For years, I have helped leaders think about and clarify their expectations for the performance of others. Without this clarity or a mutual understanding of those expectations, people don’t know how to succeed in their work. As important as this is, it is just the starting point. The band of excellence is a concept that takes us beyond the expectations of what must be met and provides of picture of true high performance.
What is The Band of Excellence?
While the job expectations set the minimum performance level for the successful completion of a job or task, they only describe the floor of success. The Band of Excellence is a clear description of the expectation of the highest levels of performance for a specific job or task.
Just like typical expectations, these can be descriptors of behaviors or measurements of outcomes. Exactly what they are will be determined by the nature of the work or task. Overall, these must be as clear and mutually understood as any other performance measurements. Unless the performer/employee/team member knows what they are aiming for, these are of little value.
Why it Matters
There are at least four reasons why the Band of Excellence matters to the organization and team members.
- It raises the bar. The phrase “taking it to the next level” has become so overused that it is a cliché. Typically, when that phrase is used, no one knows what it actually means. If you want people to take their performance “to the next level,” shouldn’t you be able to describe to them what that looks like?
- It encourages personal aspiration. Once people know what the target is, they know what to aim at. This new, higher target provides clarity, incentive for achievement, and fuels healthy self-competition.
- It makes the leader’s role easier. When the leader is completely clear on what they really want from their team members, and the team members understand that as well, it makes coaching easier, and provides a path for coaching to higher performance, not just minimum standards.
- It assists in performance management. If your organization uses a performance management process with achievement categories to separate “achieves” from one ore more higher categories, the Band of Excellence provides a concrete description of the level of performance and behavior that is required for people to be labeled in these higher groupings. If you have ever had a team member who thought they were a high performer, but you rated them at the “average” or “achieves” level, the Band of Excellence defines the difference.
How to Create it
While it is helpful to describe this idea and sell you on its value, if you don’t know how to create this Band of Excellence, you might be as frustrated as your high performers could feel now. Here are four steps to creating The Band of Excellence for a role or task:
- Start with the basic expectations. You can’t create the Band of Excellence until the basic job expectations are set and understood. Make sure you have clearly defined expectations of successful performance first.
- Answer the Excellence Question. Fundamentally, the Band of Excellence is the clear answer to the question, “What does true excellence look like in this job?” You are determining what performance looks like at the highest levels of job performance. This likely includes the quantity and quality of the resulting work, but also a description of how it is done and how people interact with others as they achieve those outcomes.
- Clarify and document. Asking the Excellence Question is one thing, describing it in behaviorally clear language might be another. Take your answers to that question and write them down so that others can understand them too. True clarity will come when you can answer they question, “How will I know they are doing it?”
- Create mutual understanding. With a clear written description of the Band of Excellence, you can now provide a clear map for greater success to your team members. Use your document as the focus of a conversation. In other words, you won’t create mutual understanding by emailing the document to people. Explain the purpose for the Band of Excellence and make sure they understand it. Until they understand it, it won’t create the benefits you hope for.
Expectations for job performance are a critical building block for leadership success. They provide the minimum standards for job success. The Band of Excellence clearly defines what “rock star” performance looks like. If you want more rock stars, create the Band of Excellence.