Have you ever closely examined what differentiates excellent from average? Why do some companies and individuals consistently over-deliver while others seem content to run with the pack? I believe every business leader should aggressively seek the answer to this question for his or her organization. For in doing so, amazing outcomes are possible.

In 2016, the number one money winner on the PGA Tour was Dustin Johnson. He earned $9.4M for playing 87 rounds of golf. If you look a little further down the money list, you find, at number 54, Ryan Palmer. He earned $1.8M for playing 86 rounds of golf. Quite a difference in winnings. Dustin earned more than five times the money. But get this. Dustin’s average score per round was 69.17. Ryan’s was 70.2. One stroke difference!

So, is Dustin five times a better golfer than Ryan based on earnings? Or, he is marginally better based on on-course performance measured by strokes per round? The slightest difference in performance can deliver a significant difference in outcomes. This, my friends, is what is known as the razor’s edge.

The razor’s edge principle holds true in business as well as golf. Just look at your human capital performance spread. Most companies live with the classic bell curve: 10% top contributors, 60% adequate, 20% unreliable, 10% just show up (late). Smart leaders do two things. They grow the top contributor population and remove the laggards. Just imagine the difference in business results when the top contributor ranks approaches 20% of the workforce. Believe me, it can be done.
One CEO who I worked with was tired of living with the typical bell curve. He wanted more over-achievers and he was convinced they could be home grown. He asked his senior team to comprise a list of 20 employees who were generally average in performance, yet showed potential. Through detailed individual development plans, extensive coaching, interaction with the CEO and stretch assignments, most of the 20 began to show discretionary effort – the key to over-achievement. Over time, this organization created a culture of servant leadership and coaching. People who showed promise and put forth the effort were invested in. Those who just showed up were ultimately repelled by the environment. The bell curve shifted in favor of the business and financial results bore the proof.

Ryan Palmer knows what parts of his game he has to work on to bring that average score down ½ of a stroke per round. That ½ stroke can put millions more in his pocket. What part of your human capital game needs attention? Don’t accept mediocrity when you could have so much more. Take that small step in the direction of excellence. A razor’s edge.

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