Top Performance

What is “top performance”?

Monty Moran was the co-CEO of Chipotle for many years. He did some pretty remarkable things during his tenure, and he talked a lot about this idea of being a top performer and developing a culture of empowered top performance. His definition for top performer is “someone who performs excellent work, and through consistent effort in doing so, elevates themselves, the people around them, and their company.” Not necessarily in that order. 

I love the idea of setting your sights high. Because if you’re going to do anything, why not do it to the utmost of your ability? Why not expand to your fullest potential? And that is what top performance is all about. That’s what I want to be about. That’s what I want the people around me to be about. That’s what I want our clients to be about. I believe that’s what our clients are looking for in us. 

Bill Walsh helped engineer the 49ers Dynasty in the 80s that extended somewhat into the 90s, including winning several Super Bowls. He took that team from the second worst in the NFL to winning the Super Bowl in three seasons. He never said “Hey, we’re going to win a Super Bowl in year three,” but certainly he was aiming towards it. You don’t coach an NFL team and not attempt to win a Super Bowl. That’s what it’s all about. 

What he determined was that “the score takes care of itself.” That’s also the name of his book. He believed that if you did the work a certain way and performed to a certain standard that there was only one thing that could happen. You would win. So the score takes care of itself. Top performance also takes care of itself when you are committed to it and you understand what excellent work looks like.

So what does it look like?

What exactly does “excellent work” mean? What does excellent work look like? Maybe you just “know it when you see it?” That’s not very useful.

For Bill Walsh that was excellent football. But it wasn’t just about the athletes that were on the field for him. It was an entire organizational program. He taught the blocking and tackling of the sport of football, the technical skills side of things. He also taught the attitudes and beliefs that were behind the performance you might see out on the field. He taught this not just to his players, but to every single coach that was part of the team, every single coordinator, and people in the front office. Everything, all the way down to the way people answered the phones, had a standard. He was relentless in pursuing it. 

The standard

“Are you running that route from here to there properly, turning where you’re supposed to turn? You’re going to do it like that every single time.

 Precision mattered a ton in the fulfillment of his standard of performance. How you talked to your teammates, how you handled criticism, even things like how you dressed and whether or not you took pride in your appearance mattered. 

Walsh commented on how Jerry Rice would stand in the locker room and look at himself in the mirror before he’d go out on the field, almost admiring how good he looked, how tight and well-adorned he was in his uniform. Jerry Rice to some is the greatest wide receiver of all time, and if you don’t think he’s the greatest, he’s probably in your top two or three. There is probably a correlation between how you dress, your appearance, and how you perform your job. 

Top performance starts in your head

Top performance is an attitude, a belief system, and an overall mindset. It’s about: 

  • Who you think you are. 
  • What you think your responsibility is. 
  • What you think you’re capable of. 
  • What you think your potential is. 
  • And whether or not you believe you can live up to that potential. 

Your whole life is better when you show up that way.

But you can’t achieve top performance without a standard of performance. It needs to be defined so that you can hold yourself and others accountable. This should naturally happen when you’re living up to the standard. It’s something that you can use to lead towards performing excellent work and being a top performer as part of a team that is a top performing team.

Good vs. exceptional

Most owner-operators are good at what they do. They have technical skill or a natural gift to perform at a high level. But being good at what you do is not the same as being a top performer. Doing things solely on instinct or because they “feel right” is not the same as holding yourself to a standard of performance. 

There is something that separates those that are really good from those that are exceptional or legendary: the great artists, authors, athletes, or diplomats. When you peel back the surface you’ll notice they have a wicked work ethic and commitment to living up to their own standard of performance. They have a deep, abiding confidence in themselves and their ability to live up to their potential. It’s almost an insane commitment to their standard of performance.

“A true competitor competes against themselves.”

You sometimes hear that as a bit of a joke, but I think it’s absolutely true here. Yes, the “greats” may be motivated by their competitors to an extent, but I think what really drives these folks is themselves. They know what they’re capable of. They believe that they can achieve something. And they’re willing to put in the work and endure the mistakes and failures that are necessary as they grow and develop into top performers.

Top performers have the desire and ability to perform excellent work and through their consistent effort in doing so, elevate themselves, the people around them and their company/team/family/non-profit/fill-in-the-blank. That’s what I’m about. That’s what I hope my team’s about. These are the types of companies that I want to work with. And I really do believe that’s what our clients are hoping for when they work with us.