EXCELLENCE: A Question of Judgment

Snickers Pie is the personification of greatness, in whipped cheesecake form, nestled in Oreo cookie crust and topped with slices of the famed candy bar. Excellence is a matter of taste, which is why we are exploring the dark side of disparate and sometimes dueling definitions of virtue. P.S. Devour Magnolia Bakery’s rendition of this pie in private to avoid awkward public display of sugar affection.

Snickers PieWhat is excellence? The quality of being outstanding or extremely good, further excellence is a continuously moving target that can be pursued through integrous action, being frontrunner in terms of products / services provided, meeting obligations, continually learning and improving in each sphere to pursue moving targets.

Evaluating excellence is a managerial nightmare for the well meaning but uninstructed. Mercurial interpretations become landmines of misunderstanding, the antecedent to costly turnover. Peddlers of excellence doctrine may unwittingly demotivate their teams when evaluation of work is confused for opinion of worth, the dark side of self-confidence politely overlooked as a non-work issue. While separating work from worth is every employee’s responsibility, employers supporting awareness will have an advantage with retention having less miscommunication to resolve.

Know you have unconditional, unquestionable worth.

Work Versus Worth

Discussions concerning difference of opinion on the definition of greatness will unearth sensitivities regarding worthiness and esteem; self-confidence can become entangled with performance evaluation and depending upon the gap in our assessment versus the evaluator’s, derail our sense of security leaving a defensive taste in our mouths. Further complicating matters, each person has varying levels of esteem; some unwavering and others easily unraveled resulting in a smorgasbord of emotional outrage over perceived shifts in definition of excellence. Yet another challenge, employee engagement techniques endeavoring to bolster feelings of appreciation seem theoretically astute yet miss root issues sidestepping meaningful feedback. Finally, the longer our mental version of greatness persists unquestioned, the more upsetting alternative definitions become. Many are not challenged enough on their management journey nor do they push themselves to change behavior if/when effective feedback is received leaving criticism to be served through votes of no confidence, also known as the Peter Principle or rising to the level of incompetence until terminated.

While the excellence question should keep us all on our toes, when we understand our worth, fear of feedback or alternative definition of quality is of little concern because we are open to ever-improving our craft. That doesn’t mean feedback doesn’t sting; on the contrary, we learn and embrace the new version of superiority, improving our skills along the way.

Although unprecedented in my experience, organizations would do well to identify work versus worth challenges adjusting coaching technique to address root issues in addition to gift certificates. To better understand how balanced encouragement and feedback is achieved and sustained, Chocolate Cake Mondays interviewed Jeff Kulek, General Manager of The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills, a leader with a proven track record for excellence through high-performing teams. Jeff brings out the best in his employees due in part to his deft ability to recognize personal worth, coaching his team to levels they never imagined possible. Learn more about Jeff through his LinkedIn profile.

Interview with a General Manager

Q: What does Excellence mean to you from a professional standpoint?
A: It means you are exceeding expectations. That doesn’t mean you are doing more than the job requires necessarily. If you are contributing a high level, making an impact through your work and as a result then you are standing out consistently. Routinely doing what is expected.

Q: How do people react to the subject of Excellence?
A: Most employees are inspired and desirous of being distinguished. I don’t see many people trying to be average on purpose. Whether they achieve excellence is altogether different.

Q: Is Excellence definable and attainable?
A: It depends upon the people and company for whom you work. Sometimes excellence is evaluated correctly. Other times measurement of excellence is based solely upon gatekeepers such as budget, measurable goals,..

Q: Can beginners be Excellent or is it something attained over years of practice?
A: Beginners can embody an excellent attitude or work ethic toward achieving whatever goal they are being measured by. They may not be at a place of excellence due to time in position, but their effort may be regarded exceptional for working toward excellence. For example, taking their position seriously and having an excellent approach to their work is important.

Q: Do you think organizations reward Excellence?
A: I am focused on rewarding excellent performance, but many organizations do not. Sometimes being vocal, the squeaky wheel, so someone recognizes the work you are doing is required. Recently, I awarded a topnotch associate with a $1,000 gift card and note thanking them for outstanding work because my goal is to recognize exemplary performance. Also, I shift bonus allocations from one person to another based on performance and attitude when necessary. That being said, many companies do not reward for excellence, instead they expect it.

Q: Do the best “Excellent” people get promoted?
A: Not always. Sometimes “excellent” people are happy in the positions they are in with no want to grow beyond her/his current roles. Politics, found in all organizations, plays a role so sometimes outstanding employees are overlooked; the organization loses at the expense of politics.

Q: What are the tools your organization uses to define and communicate standards of Excellence?
A: Tools vary depending upon position. Many of them measure performance financially to budget and last year, compare to our competitor’s performance, or are based on annual and quarterly goals established by their manager or by the employee and so on…

Q: Must we agree on what Excellence looks like to be successful?
A: Not necessarily. Excellence can be perceived differently. Greatness can be known by the individual. Measuring success can be at the discretion of the most senior person in the organization, which isn’t always fair. He/She may be too far removed to assess and unless she/he manages from a team perspective, a perception can be made that is not just.

Q. What is the difference between Excellence and Perfection?
A: Two big concepts with different meanings. Perfectionism can be problematic where excellence in my opinion is not. To be a perfectionist or to demand everything to be perfect isn’t realistic in a 24/7 business such as hotels. Perfectionism can lead you astray, down a time consuming and unnecessary road. My observation is that striving for excellence and achieving excellence appears to be hard-wired in some people.

Q: Was there a time when you thought your work Excellent but was deemed to be average?
A: Yes, today on a conference call where all General Managers had to provide information in a generic presentation. I envisioned a uniformed presentation and provided what was asked; colorful but exact. Other General Managers took creative liberty to insert videos which set their presentations apart.

Q: How do you inspire your team to reach for Excellence?
A: Through on-going reinforcement and dialogue about expectations, whether that is one-on-one or globally in meetings. Acknowledging and openly rewarding, giving the team credit when credit is due, providing unexpected recognition, showing I care about them as a person and telling everyone how much their contributions are appreciated. I look for those moments daily.

Q: Where are your standards of Excellence from? Who was your best teacher?
A: Tough question. Partially from my Father who demanded “excellence” from his children in a harsh manner, partly from my first COO when I became a General Manager and hotels and management teams were recognized with an Oscar-styled party and awards ceremony and partly from my want to not go through this life being average.

Many thanks to Jeff for sharing his wisdom. I hope these questions inspire you to consider your own definition of excellence and how you are communicating and living those values. Most importantly, how do you differentiate work from worth. Please share how you inspire excellence for yourself and those on your team.

Where to purchase Snickers Pie. Recipe for Snickers Pie.

Disclaimer: The story and recipe above should not be considered advice as the readers and users of Chocolate Cake Mondays are not clients and therefore CCM is not liable for reader’s reliance on the information herein.

Published by HIRED GUN.