Those people who accept only their best make business brightest

May 9, 2011
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The Michigan Business and Professional Association, with the sponsorship of many fine West Michigan organizations (including The Employers’ Association), recently presented its 101 Best and Brightest Awards for 2011. The organizations selected as winners in this annual recognition will continue to “make a difference” in both our West Michigan community and the global marketplace.

Organizations receiving the award seem to view things a bit differently than others. They tend to be more inclusive of their employees when setting policy and share more openly with their community. They strive to make West Michigan the best place to live, work and play, knowing that if they make their people successful, they, too, will taste success.

How do people fit into the equation when looking at great and successful organizations? While setting lofty goals and establishing sound, fair and reasonable practices are the “stuff” that best and brightest organizations are made of, it is not what makes an organization great.

Companies that excel tend to distance themselves from their competition through the individual efforts and activities of their employees. They rise to the top upon the broad shoulders of a work force given the freedom to develop talent and express it in such a way that the “whole” prospers while individuals grow. Best and Brightest organizations reach this pinnacle through the collective efforts of individual employees accepting nothing less than their own best — being rewarded both through a paycheck and, perhaps more importantly, the pride of a job well done.

While we all taste success, life is an environment of equitability rather than of equality. Our efforts do not create equal results; they produce results that reflect equitably against the abilities we have developed, the intelligence we apply and outcomes we achieve.  We should not consider things provided through the efforts of another or available through the activities of a “collective whole” as being guaranteed, but rather as gifts given at the whim of the giver. The only guarantees we can expect in life are rooted in what we believe to be possible, practice to perfect, and relentlessly strive to achieve.

Schools tend to teach to the middle, spending far too little on creating opportunity for the less gifted and failing to advance the talents and abilities of those toward the top. Gifted students who are “pushed” by an excellent teacher often end up repeating their advanced studies in the next grade if the new teacher refuses to put forth additional effort. Field days are disappearing from elementary schools because some children are not able to compete with others (often due to their lifestyle choices), and we do not want them to feel “badly” should they not win.

In business, supervisors and managers often prefer “across the board pay adjustments” because it is easier to treat employees equally than to identify and reward exceptional effort. Individuals producing inferior results will require confrontation or explanation as to what must change. It is, it would seem, far easier to reward mediocrity than to expect excellence. Labor unions (though far less prevalent within private industry) flourish within government entities by bringing “everyone is equal” and “pay equality based on time in grade” (rather than for performance) concepts into the workplace.

When individuals accept less than their best, the organization (and those served by the organization) will suffer. 

Our country has survived many challenges from outside its borders, but might the most formidable attacks on our greatness come from within? It seems that an individual’s abilities to demonstrate excellence, to reap the rewards of individual efforts, and to live out the belief that one is limited only by his or her own addressable shortcomings are under attack by an overly accepting public.

We choose to take from those able to provide as we give to those not willing to achieve. We advance the “common good” at the expense of “individual excellence.” While it is good and right to support those who cannot “make it on their own,” it is wrong to apply the same standard to those who choose not to succeed or have simply quit trying. 

Organizations recognized as being the “best and brightest” tend to seek, hire and retain high achievers — individuals accepting nothing but their best, which translates directly into corporate excellence and sustainability.

To be a part of the brightest, accept nothing less than your best. Embrace the freedoms and unlimited opportunities we enjoy in this country by striving to move forward rather than standing fast, by continually learning and applying knowledge, rather than accepting what is as what will always be, and by focusing on where you could be rather than on where you have already been. Become all that you can by seeking all that might be sought, doing all that can be done, and never accepting more from others than you are willing to give yourself.

David Smith, CAE, is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association in Grand Rapids.

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