Opinion

Self-improvement: Always strive to be the best

5 min read

24 August 2012

Autumn is coming; that means new opportunities for business after the summer's tranquility. To prepare, think about this: the only way to success is the constant striving for self-improvement.

“Good, better, best,
Never let it rest,
Until your good is better
And your better, best.”

The words of St Jerome, father of the Latin Church. I first read them in an obituary about a second world war Royal Navy captain who used the words to persuade his crew that their best days always had to be ahead and never behind them.

I used this quote again in a team briefing this morning as I wanted to illustrate what I believe makes the business I co-founded great.

In a nutshell it’s this: in business, my observation is that brilliance is not just about the lightbulb moment, brilliance is about the perpetual quest for self-improvement.

That means, always doing better. The concept of best doesn’t exist as you never get there. You just smash through every new barrier creating new personal bests in the way that an Olympic athlete does.

We get setbacks. We feel bad and take it personally. But that’s a good thing. It shows you care about what you do and about your clients. Businesses need to care a great deal more if they want to be successful in this day and age.

Many of the entrepreneurs I know who gave up jobs to found companies did it because the companies they worked with did not care enough. They were fed up of being dead from the neck up in corporate environments where there was no sense of care to get better, no sense of self improvement.

Getting better is an exhausting process. When we started, we took on a green team, rapidly assembling a young group and we threw a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. We had to teach and nurture them, put our faith in them that they could do it. They repaid that trust in spades and have consistently knocked the ball out of the park at each and every turn. 

Pressure turned out to be their making. Time and again it reveals the true character of our people spurring them on to beat the odds and our competitors. Pressure is stressful and it make you feel sick because the difference between winning and losing is like going into battle. The feeling of loss can be crushing the elation of winning sublime.

In our firm necessity has proved to be well and truly the mother of invention. Now we have a new generation in the team and we are doing it all over again. That means providing the same opportunities, developing the same sense of hunger to win, and ensuring that the Founders remain accessible in helping to develop them.

Our senior people need to throw them the ball and let them run with it in just the same way we did with them when we started. In turn, our new people need to understand they’re working with an elite group, who have proven themselves time after time.

That’s what a culture of excellence really looks like and, in our business, if you’re not interested in self-improvement it sticks out like a sore thumb. If you don’t have it, you don’t last. 

My message to the team today was, never forget what you can do. Only you really know if you’re living up to your potential; only you know if you are putting your heart and soul into delivering, squeezing out every opportunity. And it matters, because individual effort and aptitude is what adds up to deliver the power of the team.

There is a bank holiday this weekend. A time to unwind and regroup. For Q4 is coming, the autumn, that golden time in the business year. New contracts, new opportunities, new ways to get good, better, best, ready to make our best better and our better best.

Michael Hayman is co-founder of the the public relations firm Seven Hills, a co-founder of the national campaign for entrepreneurs StartUp Britain, and Chairman of MADE: The Entrepreneur Festival.