The 99th Percentile
Each day people strive to:
- Do their jobs well
- Get through the day
- Reach their goals
But what do they do better than anyone else? What does their team, organization, company do so well that no one else could possibly compete?
Why don’t we ask the question?
In a recent client meeting, we discussed the idea of increasing productivity and effectiveness in the organization. I asked, “Why do you want to do that?” “What is the reason we want to be more effective”. As you could imagine, there were some quizzical looks.
“What would you suggest?” the CEO of the organization asked me.
“Well,” stalling a little for time. “Maybe we could think of something a little different. What is it that we are better than 99% of other companies doing or providing? What can we do, as an organization, do help our folks manifest that?”
“I’m not sure what that is,” the CEO admitted.
“Maybe we should focus on figuring out what that is. Being effective and productive will be a natural outcome.”
After working with a number of organizations, I felt like another conversation about being more effective and productive was like telling school-kids to get into a straight line for lunch in front of the bathroom. It was a conversation that didn’t really make sense.
It seemed silly to me that there was time and energy spent on trying to be better at something we were not even sure mattered.
“Let’s figure that out.” The CEO responded.
As we took the journey to determine what, if anything, the organization was better than 99% of all others a reoccurring issue arose. Words.
At our first update meeting, a few of the senior executives brought up some ideas:
- We strive to be the best at customer service
- We strive to be the first choice of our customers
Strive? How does one strive, I thought. Could you pull a hamstring striving too hard? Is that inspirational? Would a World Cup Football/Soccer team put that up on the locker room wall – We are Striving to Be the Best in the World?
Let’s all think about that….The answer to that would be NO. Striving is a concerted effort not to fail. No employee will be moved by that. You are either 99% better than any other organization or you are not. If you are not, that is okay. But be honest about it. There is no partial credit in business.
The decision was made to eliminate striving, trying, intending, attempting, etc. from the end result.
What happens if you are not the best?
The question that many of the managers and executives asked was, “What happens if we say that we are 99% better than anyone else at (fill in the blank) and we are not? Won’ that be demotivating?”
“That is a great question. The short answer is no.” I said. “Let’s just say that you proclaim you are 99% better than anyone else in the world at making coffee. There is a taste test done and it ends up that you are not. You come in 3rd, so you are better than 90% of all other companies at making coffee. Is that bad?”
“No, but that is not what we want.” Stated one of the executives.
“True, but now you know where you are and can either accept it or work towards making it so. That is when you are going to look for how to be better and more effective by eliciting your employees’ help. That is where the magic is. You already have the knowledge internally. All they need is a spark to make it real for them.”
How do you find out?
The very best method to determine what your organization does better than 99% of all others is to ask. It may not be what the core business is or even what the desired “best” would be. But, the magic is in finding out. I suggested that the client ask:
- Loan providers/Creditors
- Their Spouses
It is a great idea to ask face-to-face if possible. If not, a survey will do. Make it easy for the folks answering the questions. Let them be as honest as possible However, this is not just a whining session. There are thousands of questions to ask, but three that are needed:
- What is it that we do better than anyone else in our industry?
- What is it that we are known for?
- What is the one thing that we are known for that we would not be proud of?
This will give you a good flavor for what the organization does well and not so well.
What do you do about it?
The mistake that most organizations make is that they bring in external consultants to figure out how to grow marketshare and increase their effectiveness. Consultants can help, guide and give advice but cannot and should not do the work. Coming from a consultant, that sounds crazy. But, it is true.
This work needs to be headed up by and resourced with internal people. Nothing is worse than having an external person set direction for an organization. They have no stake in the end game. Not to mention that there is natural push-back internally. It is a GREAT idea to have a consultant or consulting company resource a “non-core” activity. For the future success and continued growth of the organization it is vital that a vast majority of the effort comes from within.
Here is a good process to implement:
- Create a compelling strategy around the 99% effort –
- A promise for Life – Abbot Laboratories
- Relax, it’s FedEx or FedEx and forget it
- Align your culture to the strategy
- Tap your internal brain power to realize the strategy
- Check in with key stakeholders (those folks you asked earlier) to see how you are doing
- Revise your efforts based on your progress
Are you ever done?
No. The effort to become and stay at the top 1% of all your competition is a never ending battle. It is not only worth fighting but the only way to ensure that your organization stays creative, engaged, profitable and productive for the long term.
Anil Saxena is a Senior Consultant and Business Partner with Coffman Organization
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
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