Taking It Up Several Notches

In our conversations with business owners and leaders of organizations, they often tell us that they just want to take things up a notch.  I love the phrase “Take it up a notch.”  It’s a call to action for an organization to improve its performance and execution just a little bit, regardless of the starting point.  When we hear this, it’s our own call to action.  We start really looking at and listening to what the organization wants to achieve.  Often what we discover during our assessment is that closing the gap between the organization’s current state and the desired future is going to require more movement than just one notch.

Taking it up a notch means changing one or two things that will make a difference in the outcome.  Perhaps all that’s required is correcting a particular behavior.  Maybe it’s altering a procedure or a process.  Some organizations can take it up a notch with a renewed focus on accountability and collaboration.  However, this is often easier said than done – there are many organizations out there with frighteningly low levels of accountability and collaboration.  In some companies, these critical attributes are virtually nonexistent.

So, taking it up a notch in theory often means taking it up several notches where it counts… in the trenches.

Taking an organization up several notches requires an entirely difference approach.  For one thing, it demands a redefining and refocus on the things that are truly important.

We believe the best place to start is with the desired outcome, the ultimate goal:

  • What is it you want to accomplish?
  • Is it to be an elite facility, plant, organization, etc.?
  • Is it to be an effective sales organization?
  • Is it to be the best performing store in the chain?
  • What is your goal?
  • What is the ultimate desired outcome of this engagement?

Next, we look at each position and define an objective standard for that position.  Determining an objective standard requires answering questions such as: If this job function were being performed perfectly, what would that look like?  How would the person in this position behave?

After the objective standards are in place, we take a look at the people who currently occupy those positions and compare their actual performance to the performance required by new objective standard.  Once we have assessed and understand these various deltas, we develop a plan to close the gaps.  Sometimes this process is relatively easy and smooth, and in other cases it is difficult and cumbersome.  Our human nature virtually guarantees that observing and calling out the flaws in a co-worker’s performance and behaviors takes a lot less courage and effort than holding up a mirror and conducting an honest evaluation of our own performance and behaviors.

As we gather leadership teams together and start group discussions about objective standards and the work that needs to be accomplished to achieve real performance improvement and growth, consensus about the fact that changes need to be made is relatively easy to achieve.

One-on-one interviews produce a similar message – “Yes, changes are necessary.”  The follow-up, however, often sounds something like this: “Well, you know, I’ve been here for 25 years, and I know I’m doing it right.  They are the ones who really need to change.”  The problem is that everyone else on the leadership team reaches virtually the same conclusion about themselves vis-à-vis their colleagues – “Yes, we need to make some changes in order to improve, but I’ve been doing it right for 12 years.  The real problem lies with them.”  Of course, when everyone views change as necessary only for others, no one changes.

Albert Einstein said it best: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”  In essence, if you continue to do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always gotten.

Any organization that is serious about “taking it up several notches” will need its entire leadership team and the critical mass of the remainder to be on board and ready to move down a path of awareness, willingness to change, accountability, collaboration and performance-driven behavior.  We believe it is our job to help leaders and organizations create that path and help implement the changes that must be made.  We do this with a variety of tools, including the right combination of training, one-on-one coaching, goal-oriented exercises and consulting.

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