Don’t settle for being best because you won’t be… for long.

In our complex, fast-changing world you need to be better than best. Jim Hackett, CEO of Ford  tells the story of a race up a mountain. The winner (not by much) thinks she just needs to best her time to win again next year. In the following year’s race she starts out beating her time but, conditions on the mountain have changed meaning she must perform even better than simply besting her time to win again.

His story neatly illustrates the difference between a “best” attitude and better “attitude”.

Being best is a point reached. It’s an important milestone and one to be celebrated for sure. But, it is a finite point in time, a point that is already behind you. The concept of being better is continual and infinite. It is a milestone that is always in front of you, inspiring you and your organization to be better, every day.

Think of best as multiple points in time within your long-term aspiration to be better.

Better is infinite in its capacity to improve and reach new heights of performance and skill. Even the word improve, defined as “to make better; advancing” captures the power of the “better” mantra.

Improve. Better. Advance.

Isn’t that what we want for ourselves, our teams, our departments and our organization?

Here are three reasons why you should consider “better” as your aspirational goal for better performance.

1. Better is in our nature.

It is human nature to leave our mark on, and to believe that, this world is a little bit better because of us. It is why our drive to strive, reach and ultimately accomplish is a visceral part of our core being.

This drive shows up in our jobs as our ambition to seek better ways of working and better solutions to the challenges and issues in front of us. It is our nature to do meaningful work and to know that our work matters and makes a difference to others, McKinsey has shown through their research that infusing meaning in our work boosts productivity and leads to better performance.

The challenge for organizations is how to support and stimulate the “better” mantra in all employees.

We have worked with clients on the redesign of work; their business practices, job roles and workflows to activate our “better” nature. Clients who have been successful in shifting from best to better invest in their people with learning, skill development and upskilling. These are clients successfully transitioning from the old model in which people are viewed as fixed costs to the effectiveness model in which people, unlike equipment, add value and get better with time. They understand that better organizations start with a single employee.

To understand your own belief in being better, how would you answer the following question; “Would you rather be the best on Monday or better than that on Tuesday and the next day and the next day…?

If you would rather be better on Tuesday, then ask yourself another question;

“What is the one thing?”

What is the one thing you could do to improve your best quality, attribute or skill? Now, imagine asking this question of every person on your team, in your department and across your organization.

The possibility of better performance becomes exponential as more people onboard the mantra of better is better than best.

Business Planning

2.  Better is Cultural.

The mantra of better is a universal mentality that can capture the ambition of many versus the singular mentality of being best. Only one can be best but all of us can be better.

When you think “better” versus best, think group versus solo efforts. Imagine two sales teams; one team is working together to make the sales team better and the other team is working on supporting the best salesperson. Two questions; which team would you rather be on and which team would achieve better overall performance?

The contribution we each can make to becoming a better team can be intoxicating versus the often-toxic notion of working to make one individual the best.

 “Better” oriented cultures are curious, empathetic, inclusive and evolving.

Better cultures thrive on the friction of fresh thinking and collaboration. “Better” is a path to success and improved performance. Instilling “better” in your culture should start with this idea from Culture Amp and Lindsay McGregor; “Why we work determines how well we work.”

To understand the why, check the temperature of your culture; is there heat from the healthy friction of new and better thinking? Are your processes and systems geared for collaboration on ideas and solutions? Are you group or solo task focussed?

Try it. Your organization, team or department will be better for it.

3.  Better is Competitive

“Best” thinking is a byproduct of the traditional, scalable efficiency model that focusses on maintaining best position on price, speed and quality. There are two perilous issues with this thinking;

  1. As the saying goes, a company can afford to be best at two of the three only and
  2. Any one of these variables is easily replicated or beaten by a competitor,

 thus leaving your organization in a perpetually vulnerable position.

Strategic Planning

“Better” is built for the effectiveness model of continuous improvement, removing the defensive posture of maintaining position on replicable variables like price. “Better” opens the organization to the market possibilities of fresh thinking, new ideas and solutions that keep your organization perpetually competitive.

To become better versus best means listening to customers for new and emerging needs, watching for shifts in market conditions and trends.

Better means becoming adept at what Deloitte calls “exception handling”, the unexpected issues that fall outside your standardized processes or plan. The “exception” is likely caused by a shift in need or market conditions, creating an opportunity for growth and for your organization to become better.

Better is competitive because it is continual in its adaptation to market changes and customer needs, keeping your organization and its products and services better than your competition – continually.

So, don’t settle for best. It is fleeting. Aim to be better. It is how successful organizations get ahead and stay ahead.