Join Tom Brown, Executive Director of Operations at Brewer Science, as he shares inspirational leadership advice and professional growth stories.
Three key principles are critical to success and are traits that I look for in my teammates. I refer to these as Pillars of Impact as they are foundational to growth: Courage to Challenge, Expect Excellence, and Empower Others.
The second Pillar of Impact is Expect Excellence. The concept shouldn’t be confused with seeking perfection of the outcome but rather focusing on the journey and approach.
Don’t Confuse the Goal with the Process
Excellence is not about the goal because a goal focuses on a short-term outcome at a point in time rather than the system or process that leads to recurring success. Somebody can compare this concept of achievement versus sustained excellence to being given a fish versus learning how to fish.
The pursuit of excellence is a mindset, a culture, and a pattern of behaviors that seeks improvement. I disagree with the concept of “never be satisfied,” as I understand the intent to motivate and strive for continued growth, but you can and should take satisfaction in what you have accomplished and your effort. Take time to celebrate and recognize achievements because everyone likes to win - just don’t stop there. Let that achievement drive you to seek continued satisfaction through growth, improvement, and your continued pursuit of excellence.
Expect Excellence in Yourself AND Others
When discussing the journey of excellence, I distinguish the critical differences between seeking and pursuing excellence. Seeking excellence is when you look for an end state or definition of what it means to be excellent. While pursuing excellence insinuates a journey or a chase that moves you further down the road. Your definition of what excellent is will change and be refined as your journey continues.
It is important to discuss with your team that you expect excellence and work with the exact definition. If you do not define the pursuance of excellence and instead allow them to seek an end state, they will stop when they believe they achieved their goal. In return, you will experience frustration as their path is different from the one you are traveling.
In some cases, expecting excellence in others is not popular and can lead to conflict. Therefore the 1st Pillar of Impact, Courage to Challenge, needs to be established first. If you already have positional power, then the organizational authority can somewhat help you work and set expectations. Still, that is not enough if you desire to move your organization forward. This topic is further explored in the 3rd Pillar of Impact.
As you raise the bar and expect excellence in others, you will get push back. It is natural for people to start questioning, “Who do you think you are?” or even get defensive, jealous, and resistant. This can all jeopardize their change of focus, which is why you must successfully paint the picture of what excellence means to you. Show them how they fit into the picture and help them paint that picture. With a shared vision that you create together, they understand the excellence you are pursuing and are willing to identify the processes and pathways to move in that direction.
Creating the Shared Vision
When we started our Operations organization on the journey towards world-class manufacturing, we met with key members at different levels of the organization to define what that picture looked like and better understand what it meant to be world-class manufacturer. In our discussion, we analyzed what a world-class manufacturer would be doing, not KPIs or specific goals, but the behaviors and activities embraced by world-class manufacturers. In our group meetings, I would read verbatim, from the slides that we used to describe the excellence we were moving to in the future. When I present, I never read from the slides. I use a free-flowing approach where I talk conversationally in a casual and connected style. However, at these meetings, I would stress to the team that I AM going to read each sentence because it is that important to understand the picture of where we are heading, not to make a mistake, so that we can pursue excellence together.
Over the years, at our monthly meetings, I would read the future state line-by-line and ask the employees if they feel we are living that specific description. If their response was no, I would then ask if they felt we were moving in that direction. If yes, great, we celebrate. If not, then we talk about why not. Together we would pose this set of questions: do we need to change how we are pursuing? Do we keep pursuing? Does that specific picture of excellence no longer make sense?
Expect Excellence in the Beginning
Creating that shared vision is a great way to align people on the journey. Additionally, when we hire an employee into our group, I have a quick phone call or a Teams video to reinforce expectations. I bluntly and energetically explain how I expect excellence from them, not perfection, but excellence. They should expect excellence from themselves as well, and from those they work with. If they cannot find the “Courage to Challenge” or are not willing to come along on our journey for excellence, they need to do some introspection and evaluate what they hope to gain from this team.
The journey of Excellence is not easy, but one of the most rewarding things a team can pursue. It is not about achieving a goal or hitting a deadline. It is about the process of growth and being better today than you were yesterday. It is the pursuit of the expectation of excellence that creates an impact beyond today.
Brewer Science is a company that believes deeply in sustaining long-term success through value-based culture, diversity, and growth. Learn more about Brewer Science’s company culture.