Why Small Businesses Need Exceptional Performers

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Ordinary Ordinary just won’t work anymore. As a small business owner, you need cutting-edge solutions to never-before-seen problems and clever ideas for those recurring headaches that have always plagued you. Research indicates that a handful of star performers create the vast majority of valuable ideas for their organizations. These top thinkers, who also deliver stellar results, define the talent you’ll need moving forward.

Leaders who choose to lead a team of exceptional performers need to understand that these clever—often brilliant—individuals offer more, so they expect more in return. They have high standards for themselves, so it makes sense that they will hold their places of employment to equally high standards. They want to work with other stars in a culture that fosters their growth, formulates a clear strategy for their success, and then creates the day-to-day processes that allowS them to succeed. In short, they want exceptional organizations. It all starts with a commitment to excellence.


Many companies build bureaucratic rules to justify the existence of those who influence rule-making and to manage the small percentage of people who simply can’t or won’t do their jobs. In a small business, you can’t afford to keep these kinds of people on the payroll. On the other hand, when you tie a culture of discipline to a commitment to attract and retain the best and brightest in your industry, a magical alchemy of action and results occurs.

But discipline by itself won’t produce excellence. Numerous organizations throughout history have exhibited tremendous discipline as they marched in lockstep precision to ruin. You need a system of discipline—a quality and consistency orientation— not philosophy. That means people understand that implementation of the strategy holds the key to everyone’s success and that interdependence coexists symbiotically with rugged self-reliance. All of this has to start with the right people.


How often have we heard, “Our people are our greatest asset?” The facts tell a different story. Only some people are true assets. These people will make the difference between surviving and thriving—between outrunning your competition and tripping at the finish line. Yet, most companies continue to struggle in their attempts to identify and develop virtuosos. They eagerly pay top dollar for the talent they want instead of getting top talent for the dollars they pay.

First, start with outstanding talent, and make no exceptions, even if you’re in pain. The best of the best expect to work with other superior performers. In a small company, each person represents a large percentage of the workforce.

Second, when you establish an expectation of excellence, excellence becomes self-perpetuating. Since each generation of new managers understands what top talent looks like, hiring, development and retention improve. Tie talent decisions to clear goals, and you have a success formula.

Third, there’s no substitute for raw talent, but taken alone, it doesn’t offer much. You must also assess a person’s ethics and commitment to developing others. When talent, character and behavior come together, decision makers can rest assured that they’ll receive the top talent for the dollars they pay.

A culture of change and learning

Corporate culture—the pattern of shared assumptions that the group has adopted and adapted over a period of time—develops in much the same way as legends and traditions do. Organizations learn as they solve their problems and adapt to the world around them. When something works well over a period of time, and leaders consider it valid, members of the organization begin to teach the behavior or idea to new people. Through this process, new members find out what those around them perceive, think and feel about issues that touch the organization. This awareness allows them to set the direction for the company— consistently and adeptly. It adds up to a culture where exceptional people can do their best work.


There are two kinds of organizations: those with a strong strategy and culture of change and those going out of business. In other words, what got you here won’t necessarily get you to the next level.

Exceptional organizations start with a strong strategic principle—a shared objective about what the organization wants to accomplish. This principle guides the company’s allocation of scarce resources— money, time and talent. A well-thought-out strategic principle pinpoints the intersection of the organization’s passion, excellence and profitability, or in the case of not-for-profit organizations, their unique contribution.

The strategic principle doesn’t merely aggregate a collection of objectives. Rather, it captures the thinking required to build a sustainable competitive advantage that forces trade-offs among competing resources, tests the soundness of particular initiatives and sets clear boundaries within which decision makers must operate.

The strategic principle acts as a beacon that keeps the ships from running aground. It helps maintain consistency but gives managers the freedom to make decisions that are right for their part of the organization. Even when the leadership changes, or the economic landscape shifts, the strategic principle remains the same. It helps decision makers know when to develop new practices, products and markets.


A breakthrough product, dazzling service or cutting- edge technology can put you in the game, but only rock-solid implementation of a well-developed strategy can keep you there. You have to be able to deliver—to translate your brilliant strategy and operational decisions into action. Clear strategy leads the process; great performance completes it. Implementation involves discipline, requires senior leader involvement and should be central to the organization’s culture.

Exceptional organizations serve as magnets to exceptional performers who, by their very nature, require superior performance of themselves and those with whom they associate. They want to feel empowered to make decisions to improve both the organization and their own lives, and they want to align their excellence with an employer that distinguishes itself through excellence. In short, they want to work for companies that strive to think strategically, grow dramatically, promote intelligently and compete successfully— both today and tomorrow.

About Linda Henman 3 Articles
For more than 30 years, Linda Henman has helped leaders in Fortune 500 Companies, small businesses, and military organizations define their direction and select the best people to put their strategies in motion. The author of The Magnetic Boss: How to Become the Leader No One Wants to Leave, Linda has served as a contributing editor of two editions of Small Group Communication: Theory and Practice, written peer-reviewed published articles, and authored numerous articles published in trade magazines.. www.henmanperformancegroup.com


  1. I have my own business and its doing pretty well. As I grow what are some things I should do to make sure that I’m actually getting the best quality workers. I have no problem with treating them properly , but how do I make sure they’re not taking advantage of me.

    • I have read the best quality workers have the high levels of emotional intelligence. I would screen for this. Google search tests for emotional intelligence and use as a screening tool.

      From my own experience, knowing what you want as opposed to filling a position is helpful. Be patient and you will find the right person. Act hastly, and you could bring the whole thing down with a few bad hires.

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