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Becoming Excellent

VanSlykeIn some circles, the term “excellence” gets thrown around frequently, either explicitly or implied in phrases like “going to the next level.” Organizational gurus have penned dozens of views on what excellence means, and how to achieve it. (Anyone remember “In Search of Excellence?”) Excellence is a fascinating, important topic (hence all the books), but despite all the books and articles, the topic remains muddy to many. So, I thought I’d share my take on excellence.

The first question is just what excellence means. Sure, there’s a dictionary definition, which is accurate, but not particularly useful in understanding organizational excellence. Essentially, excellence is being very good at something. For organizations, the big question is just what that “something” should be. Achieving excellence requires defining what an organization should be. This, in turn, requires understanding the organization’s purpose. To me, organizational excellence means being very, very good at pursuing the organization’s purpose. This brings me to the next question: How does an organization become excellent?

I’ve given this quite a bit of thought. My conclusion is that becoming excellent involves three main elements: purpose, people and culture. I alluded to the importance of purpose earlier. Purpose should be the driving force and the guiding star of any organization. A strong, shared sense of purpose can provide three important things: focus, identity and consistency. Purpose provides a standard against which to make all judgments. All decisions should be made in light of the purpose, considering whether and the degree to which alternatives move you toward or away from your purpose. Purpose is also the beginning of a clear organizational identity, which is important to success and excellence. Identity is important both internally and externally. A strong, shared sense of purpose also provides consistency. Because the purpose is the standard against which all things are judged, people tend to make more consistent, predictable decisions and take more consistent actions.

Organizations aren’t excellent without the right people; this is a fairly obvious, frequently made observation. However, sometimes we forget that not only do you need the right people, you also need to treat them well. If you don’t, eventually, it will come back to bite you. Purpose comes into play here as well. Hiring and reward decisions should be made in the context of purpose. Basically, these decisions should be based on the degree to which an individual contributes to the organization’s purpose. This focus makes the decisions more transparent and understandable. The focus also helps people understand how they contribute and why they matter. If people are committed to the purpose, knowing how they contribute helps them find meaning and fulfillment through their work. Meaning and fulfillment are tremendous motivators, much stronger than monetary rewards. So, helping people find meaning and fulfillment through work leads to great efforts and excellence. FBN

By Craig Van Slyke, Ph.D.



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