When the opportunity to work with a team of business leaders presents itself, one of my first questions is “How many of you are ready to go to the next level”  Depending on how I ask people to respond, either a lot of hands go up or there is a chorus of “Absolutely” that deafens the room.  It seems like everyone is in love with the idea of going to the next level.

And then I ask them “How many of you know what the next level looks like?” The near to total silence is deafening. They don’t know what the next level looks like; and there is some concern that somehow, it might require doing more than we are currently doing to get there.

If being average is your personal definition of success, that’s okay. If you read the Dilbert cartoon strip, you know that setting the bar low enough makes that a goal relatively easy to achieve. Just ask Wally.

Going beyond average, however, takes at least two distinct skills and/or attitudes: capacity and inclination. So, take a hard look at your organization from a new perspective:

  1. What strengths do we have related to our human resource capacity? If our people are truly our greatest asset and our organization is under-performing or bumping along at an average level of performance, then something isn’t ringing true. Maybe talking about how good the team is proves more important than actually having a good team. If that’s the case, prepare to stay average for a long time to come. If you really want to have a good team, then you have to have people who get it, who want it, and who have the capacity to make it happen. Of course, you also need to know what “it” is.

  2. What strengths do we have from a process and procedure standpoint? When he was helping Japan rebuild after World War II, W. Edwards Deming approached low performance from a process standpoint. In his view, the problem was almost always in the process. How easy do we make it for people to be successful? How easy do we make it for people to do business with us? There’s more than a slight possibility that a process introduced years ago to solve a past problem has, in itself, become the current problem.

  3. If you do not like the answers you get when asking the two questions above, then you can begin to picture what the next level looks like. Depending upon your frame of reference, 75% of the world is average (50%) or above (25%).  Or, you can take the approach that 75% of the world is average (50%) or below (25%). Either way, you’re right. What will differentiate your team from others is the level of influence the two groups of 25% have over the single group of 50%. And that takes us right into “process”, because that’s where leaders shine. They know what to put in place – or how to find it – that will make it easy for people to be successful. Usually it’s something simple, not some complex scheme that only ancient philosophers and mathematicians can even begin to understand.

In short, people and organization’s under-perform because we make success more difficult than it really is. Keep processes simple, and you’ll make it easier to be successful.

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