A good friend of mine, a member of our board of directors here at Hartman Income REIT Management Inc. and the co-founder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., shared about having a culture of excellence in his book “Excellence Wins”: “Excellence is never an accident. Excellence is a series of careful decision-making and hard work. Smart, informed decision-making involved with or connected to those that are concerned. Again, it’s not chance that gets you through here. It is good decisions. Your destiny depends on the decision that they make. Not chance. You have to commit to those decisions.”
Accidents happen, and plenty of things happen by chance. But creating a culture of excellence in the workplace is never an accident or chance occurrence. I agree wholeheartedly with what Horst Schulze has written in this insightful book: workplace excellence is the result of your hard work and careful planning. This process has played out — and continues to play out — at Hartman.
As we march toward our mission of reaching $2 billion in assets by 2025, creating a culture of excellence is at the heart of every step. In the early years, we worked hard to achieve excellence. The workplace excellence mindset helped us establish our mission, core values and company vision. And in a constantly changing world, we need excellence in the workplace more than ever.
When I think about how I want my employees and community to see me, my sincere hope is that they think of Al Hartman as someone who always strives for excellence. I suspect I’m not alone in that hope. If you share this hope with me, I intend for you to come away from this post truly believing that, when utilized and executed properly, hard work and careful, informed decision-making can help your company build a culture of excellence, too.
If you’re looking for more great professional development reading, check out the list of CEO books I recommend.
How Do You Define A Culture of Excellence Within Your Company?
Admittedly, defining excellence in the workplace is a challenge. You can pick from dozens of metrics, and the temptation to pick those you already know are good is strong. I encourage you not to do that. Instead, focus first on customer service.
Assessing Customer Service Within Your Business
Mr. Schulze gives us an excellent framework for understanding whether customer service is up to snuff in our companies. He lays out three universal rules about customers in any industry:
- They want a product or service that has no defects.
- They want the product or service to be delivered in a timely manner.
- They want the person they are dealing with to treat them nicely.
Think about those rules for a moment. If your company fulfilled customer desires in each of these three areas every single time, how far could you go? Your company would be truly excellent.
Mr. Schulze also states that customer service is everyone’s job. The Al Hartman team couldn’t agree more. That is why we have placed relationship management at the heart of training for every employee — from senior management to entry-level positions, building a culture of excellence is a top priority.
Go the Extra Mile to Be a Breakthrough Company
Even when customers seem impossible to please, going the extra mile isn’t just advisable — it’s absolutely necessary. Lacking excellence in customer service puts the profitability of any company in jeopardy.
There is no way around it — to achieve a culture of excellence in the workplace, companies and individuals within those companies must own their shortcomings. We give every new employee 90 days to learn our service-oriented culture. During those 90 days, we put to the test the traits that define a service-minded individual. Those who excel under these conditions are exactly what we’re looking for in employees.
When outsiders look at Al Hartman and Hartman Income REIT, we believe they see a “breakthrough” company. That’s due in large part to our excellence in customer service. The very first and most important trait of breakthrough companies — which I outline in my book, “The Power of Proven Results” — is “crowning the customer first.” The second trait is aiming high. Those characteristics go hand in hand to make an ordinary company extraordinary.
Customer Service Is an Around-the-Clock Job
In the end, all of this is about retaining customers and building your business. Pay special attention to the concept of retention here. Taking customer service far enough to get new customers isn’t enough. You have to take it all the way every single day and never let up. Mr. Schulze puts it perfectly when he describes three ways to lose a customer:
1. Cutting back on your brand promise. If your brand’s promise is to put the customer first, the first person to realize you are cutting back on that promise will be the customer. They will not appreciate it, and their loyalty to your business will evaporate quickly.
2. Getting careless. When you stop “looking at things through the customer’s eyes,” as Mr. Schulze puts it, you become careless. The service you provide to your customers may still be solid overall, but careless mistakes begin to show through quickly. A beautiful home with cracked basement walls has a foundation problem, and it’s probably not worth buying no matter how strong its curb appeal is.
3. Becoming arrogant. To provide excellent customer service, you have to truly understand your customers. Once you achieve that understanding, be careful not to become arrogant. Don’t mistake understanding them for being smarter or better than them. Empathize excessively, and remember what you’re here to do: establish a culture of excellence in the workplace through world-class customer service.
Put Customer Service First, and Excellence Will Follow
Excellence in the workplace is no accident. It’s the result of a series of decisions and purposeful actions. For companies trying to become breakthrough organizations, there is no replacement. You must make customer service the job of everyone in the organization. The best part is what comes next: excellence.
If you’re interested in learning more about establishing excellence in your workplace, I have some good news for you: there’s more. Read part two of this series: Achieving Excellence in the Workplace: Building Your Organization’s Leadership