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Build a “Culture of Excellence” With Each Hire
by Nancy Ahlrichs

All it takes is a 10 percent turnover rate to lose half of your workforce within five years. If “star performers” are 50-100 percent more productive than average performers--and if you continue to hire average performers as replacements--your organization could be on its way to bankruptcy within five years. Creating a “culture of excellence” may be the most important factor in your organization’s success or failure.

The consulting firm Watson Wyatt HCI demonstrated a direct connection between firms that do excellent recruiting and increased stock price. Human Resources is no longer a “support function”—it is strategic. You do not have to look very far to uncover the economic impacts of recruiting. Plan and take action now to develop a culture of excellence and achieve success this year and beyond.

Competition is a fact of life whether yours is a not-for-profit organization dependent on ever-shrinking sources for grants, or a for-profit corporation with customers who demand more and different products but are not willing to pay “more for more.”

Innovating at the speed of change to successfully develop new products or outsourcing jobs to keep quality up but costs down will continue to be critical management competencies if cash flow is a priority. Needed is a focus beyond quality and efficiency to real-time responses to customer needs. Only resilient, high quality employees who are excited by--and knowledgeable about--your marketplace can deliver what will be needed.

Your staff at all levels must be “on board” with the need for speed and innovation in addition to the need for quality and efficiency. They must know how to define excellence in terms of their own positions, have the skills to deliver it and be willing to make yet further changes as the bar continues to be raised. Both existing employees and new hires need recognition and rewards to keep them on the excellence track.

There are five things that must be built into your planning:

1. Define the culture you need to succeed and the one your organization currently has. What does “excellence” mean to your customers or business referral sources? Use focus groups of employees (and even customers or referral sources) to nail down the fine points. The gap between today’s culture and tomorrow’s successful culture determines how much change will be required.

2. Make the specific behaviors of your desired culture real to all employees at all levels. Include your values and culture (how we do things around here) on your Web site, on your walls, in orientation, performance management and as the basis for promotions. Make sure that your hiring process includes a strong focus on the new culture and ensures that only those who will fit into the new culture will be hired. Hard skills are no longer nearly enough.

3. Hire to your new standards. Updated job descriptions will still describe only minimum allowable performance. Add the desired “star” behaviors in addition to the desired certifications, degrees and experience to ensure that the new culture becomes a reality.

4. Eliminate chronic under-performers. The new standards of performance apply to all—no exceptions for title, rank or years of service. If the under-performer needs training, provide it. If the under-performer needs an attitude adjustment, determine the cause. In either case, reward positive, sustained change and eliminate those who are just “treading water” waiting for the old culture to return. You cannot afford to have under-performers take down others with them.

5. Celebrate the victories along the way to making the new standards for excellence an everyday occurrence. Post comments from customers and/or business referral sources so that your employees are energized about the payoff of their efforts. If a previously unattainable customer is signed, verify the link between your employee’s new behaviors and meeting this customer’s needs. Link new employee actions with new outcomes.

Your strategy will only be attainable when the other processes in the organization are tuned to the new requirements and your employees make the strategy a reality. Make a plan and work it.

Nancy Ahlrichs’s two books, Manager of Choice: 5 Competencies for Cultivating Top Talent, and Competing for Talent: Key Recruitment and Retention Strategies for Becoming an Employer of Choice, may be found in large bookstores and on www.amazon.com.

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