Do We Work To Finish or Dive Deeper To Excel

Jul 1, 2013, Written by Sue Miley

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When I was young, ambitious and climbing the corporate ladder I worked a lot.  Was it one of those unspoken pressures to gain esteem if you were the first in and the last out, or did it take me longer to do my job?

In my twenties I couldn’t have defined my 70 hours per week under either of these categories.  I want to say it was all good productive work that just took my team farther faster than the competitors.

In dissecting the finished product of my hours and hours of work, I see a difference in yesterday compared to today.

I remember one time sitting in my bosses office at about month 7 of a 9 month project gestation.  My boss needed an update.  Tired, irritable, and head pounding after swimming in data for weeks and weeks, he challenged my effectiveness, if not my productivity.  “I thought you could do this” he finally concluded with an unspoken question mark at the end of his statement.

Tears brimming, hands clenched, and a defiant glare, I marched back to my office, head held high, until I shut the door and fell apart.   I didn’t think I could do it.  I had stacks of reports everywhere.  I was charged with manually creating a profitability study and analysis of each sales route in our company.  This was before report writers and data capturing handheld computers.  You still had to press the ‘recalc’ button in Lotus to have your formulas calculate the answers.  I had one finance intern from LSU to help me input data.  What did he, my boss, expect?

Does High Expectation Create Better Work?

Just like an expectant Dad wants a beautiful, shiny, healthy newborn with five fingers and five toes, my boss wanted the equivalent in this research and analysis.

Back in those days, I dug in.  Failure was not an option.  I stepped back, re-planned my approach, and went deeper.

I remember after the full presentation to senior management, riding in the elevator feeling like the proud mom who just gave her husband the perfect son. My boss turned to me and said, “Well, Miley, I wasn’t sure you were going to do it, but you pulled it off.  Nice job.”

That was it.  No cigars.  No public announcement to cheering crowds.  The ultimate conclusion to 9 months of grueling research and analysis and all I got was…..”you pulled it off”!

And that was enough.

I was beyond excited about his acknowledgement.  It was all worth it.

 Life Lessons From Being Challenged

That project, along with many others not mentioned, sharpened me.  I honed my technical skills far past my college degree or MBA.  But, more importantly, I learned…..

….to persevere when I already felt completely defeated.

….the importance of digging deeper to provide a new level of “aha” conclusions that cannot be seen from the surface.

….that art of taking miles of data, from unique samples, and producing meaningful sweeping conclusions that would change the course of the company for the next decade.

I see today a change in the work world.  Especially in small businesses.  Managers don’t challenge their team or individual employees to dig deep and produce a quality of work that creates exponentially more with just a bit more time and effort.  Instead we talk of diminishing returns on time.  But I am positive that there is some point of going deeper that unearths results that are unprecedented in the ordinary.

I see workers who do the minimal of what it takes to just get the job done.  Their measurement is completion, not pleasing a boss or wowing a customer.  There seems to be a lack of pride in taking something to another level of excellence.

I see the results in the small business world.  Few being able to scale their concept and operations to transform into world class companies.  And fewer yet, employees of small companies, can compare to those trained and educated, in their knowledge and ability to excavate that hidden bonus value; past completion to excellence.

 Can We Push Others For Excellence and Still Honor God

As Christian small business owners we are called to glorify God in all that we do.  The methods and means with which many in the corporate world extract excellence from their employees would far from honor or glorify God.  Yet, they are able to squeeze blood out of the turnip.

We, as believers, can follow God in practice, and in iron sharpening iron, challenge ourselves and our teams to get the extra value from our work.  To not just go through the motions.  To not just respond to the obvious.  To not just accept what is profitable.

But, to dive deeper, and find the perfect crema of the espresso shot, the pearl in the oyster, and the diamond in the rough.

I don’t believe that achieving this level of depth of work requires abusing your staff, overworking them, or chiding them into performance.

 Challenge Self and Others To Go Deeper

I do believe it means first challenging ourselves to do the work.  To ensure the proper study, planning and execution.  It means not settling for mediocrity.  It means investing in our team with both training and time.  It means mentoring our employees to achieve their potential, not merely just complete the job at hand.

Challenging ourselves and our employees to do more than just show up, to exceed our expectations and our customer’s, and to reach their own potential for quality work is the essence of iron sharpening iron and glorifying God in our efforts.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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