Only 1 in 20 Are Elite 

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Only 1 in 20 Are Elite 

The Idea: A couple of weeks ago we watched the Green Bay Packer’s Aaron Rodgers limp out of the locker room at halftime, after leaving the game because of a crushing hit from Chicago’s reinvigorated defense. The Packers were losing by 20 points when Rodgers returned with one good leg, and ninety minutes later, the Packers had won the game. When asked what he had expected from his return to the game, Rodgers simply stated, “something special.” Was anyone surprised? Aaron Rodgers is “elite” and that’s what “elite” performers do. They raise their game to levels others can’t reach. Most organizations are not elite and here’s why. 

Organizational Distress  

Gallup’s latest State of the American Workplace research is essential reading for leaders looking to build and retain elite organizations. The most current survey extends to 31 million people and uncovered that over half of everyone in the workplace (51 percent) are searching for a new job.  

The research showed that 78 percent of employees don’t believe their leadership has a clear direction for the organization. Similarly, 87 percent of employees do not strongly agree that their leaders communicate effectively. And Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends shows that only 8% of large companies believe their structure is optimized. Most teams are not in alignment and are partially checked out.

The Elite Behaviors 

Research by Scott Kelly and Mary Meaney observed that when teams align on a common vision, they are 190 percent more likely to deliver above-median financial performance. High performing teams collectively (and internally) set a high bar for growth – “something special.” My research estimates that 3-5 percent of leaders and organizations are truly elite. What’s their secret?   

  1. Elite teams commit to a set of values and culture which pulls them forward towards their higher calling. These organizations allow everyone to influence change and make critical decisions in the best interest of the enterprise. They hire curious talent who are committed to their own self-learning and development.
  2. Elite teams value psychological safety, allowing individuals to enter difficult conversations and voice dissent.
  3. Elite teams practice radical simplification, focusing instead on developing expertise and mastery within fewer domains. They protect tribal knowledge, institutionalizing and building on their distinct culture and capabilities.  

We are not capable of becoming elite unless curiosity is fostered and context, expanded. High performers normally have a broader understanding of context surrounding them, including exposure to diverse challenges, people, competitive threats, and customer requests. The highest performing teams are more well-rounded and comprised of diverse and varied viewpoints.   

Elite organizations understand their calling, their team’s assets, and their unique communication styles. All of this self-analysis is meant to drive the best from each other.   

They ask a different question: “Where do we need to focus and what do we need to learn in order to become distinct and elite?” 

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