Yeah, thanks for that ancient Greek guy, but what does that even mean?
Excellence is an outcome, and an outcome is the end result of a series of connected events?
A sequence. A product of thousands of individual choices over an extended period of time, sometimes disguised as a process, but sometimes not.
I personally feel this deeply every time I compete in a running race. My performance on the day, today, is a direct output of everything I’ve ever eaten or drank, every step I’ve taken, and every training session completed.
I feel directly connected to the cold, wet, dark and windy training sessions that I could have bypassed for warmth and comfort, but didn’t. It all accumulates, evolutionary-style, to shape what I am capable of at this singular point in time.
And so it is with the systems we attempt to manage.
The outputs of those systems, and what we are experiencing, seeing, feeling today, is a direct output of every interaction, every transaction, human or digital, since Day 1.
When a system is not performing as we would like it, we attempt to rectify by seeking big gains, by demanding big performance improvements through interventions, away days, consultants and Biblical-esque Learning from Experience reports, events and conferences.
And in between these we remain happily doing business as usual.
So with most of our time spent doing business as usual, and once-in-a-while waving an improvement flag, which do you think becomes the habit?
The reality is that most of this can be overcome with a healthy mindset, and some simple good habits, and Prevention is always better than Cure (and usually less intrusive).
The greatest athletes, generally speaking, are not those who are naturally gifted, but those for whom success has come about via failure.
They learn to 'learn from experience’. They learn that its OK to perform less than your best, but that its not OK to not understand why, nor correct it.
They also learn that the greatest improvements and gains come from extended effort over a very long period of time, not seeking extraordinarily massive gains or excessive performance sugar hits.
1% is enough. 1% today, 1% tomorrow, 1% next week, 1% next year. A sequence of connected events that you can control.
So as you start this new year, take an honest look at yourself and the systems you are responsible for. Is it really performing as you would have it?
How did you get here?
By what series of connected events have you arrived at this state?
And if that is what got you here, what can you do differently?
You don’t have to start a revolution.
Try doing just 1% better each day.
Make excellence a deliberate choice.
And herein lies the secret to success - the ability to control a system.
It’s not complicated.
The choices of today are the outcomes of tomorrow.
But how as managers
can we drive this shift in mindset or behaviour?
Can we stop rewarding the outcome, and instead reward the process of learning?
How do we reward those who have failed, but got up again?
How indeed can we reward failure at all?
Only by accepting that the outcome itself is not a failure.
Only by accepting that the true failure is to not learn from the event.
Only by driving a culture that openly discusses why events have not gone as we expected, honestly and without judgement.
Only by ensuring those events are not repeated.
And that is up to us, 1% at a time.
Happy New Year.