Monday, September 28, 2009


I know of no organization that does not list excellence as one of its core values.
Everyone wants success, each organization according to its mission and goals. Ask any employee, from the senior manager to the junior employs, what is excellence, and they will know what you mean. Some can articulate their understanding while others are less clear about it. However, everyone understands excellence.
I will take some of it back. It is said that "perfect is the enemy of good". This saying implies that too much investment in quality could be wrong: It might do more harm than good, it might have only marginal benefits and, in other cases, it might not be cost effective.
We must refine the definition of excellence to include more than quality: product quality, service quality etc. We must include cost (money and other resources) and define excellence as the combined success of all these elements.
The million dollars (or maybe more…) question is: "What creates excellence?" How do we implement this marvelous value? How do we create an excellent organization, where excellence is employees' goal and they manage to achieve it?
I recently read a book about excellence called: " Outliers: The Story of Success". It was written In 2008 by Malcolm Gladwell. I discussed the book with my daughter, who read it as well, and she highlighted an interesting point: The book talks about out tendency to attribute success and excellence mainly to talent. It shows, one example after another, how other factors, unrelated to talent, are the makers of success. I tried to learn from the different examples what to do as an individual and as a manager in the 21st century who stated (yes, me too) excellence as one of the four core values of my firm. My daughter pointed out the pessimism in this book. It gives a lot of credit to opportunity and cultural heritage in achieving excellence. These two factors are driven by chance, not by brains. This is indeed a pessimistic approach. But, despite this tone, opportunity and heritage hide many other parameters that influence success: hard work, patience, education and discipline, meaning (see also "A whole new mind" by Daniel Pink), communication etc. I counted a long list of about 15 elements affecting success and excellence.
I do not believe in long lists. I believe in Pareto and in our need, as individuals and as managers, to focus on the top three elements. I tried to compile my own excellence factors list. Three was not enough but I managed to stop at four. My excellence creating factors are:
a. Professionalism. A combination of talent, education and experience.
b. Hunger. Never being satisfied with what you have, ever wanting more.
c. Meaning. The knowledge that a mission is important; that it will give me satisfaction (Maslow's hierarchy of needs).
d. Teamwork. Collaborating with people of different background and complementary experience. Simply – with other people.

The first and last factors are those I can influence as a manager. Giving meaning to our work can be done at a top level, even if it is not easy on a day-to-day basis. Creating hunger is not easy at all. We can give role modeling, set challenging goals, but our influence is limited.

And I almost forgot – positive feedback. Complementing people for their effort and success are always factors that motivate to try and succeed next time.
To sum up, let us look at a different point of view, proposed by Marva Colllins (in spirit of Aristotle): "Excellence is not an act but a habit. The things you do the most are the things you do the best".

An excellent day to all of you.


Thursday, September 10, 2009


Last week I took three days off. Three full days (or maybe two plus) in which I did not work. I was on vacation.

Maybe some of us have not noticed, but in the past few years, as technology has developed, the lines between work and home are not as sharp and bright as they used to be. If in the past, people worked on constant hours, today the situation is quite different:
Many people hold personal computers belonging to their workplace. They connect after formal working hours from home. Others connect through their personal computers, answering emails and helping on other urgent matters. Even banking and defense-based companies, which cannot reach their materials outside the organization, as to total separation due to security, find themselves answering to phones on various hours (we all have cellular phones nowadays). Those who work in global companies, or with global connections, experience non ending working hours as a routine.

Vacation, therefore, is the only time when the worker absolutely rests from work. There are organizations where weekends can be considered as full rest, but I have seen to many organizations, where people partly work on weekends. Some, belonging to homeland security, others, preparing proposals for towards deadlines. Furthermore, weekends are too short for people to really rest and stop thinking about work. Most of us continue thinking about work every weekend, also if we do not actually work.

It is important therefore, that we, the managers, will see to it that our employees do take vacation. It is important, that we, as well, will take vacations ourselves. Of course, it may seem, that for the organization, it may be more profitable that employees work more, and we pay them for the vacation days.
Intensiveness of work, in this knowledge era, and working also on non working hours, make this need for vacations so essential.

Some tips I can share from my experience as a manager:
First, I never enable my employees to amass their vacation days, not using them within the ongoing working year. Those who do not go on vacations will erode within time. In some rare case, the manager even has to force some employees to take a vacation. Such should be done.

Three days are the minimum for declaring a real vacation.
Furthermore, it is recommended to separate between vacations and arrangement days. Taking off three days, but using half of them for arrangements, is not a good idea, and does not help the employee really freshen up and rest. Enable your employees to be flexible, and from time to time, settle their arrangements on working days, enabling them to work on non-standard hours. Enable the employees work sometimes from home, letting them to get service and repairs from home while working. Try encouraging the employees to take vacations "serving their soul". Of course, not all vacation can serve as so, but try seeing to that at least one vacation every year is for fun and rest.

Above all these, and please forgive me parents for children that do not agree with me, remember that vacation with children can be enjoyable, important and positive, but is not equivalent to personal vacations or vacations with our partners. A parent, taking two weeks vacation on August, is not a person that rested and truly took vacation. He or she just worked somewhere else. Try encouraging your employees, if possible, to take at least one vacation a year without their children. And my dear children; if any of you are reading this please know: I love you so much, despite what I wrote.

In between, treat your employees with equanimity. Once in a few months, enable them to start late in order to have a good breakfast with a friend, or leave early in order to go out and see a daily movie. Not exactly a vacation, rather a mini-mini one.

And again, do not forget looking after yourselves as well.