • Make employees accountable for customer service. I like the Honda service idea. Their service consultant will tell you on your way out that you will get a phone survey from Honda; however, the consultant asks you to call him/her before you give a negative score. That puts the customer service reputation up front. The Honda dealership’s ability to get first delivery on new models depends on keeping a certain score. When everyone on the Honda floor knows that, things change. In a small business, you can tell employees that you will be calling customers to assess their satisfaction.

Excellence is a character issue. It is cause and effect. It is a metric with components. Instill excellence in your business and your goals. Teach it to your kids and grandchildren. Better yet – show them…


by Steven Schlagel

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