Expert advice on Business Leadership and tips on becoming a more effective Leader.

Leadership Lesson: Success Factors – Taking A Team To The Next Level Of Performance By Joe Calloway

In over twenty-five years of working with a wide range of financial institutions, I’ve discovered a core group of success factors that are the key to taking an organization to the next level of performance.

These success factors are what separate high performing teams from the also-rans. It is my hope that these ideas will help provide a spark that can help your organization be even better tomorrow than you were today.

Success Factor 1: Mission And Purpose

Does everyone in your organization share a sense of purpose? Is it crystal clear to all employees what’s truly important here? Is there a feeling that we serve a higher purpose, we all know what that purpose is, and we’re dedicated to its fulfillment? If so, you should be proud, because you are in the minority.

Most organizations have mission statements that were conceived over three days at a management retreat in a state park. The language used is flawless corporate-speak. It’s appropriate, usually emotionless, and therefore meaningless. It may be printed on pocket cards that every employee is required to carry. The mission statement is read aloud at the annual meeting. And few, if any, employees have any personal attachment to it at all.

If your mission statement doesn’t strike an emotional chord in employees, then what’s the point? We’re talking about mission here, not procedural guidelines. Your mission should be something that any and every employee can verbalize in seven words or less, and in their own language, not as some memorized slogan.

State your mission simply, powerfully, and with emotion. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t inspire anyone by saying “I have a strategic plan.” He said “I have a dream.” Your mission should tap into employees’ hearts and dreams. If it doesn’t, then what’s the point?

Success Factor 2: Deciding To Go

In a particularly powerful scene in the movie “Apollo 13,” Jim Lovell looks up at the moon and says to his wife, “From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. It’s not a miracle. We just decided to go.”

Deciding to go is the first step on the journey to greatness and becoming an “indispensable” organization. But complacency is a powerful force. The fact is that past success can be, and usually is, the enemy of future success. We must be willing to let go of what we are in order to become what we want to be.

In financial services, the changes taking place are so rapid, so significant, and so constant that the decision to take performance to a new level is often a matter of survival. The reality is that if the changes taking place outside your company are greater than the changes taking place inside your company – you are in serious trouble.

Greatness is a decision. It must be chosen. And making that choice is a defining moment in the life of an “indispensable” company. Once a gut level commitment to go is made, everything changes. Past assumptions are questioned and you begin to reexamine everything about the “way we’ve always done it.”

Ultimately the decision to go becomes a never-ending process for the simple reason that you never “get there”. The second you achieve success in the marketplace, the marketplace changes, and you have to decide how to win in the new reality. Success is a moving target that causes a very positive version of permanent dissatisfaction. The “indispensable” organization will never rest on yesterday’s accomplishments. That’s not where the fun is. The fun is in what’s next.

Success Factor 3: A Willingness to Fail

It may seem counter intuitive, but in order to succeed, you must be willing to fail. Almost everyone will agree that their organization must be innovative in order to stay competitive. Innovation means you go first and going first means there are no guarantees of success.

Innovative organizations understand that in trying new ideas there comes the risk of making mistakes. They also understand that mistakes are seldom fatal. Mistakes can be great sources of new information. You fix them and learn from them. What can be fatal in a constantly changing marketplace is the failure to take action.

Business guru Peter Drucker once said that consistently successful businesses are led by people who are willing to make courageous decisions. Where does the courage come into play? In the willingness to let go of what we’re used to and the assumptions that we’ve made about what we do and how we do it.

The great thing about failure and making mistakes is that you almost always gain valuable information in the process. Mark Twain said “I once knew a man who picked a cat up by the tail. He learned forty per cent more about cats than the man who didn’t.”

You might get scratched up, but trying and failing, when done so within the limits of responsible behavior, can be the source of your greatest education.

Consider whether your financial institution encourages people to truly think outside the box and try new ideas. If you don’t, you are in danger of being left behind in the wake of

competitors who are willing to take reasonable risks in the interest of discovering new and better ways of doing business.

There is great truth in the old saying: The biggest risk is in not taking one.

Success Factor 4: Small Things Done With Extraordinary Attention

It’s easy to think that becoming an “indispensable” organization means that we should focus on superstar performance or making grand gestures of service. But the reality is that we win the loyalty of those we serve with the seemingly small, yet incredibly powerful things that we can do every day, in almost any situation.

I recently visited a family member who was a patient in a local hospital. Walking down the hall I was approached by two hospital employees, one of whom stopped to ask me if I needed directions or needed any help in finding my way. It was a small thing, but it made an impression and spoke volumes in terms of demonstrating that the hospital truly cared about its patients and their families.

Like virtually everything else that we do in our work, it’s a matter of culture. Does your financial institution have a culture of following policy – no more and no less? Or do you have a culture of truly caring for customers in every aspect of their experience with you? It’s so easy to think that our core products or services are all that really matter, when in fact it’s the total experience that we create that ultimately leaves a lasting impression.

Showing that you care in small things done with extraordinary attention can be achieved by any organization, but it doesn’t happen because of a memo, signs in the employee break room, or even an occasional mention at employee meetings. It happens when you think about it, talk about it, and model it all day long, every day. It’s what “indispensable” companies focus on all the time.

Success Factor 5: Going All In

There’s a cultural phenomenon sweeping America: poker as a spectator sport. On any given night on your television, there may be as many as half a dozen channels featuring poker players playing for big money. The single most dramatic moment in any poker game is when a player goes for broke. He slides all of his chips into the middle of the table and declares “All in.” It’s the ultimate commitment. It’s a willingness to stake everything on your belief that, through either superior cards or an effective bluff, you will win.

There are organizations in which almost everyone works with the attitude of “all in.” This is the attitude that says I am part of a team that is united by a shared vision. I am willing to bring my talents and attention to focus on doing every task to the very best of my ability. I am treating every person as if my goal is to build positive relationships with everyone I meet.

That’s all well and good, but how do we make it happen? How do we get everyone on the team to commit to excellence every day, all day long, in everything we do? It’s not easy. But it’s not complicated, either. Those financial institutions in which everyone is “all in” are the ones that have clarity of values and purpose, and they talk about it all the time.

It’s not enough to talk about what’s important at the weekly staff meeting, or to put posters up in the break room, or send the occasional e-mail reminder. Great organizations create commitment, motivation, and enthusiasm for the “cause” by making it the core of every conversation about everything that’s done. Your vision, mission, or purpose, even your values, become the filter through which you make every decision.

People go “all in” for something they believe in. If you’re not talking about what your organization believes in, what are you talking about?

Success Factor 6: The Power of Consistency

There’s a commercial showing on NFL football games right now that says, “Amateurs work until they get it right. Professionals work until they can’t get it wrong.”

You can count on me. You can believe in me. If I say I’ll do something, I’ll do it. Put it in the bank. Bet the farm on it. It doesn’t matter whether or not I’m in a good mood, have a headache, forgot to pick up my clothes from the cleaners, had a fight with my daughter, lost my keys, or didn’t sleep last night. If I said I’ll do it then I’ll do it. What’s more, I’ll do it every time.

If you can say all of that, and back it up, that’s not bragging. That’s delivering the goods. That’s the gold standard. If you consistently do what you say you’ll do over a long period of time, the world will beat a path to your door. Nothing demonstrates the essence of showing off, in the most positive sense of the phrase, than rock solid consistency.

Consistency of performance is the single most powerful builder of customer enthusiasm and loyalty. Inconsistency of performance is the single greatest business killer. The reason that Coke is the preeminent world brand is because when I open that can or bottle, I know exactly what’s going to be inside. Can the same be said for your financial institution? Is consistency of performance the norm across all areas and with all people? If so, you’ve built something compelling. If not, you’ve got work to do.

We love people who do what they say they will do. Consistency is the foundation of success. Consistency is the business builder. Consistency is the definition of integrity. Be dependable. Be one less thing to worry about. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Joe Calloway is a widely recognized speaker and author and is the Competitive Advantage Coach for Twelve Coaches , the world’s premier business coaching website for small and medium-sized business leaders and entrepreneurs. Along with Joe’s Competitive Advantage lessons, Twelve Coaches gives you eleven other areas of small business success covered in short, actionable coaching videos. Click here to check them out on the web.

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