When you look at models and “benchmarks,” you see what other people are doing. But you won’t change a bit unless you identify with it and change your inner picture of what’s possible for you and your team.

Most quality programs don’t work because they don’t change the expectations or internal standards of the people doing the work. You impose external motivation, expectation, and standards when you say, “Go after the Baldrige Award.” Even if you win the award, you will likely fall backward fast, unless in the process of pursuing the award, people internalize the standards.

My experience suggests that when people go after something for some reason outside themselves, they don’t change the standard on the inside. Hence, they don’t sustain the improvement.

So, how do you continuously improve yourself? How do you continuously improve others? How do you get people to become more creative and accountable? How do you get them to solve problems?

You help them to change themselves from the inside using visualization, affirmation, goal setting, assimilation, practice, and performance. You help them to see themselves differently, and then their performance will improve naturally and continuously.

failed quality programs

Families, teams, groups, companies, cities, and nations also have images the collective idea of “how good we are.” Often these images need to be changed; otherwise, your organization keeps itself as it sees itself.

When people come into your business, they will act toward your business as they see your business. And how do they see your business?

Often they see it through their experience with the person who’s right in front of them.

For example, for many years, I would travel once a month to a resort where we presented leadership seminars. One time I arrived early to make sure that everything was prepared correctly and noticed that a light was burned out right above where I would be standing and speaking.

I asked a young man who was working there, ”Could you please replace this light.”

He replied, “I doubt it.”

He said, “Well, it’s not my job. And I already told management about it three or four days ago, and they haven’t done anything about it yet.”

I was left with the impression, “Ah, their service is falling down.” I started thinking that they were not attentive, that they didn’t care about me. I picked up this image from one employee.

I knew the top executive of the resort, but when I was setting up for my seminar I was dealing with one employee. All day, I was saying, “The service here has really fallen off.” All weekend I found many other things wrong the paint, the food, the sound system. And, when I returned to my office I said, “We’ve got to change sites; their service doesn’t meet our standards any more.”

How are you seen by your customers and other stakeholders? How do you want to be seen? Is your vision shared by others? Do you affirm it? And has it changed the internal standards of everyone involved? If not, your quality won’t improve much.

Effective Leaders Affirm People

One time I was working with the leaders of the Boys’ Clubs of America in California. I told them about a friend of mine, Fred Akers, who was then head football coach at the University of Texas. He had a player named Russell Erkslaven, who kicked a field goal 62 yards, the NCAA record at the time. I got on the phone and called Fred and said, “Fred, I want to congratulate you for Russell’s field goal.”

He said, “Why congratulate me? I didn’t kick it.”

I said, “I know, Fred, but if you didn’t believe that Russell could kick it, you would not have allowed him in the game. You believed in your player, and you gave him the chance to perform.”

quality control advice

Even though the potential is there, many coaches and managers don’t see it; and if they don’t see it, they won’t allow their people to develop it and use it.

After I told this story, one of the leaders of the Boys’ Clubs raised his hand and said, “Once I worked at a camp for children who were blind or had arms or legs amputated. But the camp rule was that every child at camp needed to participate in the activities ride a horse, swim, clean up the kitchen, set the table. We were teaching them, You can do it.

“One night my job was to cook dinner for everybody, and I had a little spastic girl helping me. We were cooking roast beef, and when it was done, I put it on a tray. Now this little girl stood up with this tray and wanted to carry the roast beef into the dining room. Being spastic, she had trouble with her coordination, and so she was wobbling around as she started off for the dining room with the roast on the tray. I said to myself, ‘My God, that’s our dinner, and if she drops it we don’t eat.’ It seemed like it took her forever to get to the dining room, but when she got there everybody whistled, applauded and cheered her accomplishment.

“In retrospect,” he said, “it isn’t so remarkable that she carried the tray without dumping the roast beef on the floor; the most remarkable thing was that neither I nor anyone else took it away from her.”

The esteem of individuals, teams, companies, and nations rises and falls based upon Smart Talk. To the degree your self-talk is constructive, you feel good about yourself. Esteem building is, in large part, a do-it-yourself project. But master mentors and effective coaches, teachers, parents, and bosses can make a major assist, if they believe in themselves and those they lead.