Magazine

The Boring Truth About Being the Best

By David Taxman

What if everyone in your company worked relentlessly to be the best? The best salesperson, the best customer service professional, the best manager ... the best (let’s say) cake decorator or corporate blogger or nonprofit fundraiser in the industry? It’s a simple notion but one with profound implications, says Jon Gordon, consultant, speaker and best-selling author.
After all, he says, a company made up of the best people in the business is itself the best in the business. And while there are no sure bets, being the best is the closest you’ll ever come to a get-out-of-the-recession-free card.
“Any company can create a culture of greatness,” Gordon says, “but why don’t they? Probably because they don’t know how. People tend to think there’s some kind of magic bullet or secret formula to being the best, but that’s just not true.
“For an individual, greatness is all about the fundamentals,” he says. “It’s about getting the basics right, over and over again, every day of the week. For a company, it’s about every employee doing that.
“It’s not that complicated, really. And if we’ve learned anything from the recession, it’s that the companies that focus on the basics are the ones that survive when times get tough.”
Eleven traits and habits separate “the best” from “the rest,” says Gordon, and he reveals them in his book “Training Camp: What the Best Do Better Than Everyone Else.” Get every employee in your company to absorb and practice them and soon you’ll have a team that’s unstoppable – yes, even in a stalled economy, he says.
Gordon rode his first book, “The Energy Bus,” to international bestsellerdom, and achieved similar results with its follow-up, “The No Complaining Rule.” “Training Camp,” written in the same easy-to-digest fable formula that characterizes his other books, maintains that anyone can become successful if they possess the focus, initiative, dedication and positive energy required to do so.
“Training Camp” is “all about what it takes to rise to the top of your game, whatever that game may be,” he says. “It’s all about the habits the best of the best in all professions have in common. Leaders who can engrain these habits into their culture will find that the slow and steady tortoise approach really does work.”
Gordon offers the following tips for getting back to the basics:
Be willing to outwork everyone else. You might think being the best is an accident of birth, that certain people are endowed with superior genes or happen to be born to parents who live in the right ZIP code. Not true, Gordon says. You become the best through hard work and “zoom focusing” on the fundamentals of your particular job until you master them.
“The lesson for companies is twofold. One, make sure your employees are hard workers, willing to hone their individual job skills until they master them. Talent matters, sure, but perseverance matters more. Two, make sure your company stays the course long enough to become the best at what you do. If you keep shifting your strategies or your market focus, that can’t happen.”
Get the little things right. Remember, he says, there is no secret recipe for being the best. The art is in putting the recipe’s ingredients together. The best take action every day and do the common tasks – returning phone calls, filling out reports, capturing customer information, preparing for meetings – with uncommon focus, dedication and a commitment to excellence.
Don’t lower your standards when no one’s looking. Gordon likes to tell the story of a CEO who insisted that his company’s mailroom, which no customer ever visited, be kept neat and tidy at all times. His point? The best do the right thing even when no one can see them, and the mailroom is a symbol of that, he says. The same might be said for behaviors such as surfing the Internet when the boss is at a meeting or badmouthing clients behind their backs. “Remember, being the best is all about forming good habits,” Gordon says. “If employees do the right thing all the time, the right thing will be second nature when it counts.”
Don’t focus on outcomes. Instead, focus on the process that gets you there, he says. You know how motivational gurus are always telling you to “visualize your goal”? Gordon disagrees with that philosophy. In the same way that great athletes stay in the moment, rather than obsessing about the outcome of the game, great companies keep their collective nose to the grindstone, zoom-focusing on the day-to-day tasks that made them great in the first place.
Whatever you do, don’t rest on your proverbial laurels. Despite popular misconception, success doesn’t really breed success; it breeds complacency, Gordon says. Coaches and business leaders often dread success far more than they dread failure, he says. “Too often a team will have a successful season or a player will have a great year, and when they come back the following season, they think all they have to do is show up and they’ll enjoy the same results, forgetting it was the hard work, focus and process that helped them create their success,” Gordon says.
“Well, that happens in business, too,” he adds. “The moment you think you have arrived at the door of greatness is the moment it gets slammed in your face. The key is to always be innovating, offering new products and services, improving customer service, and staying one step ahead of your competition. The solution is to stay humble and hungry.”
Perhaps you’re worried that times are so tough and the competition is so fierce that becoming the best company in your industry is far out of your grasp. That’s a misconception, Gordon says. The truth is that the gap between the best and the rest is very, very small.
“In baseball, consider the difference between a .250 batter and a .350 batter,” Gordon says. “If you calculate 162 games a year, four or five at-bats a game, the difference between a .250 batter and a .350 batter is only 1.7 hits a week.
“It’s the little things that separate the best from the rest,” Gordon says. “If you can do those important little things just 10 percent better than the competition, you can rise to the top of your field.
“But it’s the kind of thing that can’t happen by decree. It has to come from within the employees themselves,” Gordon says. “They have to know what the drills are, and they have to want to do the training. Once those conditions are met, the sky is the limit.”
For more information on Jon Gordon and his books, including his newest, “The Shark and the Goldfish: Positive Ways to Thrive During Waves of Change,” visit www.jongordon.com.

Article Abstract from December, 2009




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