Expected vs. Exemplary

Years ago I attended a sales training for professional services folks, where the trainer asked, “What makes you special?”  36 out of 40 in attendance stated some form of the same answer:  excellent customer service.  It proved a point that the trainer was trying to make:  the difference between Expected and Exemplary.


In this example, a customer who goes with a smaller professional services firm expects excellent customer service.  Experiencing excellent customer service is no longer considered exemplary.  Without excellent customer service you don’t get invited to the table to bid for the business in the first place.  This concept applies to teams, as well as individuals and companies.


I have a client who told me about his first day at a new job where at his first team meeting, his new boss pulled out a list with two columns.  The first list had over 80 items listed under the heading of “Expected”…  The second list had 17 items listed under the heading of “Exemplary”…


His boss explained that everything under Expected is non-negotiable and considered par-for-the-course to be part of the team.  It started with some basics, such as:  Show up on time, honesty, transparency, integrity, proper dress, respect for colleagues, etc.


Farther down the list he spotted items in a slightly different color of pen, that read, “Meet goals and quotas, set realistic deadlines, stay late/arrive early to achieve key objectives on time, develop innovative ideas to streamline processes, ask clients what else they would like to see, etc.”


When he asked his boss about the items farther down the list, his boss smiled and said, “Good… you’re already starting to get it…”  He explained that once an item has been listed under Exemplary for more than a year, it automatically gets moved under Expected because the team is constantly improving and raising the bar.


That’s when he noticed the items listed under Exemplary, that read, “Exceed goals by 110%, innovate and implement new ways to save time and money in our process, improve success rate by 10%, increase quality score from clients by 10%, develop four game-changing ideas per year- which had a notation next to it that read, ‘Only 1 has to work- so, swing for the fences!’”


That’s when he realized that he was on a high-performing team.  He took this to heart.  In his first year, he exceeded his goals by 32% and became #1 on the team.  In his second year, they reset the goal to what he achieved the previous year, and he beat that goal by 37%.  Once again, they reset the goal to what he achieved the previous year, and he exceeded that goal by 45%.


He also found a way to take their 12 step process down to 7 steps.  And he created a new method to gain client commitment faster, which also increased their quality scores along with revenue.


When he resigned to go start his own business, his boss told him, “The rising tide raises all boats…”  His boss told him that his presence on the team made everyone better.  He told his boss it was them that made him better.  That high-performing team pushed him to want to succeed, to find new ways to get more done in less time, and blow their goals out of the water.


So I guess he was right about the boats…