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Ken Keller: Communicating what you want from employees

Brain Food for Business Owners

Posted: July 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 24, 2011 1:55 a.m.

If you have ever heard the words “I’ll try” — you know you are dealing with a lack of intention from the other person.

In the movie “The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda says to Luke Skywalker, “Do or do not; there is no try.”

In many organizations, a lack of intention has become the norm. Deadlines slip, projects remain unfinished, meetings are held and no one follows through on what is stated will be done.

These days, actually seeing someone who speaks and acts with intention is quite startling and refreshing. 

I met recently with an owner that described the foundation of his business’s tenure, growth and strong relationships with employees, clients and vendors based on the fact that all adhere to operate on “The 100 percent Rule.”

This rule, created at startup, states that all parties must give 100 percent, all the time, in order for the relationship to be successful and ongoing. The rule results in several positive things taking place.

The first thing is that it establishes a sustainable, competitive advantage for the company. In an industry known for less than stellar work and disengaged employees, and for clients who are constantly suspicious of corners being cut, the rule is a differentiator.

Second, it creates a premium pricing position because the client understands the value of the work that is being delivered. This works to the advantage of the company because the customer’s understanding translates to additional revenue, allowing the company to hire, retain and pay for better employees, people who are likely to stay longer and are proud of the company they work for.

The third thing it does is create a positive reputation in the marketplace. Quality, service and delivery are used freely in this particular industry because that is what is expected. But when it comes to on time, on budget, quality work done a single time, which is guaranteed, the competition is left in the dust.

The fourth thing the rule produces is that an atmosphere of trust is created and maintained between the company and the client. That relationship is invaluable on both sides. The client doesn’t need to seek out other vendors and the company has a base of repeat clients. 

Fifth, the company becomes known and respected as a quality place to work. Employees weed out those that do not meet the demanding standard of the 100-percent rule. Most people would understand instantly what this concept is all about.
However, even something as simple as “100-percent” is open to differing opinions.

I held a meeting where more than half of the attendees arrived late to the meeting, yet those same individuals were convinced in their own mind that they were on time. The clock doesn’t lie, but it demonstrates how hard it is to get people to accept even a simple concept.

How are values brought to life? How can a simple concept, often misconstrued, become part of a company culture without misinterpretation?

Mike Krzyzewski is the men’s basketball coach at Duke University. He has led the Blue Devils to four NCAA championships and 11 appearances in the Final Four.

Krzyzewski is a coach, leader and teacher of young men. He is successful because he understands that his primary task is motivation. He not only has to motivate individuals to their highest ability but has to teach these individuals to function as a unit. 

How does he do this? Words are used to communicate what is desired. Real life examples are told in story form to demonstrate what the words mean and what is expected of the students.

When defining the word “dependability,” Krzyzewski tells his students about his brother Bill, who never missed a day of work in 38 years as a firefighter in Chicago.

Courage is used to describe the story of Jim Valvano, who died after a long, hard battle with cancer. This former coach lives on in name and spirit as his foundation’s annual basketball tournament continues to raise funds for cancer research.
The word “imagine” is what motivated supporting player Shane Battier to step up to a leadership role on the team, something he had never thought about before. Krzyzewski called him daily, asking Battier if he ever imagined himself scoring 30 points in a game, or being conference player of the year. 

Whatever your core values are, they cannot just be words; they must come to life in stories that demonstrate what you expect.  

Ken Keller is chief executive officer of STAR Business Consulting, Inc., a company that works with companies interested in growing top line revenue. He can be reached at (661) 645-7086 or at Mr. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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