What is Excellence? The answer lies in clarifying the expectations and the metrics by which we measure the results. In the quote below, Seneca defined a metric for measuring the excellence of a play – and life – by the quality of the acting, and not by the length.
“Life is like a play; it is not the length but the excellence of the acting that matters.”
– Seneca – Roman philosopher, mid 1st century AD
Every year I go with a group to see a number of plays. This tradition also includes a visit to the pub afterward, and an exercise in rating the play. Our rating scale is a single number from 1 to 10, which is expected to take into account key details, such as whether the play kept our interest (i.e. who didn’t fall asleep during the performance); the talents of the actors (were they believable in their parts); the staging and so on. Invariably, when we take the poll there will be a four or five-point spread between our rated scores. What one individual finds good or excellent may well be described as poor by another because each person assigns a different weight to the rating elements.
These elements contribute to the development of excellence:
Define precisely the elements that are the measures of excellence in your organization
Ask these questions to help define the measures. What would you like to be different, and what is not currently working for you? What will it look like when you have achieved those results?
Select the correct metrics to measure excellence
Metrics provide the information required to determine success. Recently, I read an article describing an organization that wanted to improve profits in a poorly performing geographical region. They analyzed the metrics of customer count, and decided that they needed to increase the number of customers in that region. They invested heavily in an advertising campaign that resulted in a big increase in the number of customers. Unfortunately, further analysis revealed that although these were great initial results, customers in that region were actually causing a loss to the company. They would have been better off reducing the customer count and saving the advertising money. Measuring the wrong metrics can be detrimental.
Set goals that support the vision of excellence
Each aspect of excellence should be supported by a separate goal. A SMART goal should not measure more than one thing, unlike our theatre group ratings that get muddled as we try to measure many elements with one score.
Clearly communicate the expectations and get agreement
Once you have set the expectations for excellence, communicate them clearly. Ensure that you have the agreement of those who are responsible for producing the desired results.
Develop action plans
Knowing what the goal is and how to measure excellence is the antecedent that kick starts the process, but there is often a big disconnect between knowing what to do and doing it. Developing a strong plan of action is critical.
Negotiate personal goals
The organizational goals should cascade down to personal goals for each individual in the organization.
Too often organizations set goals develop action plans and implement them, but fail to track the results effectively. They assume – and we all know that assuming anything can be disastrous – that once the train has started down the track everything will run smoothly. They forget that on any track there are all sorts of obstacles that can, and often do, get in the way. When I challenge people to look at the goals they set three months earlier, they have often forgotten at least one goal. Too many goals can be a problem.
Goals should be kept alive and relevant
A goal worth setting is one that should be reviewed regularly to ensure it is still the right goal, and to ensure that it is still being worked on.
Behaviour change is often required to achieve excellence
It is easy to forget that striving for excellence usually means that people need to change their behaviour, and changing behaviour entails sustained effort. Creating the environment to achieve excellence requires leaders who provide strong support.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, in not an act, but a habit.”
Aristotle – Greek Philosopher, Scientist and Physician 384 BC – 322 BC