Here we are at the time of year for peak performance &endash; the critical selling months of November and December. As an aside, it’s one of our industry’s (and most of retailing’s) great weaknesses that so much business is concentrated into so short a time. But that’s an issue to be dealt with at another time. Right now, let’s concentrate on the reality we have. This is the time for the big push.

The thought evokes certain words. Productivity. Performance. Service. Quality. Value. All have at least one common denominator: the pursuit of excellence in every area of the business. This raises some interesting questions. What is excellence? How do you attain it? How do you measure it?

The simple way to answer the first question is to go to the dictionary. To be excellent, says the Random House dictionary, is to be remarkably good, to be extraordinary, to be superior. Fine. But how do you reach such a pinnacle?

Excellence really is a state of mind rather than a matter of performance. It is a mental touchstone which a person can use to set the standard for all behavior. It is a commitment to seek the best in each and every act. There is no room for compromise.

You attain excellence through your personal goals, through a commitment to being the best in everything you do. The personal rewards are substantial. They include high self-respect and self-fulfillment, the satisfaction and pride that come from a job well done and a great sense of achievement.

In the business world, the rewards can be all of these along with the tangible measure of more money in the paycheck. Top effort deserves to bring in the top dollar. One problem in retailing, including jewelry retailing, is that this logical link is not at all as strong as it should or could be.

I don’t want to get mired down in a discussion of jewelry store pay. There’s ample evidence that pay is not considered the leading factor in job satisfaction, even though it obviously is important. But the results of our annual jewelry store salary survey, published this month, make it topical at least to mention the issue. The survey once again reveals two very basic facts: stores that pay generously and those whose compensation plans are tailored to reward individual effort are among the most successful.

But pay alone won’t entice top performance. To get that, a store owner or manager has to tap into those forces that motivate an employee to extra effort, the forces that generate the desire to achieve excellence. This is doable. What it takes is outstanding leadership with a commitment to excellence.

The commitment must be total. This means that the leader demands and expects the best not only in the big things &endash; such as the consummation of a $50,000 sale &endash; but equally in the small things &endash; such as changing a customer’s watch battery or cleaning the showcases. Once a staff fully understands that each task in the store must receive the same meticulous care, performing that task well becomes a source of pride. This, in turn, makes it much easier for an owner or manager to build a real team spirit.

Does this sound like the situation in your store? In your company?

Leadership is the key. Where the boss makes the commitment, the path to success is almost certain. Getting there isn’t without heartache. If the idea of embracing excellence as a way of business life is new to a store, some people on the staff just won’t fit in any more. They should be given every chance and encouragement. But if after time they’re not ready to buy into this philosophy, you have to let them go. Those who stay and share your attitude will be the nucleus of a truly winning team.

This team can’t perform in a vacuum. There must be open and frank communication. Team members must set goals for all store activities, with management’s encouragement, and then be given the freedom to attain them. Once goals are agreed on, excellence in performance is simple to measure. Praise must be given fairly and freely, in which case fair criticism will be accepted easily.

There must be sharing. If the sales staff is rewarded with commissions, there must be provision to reward the non-sales staff, too.

We’re not talking here about a dream world or one where Pollyanna reigns. We’re talking about realistic business goals. And this is the best time of the year to see such goals pay dividends.

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