Striving for excellence

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Updated Aug 24, 2015

Have you ever won a trophy? I’m not talking a medallion you for coming in third, or a participation certificate that said you completed a challenge. I’m talking an honest to goodness “you finished in first place” trophy.

I have. Twice.

The first time was in sixth grade. I had a Mark Price-like performance to win the free throwing shooting contest at summer camp. The second time came much later, while working at the local newspaper after college.

My employer ran an internal contest to measure the efficiency of our staff when posting stories online.

For two weeks every article we published was tracked, and judged by our manager using a ten-point scale. Stories that were published and required no additional revisions received perfect scores. Stories with spelling and grammatical errors resulted in deductions, as did any piece that need to be edited for clarity or expanded due to poor initial reporting.

There were a lot of good reporters at that newspaper, but like any newspaper, we were understaffed.

Everyone was going 100 miles per hour, rushing in and out from event to event. We were publishing stories faster than we could read them, and mistakes started falling through the cracks.

The contest was designed specifically to address that problem.

While there were no public reprimands in the newsroom for editing mistakes, we knew the second the contest was implemented that our work needed to be better. That we needed to at least throttle down to 90 mph and look at what we were passing by.

An extra ‘l’ in city council doesn’t torpedo the message of a story, but it still matters.

Between TMC SuperTech, various state contests and OEM-specific events, our industry does a great job challenging our technicians and rewarding them for excellent performance.

What I can’t figure out is why we don’t do that for anyone else?

Why isn’t there a contest for best outside sales representative? Or a National Counterperson award?

Why are we challenging our technicians to be competitive with each other, but accepting the performance of the rest of our employees at face value?

Shouldn’t we want them striving to be better in the same way my old company wanted us to post cleaner stories?

I think the idea is the same.

It doesn’t take much. I think the editing contest I won back at the newspaper netted me a $50 gift card and dollar store-quality plastic trophy. It wasn’t the Stanley Cup.

But I was competitive, and if I was going to be participating in a contest I wanted to win it. I also wanted to prove to my bosses that I took their challenge seriously. We all did.

Looking back, I don’t think anyone on my team was actively aware that our performance was capable of improving. We working hard every day. And yet when we were confronted with the possibility, every single one of us improved.

I think most dedicated employees feel the same way.

Sometimes you don’t realize how much more you can do until you’re seriously challenged. Motivation isn’t a constant.

If it takes a few hundred dollars and some coupons to Red Lobster and Applebee’s for your employees to re-discover their motivation, I think that’s a good investment.

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