Conversations about excellence are no longer reserved for boards of directors and senior managers. Excellence is a topic that has become commonplace in all levels of the workplace, even though achievement of it seems as elusive as ever.
The trouble is most business leaders are skilled when it comes to talking about excellence, but not so much when it comes to defining it. Most will say they know it when they see it, but that's not necessarily true and – to the extent that it is – it doesn't create a definition that can be shared throughout the organization.
Excellence is the key driver of performance in an environment filled with rapid shifts in consumer habits, constant ambiguity, and uncertainty about the future. Great leaders – whether in business, sports, or the arts – know that recruiting a single world-class sales person, athlete or musician can inspire every member of the group to be better and elevate the performance of the entire team. Excellence is contagious, but mediocrity is, too.
Excellence is an intangible quality, but it is definable and measurable. It's a set of traits and standards that you must be consistently communicated throughout the organization so that every person at every level understands it, embodies it and demonstrates it. Excellence is the degree to which you consistently achieve your potential and push yourself and members of your team to improve. Instilling it in the organizational culture is not just nice, it's essential.
Building excellence into organizational culture is much more laborious than most senior managers realize. Inherent in the idea of creating a culture of excellence is the implication that you have in place effective channels to define, communicate, and measure it.
Excellence is achieved when you raise the performance level of every member of the team. The days when businesses can hide mediocre performers within their ranks evaporated with the onset of the great recession in 2007. Most managers focus too much attention on under performers while high performers often go unrecognized and unrewarded. Allowing mediocre performance from one leader, sales professional, or employee sends the unintended message that it's tolerated.
Winners – whether individuals or organizations – have in common the ability to envision and declare a desired future. In the case of your organization, that declaration becomes the vision and the potential around which you develop, implement and communicate a strategy that members of your organization can execute.
The culture of excellence begins when the leader creates and communicates a vision for what excellence looks like, develops, and implements strategies for achieving it, and then holds all members of the organization accountable for sustaining it over time.
Senior managers must constantly measure the quality of service being delivered to customers and clients, and provide feedback to team members on how well they are doing. There can be many components of excellence, and determining what they are requires some thought on your part. Some to consider as you determine how to assess excellence are:
- Standards – Doesevery member of the organization know what's expected and how collective and individual performance will be assessed?
- Collaboration – Do team members work in partnership to ensure successful implementation of your strategy?
- Competence – Are star players recognized and rewarded so that other team members see them as living examples of excellence?
- Agility – Does your organization quickly adapt to new technologies, pursue new opportunities, acclimate to changes in the marketplace and rebound quickly from setbacks?
- Innovation – Are team members encouraged to declare future successes for themselves and given the opportunity to achieve them?
Without a clear definition of excellence that is communicated throughout your organization and a set of benchmarks for assessing it, your business will never achieve it.
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