In a recent conversation with an small business owner, the subject of workplace excellence came up. We were discussing organizational culture and the since she was getting ready to hire her first employees, she wanted to clarify what she meant when she talked to her staff about being excellent at work. The fact is, no matter what the employer says, all of us will have our own definitions of what it means to be excellent at work. Given the same constraints of duties and assignments and the required knowledge skills and abilities to do the job, there are some characteristics that I believe will always set people apart from their peers. I encourage everyone to have a similar conversation with themselves and come up with their own definition of what it means to be excellent at work. Here are three of the things I always prioritize and try to encourage.
Do good work.
Regardless of what type of work you do, to be accountable and to be excellent at work, you must do good work. Keep in mind that your work is the reason you were hired and why, hopefully, you will remain hired. Whether you work for yourself or you have a boss like most people do, you must take pride of ownership in your work. One of my favorite quotes about doing good work, comes from Martin Luther King Jr. who said: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well’.”
Own your errors, your mistakes and your bad judgements.
We all make errors, mistakes and bad judgements sometimes. No sense acting like we don’t. Sometimes they become only visible in hindsight. However, if you have a commitment to being excellent at work, you will do the ongoing self evaluation to see where you might be making errors or mistakes or where there is the potential for exercising bad judgement. Hopefully, you work in an environment that is not primarily punitive. We all know those environments where the first reaction is to punish or put on blast the person who made an error or made a mistake. This kind of environment breeds subterfuge and becomes a blaming workplace. Being excellent at work means adapting the Steve Jobs approach to handling mistakes: “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It’s best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.” Another favorite is from Jack Welch, former CEO of GE who said that, “Mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.”
Stay ethical, speak up and maintain your integrity.
At the end of the day, there are few things that we have with us all the time, regardless of our circumstances at work or the environment in which we work. One of those things is our personal integrity. Like I always say about integrity – It only weighs you down, when you don’t have any. Each of us make our own decisions about what we will do or won’t do based on where our ethical boundaries lie. Once you have established your ethical boundaries, consider living by this Elie Wiesel quote: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”