How to Make Average Employees Extraordinary

Last Updated Jun 21, 2011 7:35 PM EDT

Can you take a bunch of extraordinary people, then instantly create an extraordinary company? I doubt it. Think of sports teams: There are many instances of teams with a whole lot of superstars, and yet they still don't win. Everyone says that great companies are built on great people. But what exactly does that mean? Unlike in Lake Wobegon, not everyone can be above average.

Instead, it's about getting ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It's not so much about employees' intellectual prowess or skills that make a company great. When you create in people's minds the opportunity to achieve greatness beyond their own expectations, your entire organization elevates itself to levels far beyond what you might expect.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Get clear on your mission -- Make it your company's specific goal to improve everybody and everything. At, one of our stated core values is to make not only ourselves better, but also everyone around us (e.g. customers, departments, vendors, etc) better.
  • Top-grade -- Eliminate those who are not improving. As you raise the bar, it's unfair and unproductive to keep people that are causing drag.
  • Hire right -- Ask people how they're currently improving themselves personally, as an indication of whether or not they have the propensity to improve.
  • Create the right environment -- During initial new hire orientation, reinforce all your core values, especially the expectation for improvement.
  • Coach -- It's not enough to tell someone to improve. You must show them how. Coaching should be done at least weekly in some fashion, and at least monthly in a more formal way.
  • Give the responsibility to employees -- It's often the case that small business owners don't have sufficient time to train. If that's your situation, emphasize the importance of taking the initiative to improve without waiting for direction first.
When people improve, it's less likely they'll look to leave and go elsewhere. So don't allow your folks to get bored and neglect their development. Besides, it's much more fun to be really good at something. Might as well be your company.

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    Jay Steinfeld is the founder and CEO of, the industry leader in online window blinds sales. He is an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. His company was named Best Place to Work in Houston, won the American Marketing Association's Marketer of the Year, and Steinfeld was named by the Houston Chronicle as Houston's top CEO in the under-150 employee category for the last 2 years.