I was having coffee with one of our clients, the CEO of a company in a highly competitive field. He was just a little intimidated by all the things he was reading about global competition and the drive for excellence.
"Nido," he said, "How am I going to make it in this kind of climate? The market is demanding extraordinary performance and my employees are ordinary people."
I smiled and reassured him.
"Your challenge is very simple," I told him. "All you have to do is turn your ordinary people into extraordinary people."
That may sound like an impossible task, until you stop to think about it. What is an extraordinary person?
An extraordinary person is someone who consistently does the things ordinary people can't do or won't do.
So if we want our ordinary people to become extraordinary people, we simply need to give them strong reasons to do the things ordinary people won't do and teach them to do the things ordinary people can't do.
An extraordinary person doesn't have to be extraordinarily gifted. Many people with great knowledge and skills are barely getting by in their professions, while others with much less ability are doing extremely well.
The fact is that success is available to anyone who will learn a few simple principles and consistently put them into practice daily.
All your people can become extraordinary if they are willing to exert persistent effort.
The kind of quality that establishes market leadership rarely comes from one-time breakthroughs. It stems from small incremental improvements day in and day out.
Fred Smith established Federal Express on the basis of a potent idea: the promise of overnight delivery, absolutely and positively.
But the reputation of Federal Express was built on the fulfillment of that promise day in and day out, with numerous little improvements along the way. For example, Federal Express went one step beyond picking up a shipment on one end and delivering it on the other.
At its Memphis hub, it established a warehouse operation so that major shippers could stockpile frequently ordered goods. When a customer placed an order, the shipper could notify Fed Ex and the company would ship it from Memphis to anywhere in the world.
You don't have to be a Federal Express to deliver quality service day in and day out. You can do it whether you're in the business of delivering packages, making widgets, selling real estate or providing financial services.
The key is to help your people cultivate an attitude of excellence, and to make it a part of their everyday activities.
An attitude of excellence can turn ordinary people into extraordinary people. Ordinary people look upon a 99% quality standard as good enough, if not a little stringent.
Extraordinary people know that if we were to settle for the 99% standard, everyday life would become a horror story. We would be without telephone service for 15 minutes each day. The Post Office would lose 1.7 million pieces of first-class mail daily, and you'd see three misspelled words on each page of type. What's worse, every year, doctors and nurses would drop 35,000 newborn babies, 200,000 people would get the wrong drug prescriptions, and 2 million people would die of food poisoning.
Extraordinary people reach out for quality standards that set your company apart from its competitors. They help you develop a differential advantage.
That differential advantage (DA) may come from doing things faster, cheaper, more skillfully or more thoroughly than any of your competitors.
It may come from having more experience, more specific knowledge or more convenient locations.
It may come from being the biggest, the most flexible or the most accessible of all the companies in your business.
Or it may consist of the ability to meet the needs of customers in a way no one else can quite match.
Whatever it is, your DA must be an advantage that is tangible and that you can demonstrate. People must be able to see it quickly.
Your DA provides the basis for your marketing strategy. People have to perceive that you are different from the competition and that this difference provides a direct benefit for them.
Really, the key to all effective marketing is identification. When people can readily see themselves using and benefiting directly from your products or services, they become interested.
When they can instantly spot the value in it for them, they will believe your marketing claims.
When they see more value in your unique resources than in the resources they are currently using, they will want to know more about them.
When they see that what you can do for them has more value than the money they'll have to invest in it, they will become customers or clients.
The better you can translate your unique marketing advantage into specific value to the customer, the stronger will be your marketing appeal.
But before you can sell your clients and customers, you have to sell the people within your company.
That means we have to market internally. We have to sell our own people -- even ourselves -- on investing the necessary resources so we can get the job done and get it done right. That calls for leadership.
In the past, leadership centered on such things as control. Those who had the upper hand ruled. Leadership meant that managers made expectations clear and checked to see that jobs were done.
That kind of leadership is no longer effective. Instead of controlling, we must learn to influence. In today's successful corporations, more and more decisions are being made from the bottom up, with accountability at much lower levels.
In the business of the future, motivation will focus more on job satisfaction, the quality of work and the team spirit.
Supervision will look more like cooperation, with greater emphasis on peer-group control.
As I've worked with management teams in the corporate world, I've noticed a number of qualities that extraordinary leaders have in common. Here are some of them:
Modern leaders must be open to new ideas and methods; new ways of doing things. They must be willing to listen, observe and learn constantly.
They must be willing and able to adjust to constant change.
They must be willing to work more fluidly with people, dealing with people of many different talents, temperaments and behavior styles.
They must be willing to try it, fix it, and do it -- and encourage others to do the same.
They must have a keen awareness of the needs, interests and concerns of other people.
You can develop such extraordinary leaders and an extraordinary work force if you're willing to provide opportunities for them to learn and to apply what they've learned.
Remember that the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary is a little "extra."
Give your people an extra portion of education and development. Share with them an extra measure of enthusiasm. And challenge them to put a little extra something into their relations with co-workers, customers and clients. The little extras will add up to extraordinary performance.
I wish you extraordinary success.
copyright Nido R Qubein