How many times have you heard people in your office environment throw around the phrase: “Great job!”? If you have worked in even a remotely friendly organization, most likely a lot. However, how often is the work being recognized actually great or adding enhanced value to the customers that employee serves?
When managing employees, the level of performance you recognize or reward becomes the bar of excellence. When you learn to ride a bike you may be the recipient of praise for keeping the pedals moving or staying upright. Once you learn how to ride, you will no longer receive recognition for these simple things. It would be comical if you did. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens in many organizations everyday: employees are recognized or even rewarded for delivering basic expectations. This perpetuates mediocrity.
If you withhold recognition or reward for extraordinary performances only, you will raise your organizational performance bar and enhance business results.
The Audience Is Always Right
Due to my education and career roots in theatre and immense enjoyment of the art form, I have seen hundreds of live performances. Whether it was a piece I directed, produced or watched, one thing was always clear–how much the audience enjoyed it or not.
The amount and quality of applause recognizes the degree of performance based on what the audience saw, heard and felt. Consistent standing ovations will almost always ensure a long run. Lackluster applause or walkouts will quickly seal a production’s doom. Uncomfortable pauses or silence where there should be laughter guarantees defeat.
A person’s personal tastes have a significant bearing on whether the performance is enjoyed or not. However, that does not determine a production’s success. Majority audience responses, like a standing ovation or walkouts, never lie. If most people viewing the production feel a certain way, their reaction determines the perceived quality of the product. The same applies to your business and how you and your internal/external customers feel about the work and products your employees produce.
If you recognize or reward behavior that does not yield standing ovations from the recipients of an employee’s work, you are not pushing worker performance to greater heights or adding further value to your customer’s experience. You are rewarding mediocrity. The trick is to set basic expectations that are achievable with a slightly uncomfortable stretch which elevates exceptional performance above and beyond.
Measuring the internal and external customer feedback of your employees’ output is fairly easy. Internally, it can be done via human resources systems like Workday, other online survey platforms like Survey Monkey, or simply by asking for opinions. External customer feedback can be collected in much the same way via surveys or direct response requests.
How do you get your employees to work in ways that consistently deliver customer standing ovations? That is the artful part.
The Secret To Standing Ovations
The principle of enhanced customer value was highlighted during my recent week at the Fringe Festival in Scotland. Every August the world’s theatrical performers and artists descend on the city of Edinburgh to entertain millions in the streets, parks, tents, theatres, churches, hotels and just about any venue you can imagine. For several years, I have been lucky enough to attend this festival. I saw amazing, okay and terrible productions. On my last visit, I attended ten performances. Two were outstanding. Two very good. Two okay. And four painfully bad. One was so bad that as an audience member left, he yelled, “smarten up your act!”
The two outstanding ones were The Diary of a Madman and the children’s production of Brush. The first – a one-man show featuring Robert Bowman – transported me to the playwright’s colorful fantasy world. The second captivated even my extremely active two-year old.
Why did these two productions stand out to me and others in the audience? All the production elements were strong and aligned – script direction, acting, scenery, lighting, costume and sound design – allowing the audience to escape and get lost in the world of the production. By not having the distractions of poor, failed or misaligned production elements, the audience fully enjoyed their experience. Everything united to create a deeper customer experience. This synergy is the magic that makes things truly great in art and business.
In sports, it is like a world-class basketball team working together to pass the ball to score points. Successful team performance is artful, seamless and flawless in execution. Everyone and everything works in perfect harmony for the benefit of the whole.
In business, it requires a strong team and organization around each top-performing employee to achieve greatness. Standing ovations in business rarely happen in isolation. It is about employee alignment with why your organization exists: it’s purpose. It demands the right people in the right roles and skilled leaders to drive each team member’s growth and engagement and reinforce truly exceptional performance.
To Recognize Or Not To Recognize
- What value do I want to deliver to my customers?
- Has the employee or team I want to recognize or reward delivered more customer value than my organization and I expected?
If the answer is “yes” to the second question, you’re rewarding outcomes which will consistently drive customer satisfaction and increased business results. If the answer is “no”, reconsider the recognition or reward or mediocrity will become the norm.
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This article comes to us from our friends at O.C. Tanner, where they help companies appreciate people who do great work.
Louis Efron is an award-winning HR executive, entrepreneur, thought leader, writer, speaker, theatre director, producer, and founder of World Child Cancer USA, Louis' passion and purpose involves enlightening, inspiring, and teaching others. For more than two decades, he has lived and worked throughout the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia, with career credits including Head of Global Employee Engagement for Tesla Motors, and VP of HR for the Fortune 300 medical device company, Stryker and Broadway theatre. Louis is a contributing writer for Forbes and Huffington Post and the author of How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love. He is currently working on his second book to help organizations transform their employee engagement, culture and business success.
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