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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

You don’t know what “good” looks like until you see it! Part 2

management, program, portfolio
Realizing you need improvement can be difficult!

“Peak performers are highly motivated by a deep and personal sense of mission.” Charles Garfield

“You cannot perform in a manner inconsistent with the way you see yourself.” Zig Ziglar

I was hired by my current employer 29 years ago this month. I was in my first year and had just received my mid-year performance review. While my “coaches” told me that I was doing fine, my manager told me my work was unacceptable, and if I didn’t show improvement I would be fired.

I approached his office and knocked on the door. He stared at me as he motioned to a chair on the other side of his desk. As I sat down, I could tell he was surprised I was in his office. I could also tell that he was continuing to size me up.

I looked across the desk and said “That review was a complete surprise to me. If I was doing poorly the coaches should have been telling me what to do differently. This job is important to me, and I would do it well if I know what that looked like.”

He looked at me and said “You’re right. They should have. Tell me, who you think the “best” employees are in the group?”

Everyone knew who the top performers were, so I recited their names.

He said “You are correct. Those three employees are giants among their peers. Here is what I am going to do. Take the next two days and read every case in their inventory. After that, if you believe your performance is acceptable I’ll rescind my feedback. If you don’t think your performance is acceptable, I promise you’ll get the help you need.”

So, I did!

For the next two days I read every piece of work in their inventory. It was amazing! The more I read, the more I realized just how far behind I was. But I also picked up their good habits, their approach and how they quickly and efficiently conducted the most complex actions. Where I was hesitant, they were bold. That was the difference!

I was a changed person! That Monday I walked into the manager’s office and told him my work was awful. I made a commitment to do profoundly better.

And I did!

You don't know what “good” looks like until you have seen it. In this instance it applied to technical case work, but it applies to almost all fields. If you are a project manager, seek out the high performing project managers and learn what they do. If you are a technician, seek out the high performing technicians and mimic their behavior. Life is all about pattern recognition, so figure out the pattern of success in your chosen field.

If you want to be excellent at whatever your chosen career is, then seek out the experts in that field and watch what they do!

It is really that simple.


Interestingly, this technique is best applied to fields where there are quantitative measures to gauge performance. It becomes much more difficult in areas where measures are qualitative or even non-existent. For example, how do you judge how “good” a manager or executive is? The most common measure is the ability of that person to convince a level or two above them that they are good, but that is a different skill than leadership. Be careful whose behavior you model!


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