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  • Writer's pictureBurk Moreland

The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection: Create Top Performers

This Lexus slogan is such a powerful statement: five words that sum up the mindset of some of the greatest companies out there.

It can be the difference between a good organization and an amazing one. How hard are you willing to push to get there? What things are you willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your goal?  One of the biggest stumbling blocks I see in companies is their own people. Oddly, their greatest asset can become their heaviest anchor. This is where the principles from the book “Top Grading” can really help a company to get to the next level.  Learning the principles is the easy part; implementing them is much more difficult. The general idea of “Top Grading” is that managers and leaders should be constantly evaluating their team and its members. 

  • The first step is a force ranking.  If you have a team of 10 people, you must rank those individuals 1-10 based on performance value to the company.  There are no ties or any other variations, only 1,2,3 and so on. 

  • Once ranked, look at the bottom 20% — the lowest 2, in the case of our team of 10. Why are these individuals on the bottom? What about their performance is causing them to be this low on the list? 

  • Next, you must ask yourself the question “What do the members in the bottom 20% need to do in order to become higher performing team members?”

Your duty to the stakeholders in your company is to maximize everyone’s performance on your team, which includes either helping the bottom 20% improve or replacing them.

If they’re not moving up the list, you should be searching for someone who can perform better.  Although this may sound harsh, and is obviously easier said than done, when it comes down to it, this is how you build the highest-performing teams.  If everyone knows you are serious about performance and will not tolerate lackadaisical attitudes, think about how this will affect their attitudes towards their jobs!

Think about it: why does performance go up right before a deadline?  Many times, it’s because people are more efficient with their time leading up to it. I am not saying to fire anyone who doesn’t measure up instantly; what I am saying is to keep this principle in mind as you evaluate your team and its players.  Most teams are subject to the Prato Principle (the 80/20 rule), where 20% of your people are top performers and carry the other 80% along. What if it was reversed?

What if 80% of your team were top performers? How much more production would you have? How much more would you accomplish?

How motivating would it be to your top performers to know that you, as the leader, are committed to “the relentless pursuit of perfection?” Many times the opposite attitude seems to be present: the relentless tolerance of mediocrity. Have you ever fired a team member and the rest of the team’s reaction was “About time!”? Top performers want to “soar with eagles,” not “hang out with turkeys.” What species is your team? Are you fostering a team where everyone knows exceptional performance is not optional, but expected? Do your team members hold each other accountable to a standard that is above most, or does everyone accept mediocrity?

Like it or not, that culture comes from you.

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