In my Mission Unstoppable workshop (based on my book Unstoppable) I play a short video of six-time national champion and legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant speaking to new recruits about the power of every player giving a “little bit extra” — across the board and at every game. There is a leadership application of this philosophy in business for, over time, lifting “caretaker” status team members to levels of performance that both they — and their manager — may not have thought possible. For perspective, and to get you on the same page in the event you haven’t read Unstoppable or listened to my podcast “The Game Changer Life” where I speak about improving performance, here’s some quick insight.
In any organization you have four types of mindsets that dominate the performance of the people on those teams: undertakers, caretakers, playmakers and game changers. These categorizations are not determined by years of experience, talent, or knowledge of skills, as much as they are by one’s mindset. The caretaker is a particularly frustrating team member because in many cases they can do more but choose not to. They do baseline work — period. They don’t initiate, solve problems, ask for more responsibilities or look to help anyone else. They soldier on daily in their role, pledging allegiance to their job description, romancing the status quo, and doing what is minimally required of them, but nothing more. Their mindset is, “I’m doing my job, so what’s the problem,” and fail to realize that in high-performing organizations “doing one’s job” is not heroic, and barely adequate for survival; that team members are ultimately measured by how they do over and above what is minimally expected of them. Caretakers can populate any department from top to bottom, in any sort of organization, not just in dealerships. How do you raise this person’s sights? How can you “push the right buttons” to lift them to consistently perform at a higher level — a level you know they’re quite capable of? You’ve probably tried pep talks, bribes, and guilt trips to try and get them to “step up for the team;” and, while they may occasionally — very occasionally — show a flash of brilliance, those moments seem to come around about as often as Haley’s Comet. Here’s where Coach Bryant’s “little bit extra” application can help.
First, we must understand what won’t work: trying to raise them to their full potential in one fell swoop. Even if they are capable skills-wise, if their own mindset—their attitude—doesn’t buy into the goal it’s not going to happen. In fact, psychologists warn us that if goals are either too high or too low that people don’t buy in and mentally check out of them. And while the little bit extra strategy can work with any position, I’ll use a scenario where a sales manager is coaching his salesperson to call more of their customer base to stay in touch, build relationships, re-engage them in another car deal, and get referrals. In fact, let’s consider an underperforming veteran salesperson sitting on a gold mine of sold customers over a past decade or two, but who still only manages to sell an average number each month. This, in my opinion, is one of the most costly and infuriating wastes of assets within a dealership.
In this scenario we’ll assume the salesperson is required to make a minimum number of contacts with their customer base daily. You’re convinced he or she can make ten, has the time to make ten, the talent to make ten, and that making ten would add several sales and referrals each month. But, you also know if you approach the veteran caretaker with moving from six to ten you’ll be met with disbelief: incredulity, a rash of excuses, and the possible accusation that you’re endangering their health by insisting on an activity that will raise their blood pressure, increasing the likelihood of stroke or heart failure. Or, even if they do agree with the new standard just to get you off their back, you know full well they’re unlikely to actually do it for long.
But what if you had a conversation that explained how the entire team was faced with higher goals and expectations this year; and, while that no one person is expected to increase their output to an unreasonable level, that everyone would need to do their share and contribute a “little bit extra.” You then ask—don’t command—if he or she thinks that based on their vast talent, experience, and robust customer base, they would be able to make one additional quality contact per day for the next sixty days. It’s almost completely certain they will not argue with this expectation, but will in fact be so relieved it’s so “low” that they will quickly buy into it and agree to do it. Then explain to him or her that so everyone understands their new role and there can be no misunderstandings, you’re putting everyone’s new expectations in writing, asking them to sign it acknowledging that you’ve both agreed this is a reasonable number, and that he or she will be able to retain a copy for their records.
With this seemingly unimpressive commitment you’re actually reaching agreement for nearly a seventeen percent increase of daily productivity. You then reinforce the new behavior often, thanking the team member for “doing their part and keeping their commitment.” After the sixty days you meet specifically to review this new standard and discuss their success, the impact it’s had, the improved results, and then collaborate to reach a new goal for the next sixty days that includes just one additional daily contact. At this point—especially if you can get the person to agree that making the one extra daily call was a no-brainer for them—it’s logical to step it up incrementally more and follow the same pattern, with every right to expect that within the next sixty days you will have raised their daily productivity in this particular area once again, and that in a four month period their quality customer contact production will have risen 33%. You can continue this “little bit extra” method into future sixty- day periods as well, and in doing so will have steadily and consistently, over time, helped change this person’s mindset to the point that they’ll be producing twice the quality contacts they once were — a goal they would have scoffed at initially.
Now here’s where this strategy really gets valuable: remember that Coach Bryant’s principle was that every player would do this little bit extra, every time. Multiply the impact of each person on your team — not just the caretakers — lifting their level of performance. Even if only two-thirds or half your team steadily raises their performance over time by giving a little bit extra, the return will be exponential and you’ll increase sales dramatically without having to add headcount.
I’ll close with this thought: low expectations presume incompetence, and when you presume incompetence you eventually create it. People will live down to them. Raise the bar, but do it intelligently, gradually, collaboratively, and consistently over time and you can help grow your caretakers into playmakers, and possibly even game changers.