Article (June-2018)


Moving from state of toleration to an expectation of excellence

Anand Pillai

Designation : -   MD, Leadership Matters Inc.

Organization : -  Delhi-NCR


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How do you define culture of excellence in today's business world where it seems to be captured and governed by digital technology?
AP Culture of excellence is a step towards moving an organization from a state of toleration to an expectation of excellence where performance is at the optimum. Each one in the organisation should strive for to be their best. Excellence ? being THE best. Excellence = being your best.
Excellence is being better than you were yesterday. It means matching your practice with your potential.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry."
Whatever our role, our position, our organization, or our lot in life, we should strive for our best. If everyone strives to put in their best daily, then Culture of Excellence can be developed in the organisation.
A complex combination of algorithms, automation, machine learning and digital platforms is going to radically change the workplace norms; perhaps more than ever. But the navigating shift that will define the success story of an organization will be developing "Culture of Excellence" among the talent pool which can thrive in this increasingly digitized economy.
What are the key characteristics of the new-age culture of excellence at work place? 
AP Most important characteristic is to have a mentality for not settling for the mediocre. Instead, the focus needs to be on breaking records and achieving unprecedented results. This energy, excitement and drive, creates positive vibes that reverberates throughout the organization.
An expectation of high performance is set throughout the organization. Every employee is encouraged to become a master in their area of expertise/strength/core competence. High potentials are nurtured, rewarded with stretch assignments, and mentored, while average performers are coached to bring out their best.
A key characteristic is highly collaborative teams which are working together toward a common vision and hence feel they are on the same side. And because this collaboration is encouraged and rewarded by the top management, there is reason to protect individual roles, projects or expertise. With a collective mindset for excellence: people think, work and achieve together. The result - team members who are more innovative and constantly learning; are more energized, engaged, and accountable for results.
How managers should manage the change and instill culture of excellence in approach and attitude of new-age workforce? 
AP For significant improvement in engagement, alignment and team collaboration employees should feel they are part of something 'Big' that they are creating together which will automatically increase efficiencies, productivity, profitability and market share. Managers need to have a three-pronged approach -
MINDSET for Personal Leadership : Working with all team members on how to take responsibility. Team members become more aware of themselves and how they impact the performance of others.
OUTCOME : Engaged team members who are accountable, committed and aligned to your company's vision.
MINDSET for Collective Excellence : Team goals should supersede individual goals and team members give 100% of their capabilities in the best interest of the business.
OUTCOME : Team members who are clear on their goals and have a clear road map on how to achieve them.
SUSTAINING a Culture of Excellence : People discover that the way they show up leads to an immediate and measurable improvement in performance. People feel good about the impact they have on the lives of others and their business.
OUTCOME : (i) Collective mind set of excellence
(ii) Excellence plans that are executed
What are the challenges likely to be encountered in developing and sustaining the culture of excellence?
AP Rick Maurer, author of the book "Beyond the Wall of Resistance" raised a pertinent question. Why 70% of all changes failed and what to do about It. He offers some key advice on engaging the employees in the pursuit of excellence.
1. Arrogance and egos - Some people will always be suspicious of change. Ignore them. If you put your energy in bringing change in the 5% who aren't getting along, you're missing the opportunity with the other 95%.
2. Silos & conflict - Engage employees in the discussion. They need to walk out saying, "I contributed something" to the idea of culture of the organization.
3. Distractions - They're often busy enough; when extra assignments add stress, they're more likely to fail. Plan out activities where employees do not feel burdened.
4. Lack of accountability - Give employees room to create culture. An employer needs to ask, "What support do you need to make this project happen?" What can we take off your profile to help? The leader needs the guts to say, "Spend 70 percent of your time on this project and let other things slide". Otherwise, change projects don't get done.
In the current scenario how do you suggest developing a culture of excellence?
AP "A landmark 11-year study by Kotter and Heskett entitled "Corporate Culture and Performance" documented results for 207 large U.S. companies. They reported that companies that managed their cultures well saw revenue increases of 682% compared to 166% for the companies that did not manage their cultures well; and net income increases of 756% versus just 1% over that period". Research proposes four components to build CoE-
Empowerment : Every individual in the organization should feel that focusing on the highest aspirations and meaningful goals of the company is the most important thing.
Reinforcement : It should be used to encourage positive consequences to reinforce the desired behaviour. "Behaviour which is reinforced has a tendency to repeat; behaviour which is not reinforced has a tendency to get extinguished."
Teamwork : By focusing on individual team, one can ensure that the entire organization is proud to work towards a common goal. Every individual understands the end goal, where the company is now and, specifically, how to bridge the gap between the two.
Coordination : Member should be a good fit to handle interdependence at workplace.
Consistency : Establish a workplace in which policies, procedures and practices are consistent for better employee understanding of their duties associated with their jobs as well as organization's expectations from them.
Control : Maintaining low levels of control for employees to have self - direction allowing appropriate inputs into decision making and rapid communication within the organization.
Vision : While companies want their teams to be focused on organizational goals, employees are more motivated to avoid change, fear and uncertainty.
Strategy : The challenge for the leaders is not to break under short term pressures and instead look into their internal culture and ask a question as to how they can create an environment that allows for greater alignment and thus integration.
Metrics : No matter how good your strategy is, when it comes down to it, people always make the difference. They should have clarity in terms of measurable metrics.
Learning : There is a direct correlation between the culture and the skills of the people; skills training and development programs are most effective in creating culture of excellence.
Foresight : Best - practice organizations are more likely to leverage holistic assessments of the knowledge, experience, competencies, and personal attributes pivoted to success through proper identification and nurturing of their High Potential employees.
Change : Embracing the change and closing the loop with innovation is the key to success. Employees should develop the flexibility and resilience to deal with change, challenge and uncertainty.
What is the role of HR in setting organizational expectations for excellence?
AP HR needs to understand that "Attitude" is just a symptom. Employee's mindset and behaviour is a manifestation of his/her past experience. Behavioural change in the employees would need focus on motivation, long term practice/reinforcement and constant feedback. HR needs to first understand what mindset and beliefs already have an influence on the employee. Then contemplate "What would it take to change the existing beliefs?" Check internally if the organization already has experts to create the paradigm shift. HR will have to coax the leaders to "walk the talk" to create a precedence, organize customized workshops and other reinforcement & encouragement metrics. Once the employees show early signs of building the excellence culture, HR needs to recognize, celebrate and take public stand. It is important to closely watch the built up and close the loops simultaneously. So, HR's endeavour should be "Mindset Change" rather than just "Behaviour Change".
(with research inputs from Yogita Patra)