Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, hit the proverbial nail right on the head when he said, “By definition, it is not possible for everyone to be above the average.”  This statistical truth applies to every type of organization – from industries, to companies, and even to sports teams. Some people are going to excel, others will do a good job, and a few individuals are bound to perform below average and need to be motivated to produce better work.

A key factor behind the undeniable difficulty of organizational change is that each one of these groups (and even each individual person that makes them up) requires different forms of attention and motivation. No one is going to deny that human beings are tough to understand, and motivating them is even more complex. Just think about it – how many books are there about motivation in the workplace?

To generalize the issue, management is often faced with a fork in the road in terms of how they can motivate their organizations. They can either focus on correcting the behavioral in the subpar group to make it acceptable, or they focus on encouraging even more positive behavior from the middle and top-tier groups.

Should we focus on going from bad to good, or from good to great?

Within GrowBIG® Achieve, one of the keys to motivating people is to focus on the positive. As part of the program, we teach that positive feedback results in more of the desired behavior, while negative feedback results in less of the behavior we desire. In practice, this means praising your employees for great performance. The real answer to the motivation dilemma is to focus on the good things that people are doing within your organization. Other members inside your organization, when they see their coworkers being praised, will in turn be motivated to improve their own performance in hopes of also being praised. The great aspect of this approach is that is true of all members of your organization, regardless of whether they are in the top, middle, or bottom tier at that specific moment.

As a part of our Achieve team meetings, performance metrics for each team member are displayed publicly. This is an important part of our program – to hold people accountable for completing BD actions that they have assigned themselves. Yet, the Achieve Leader doesn’t focus on negative performance, but instead focuses on the positive - people that performed perfectly, or who showed great improvement. Inevitably, the results improve across the board in subsequent meetings. In this case, it is possible to “have it all”. You can focus your attention on reinforcing positive behavior amongst your top and middle tiers, while concurrently inspiring team members that are lagging behind to step up their performance. It’s not about telling people that their work isn’t up to par; it’s about organically inspiring them to pick up their performance without ever haven’t to prod them with negative feedback.

The difference is simple – focus on pulling the organization even higher starting from the top, rather than trying to push it up from the bottom. Positive feedback builds momentum, while negative feedback smothers it.

In the end, the secret to promoting positive change finds its key within it’s own name. Positive. By focusing on what the top and middle thirds do well, the entire organization will be inspired to strive for improvement. It might seem like a simple change, but it requires a mindset shift that spans the entire organization, starting from top leadership. Great teams, and by extension, great companies, are demanding, but they also focus on encouraging positive behavior instead of trying to quash bad behavior.

The goal shouldn’t be to go from bad to barely acceptable, it should be to go from good to great!