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.



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markinsonmarshal said...

It is always interesting reading all these kind of posts...
Thanks Moria.
knowledge management

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