Standards of Excellence: Jargon or Real?

Excellence. How should a company assess, develop and institutionalize excellence in their organization’s DNA? Too often I find myself inside a company’s walls reading placards and posters declaring one’s commitment to excellence yet in the same moment look around and find trash on the ground, employees disheveled in appearance, people complaining about their “unresponsive” colleague, etc, etc, etc.

But every once in awhile I have the pleasure of witnessing genuine congruence between the stated intent and the reality on the ground. How do some companies figure this out? Books have been written about this and case study after case study have been published so what I observe may not be such a breakthrough insight. But when you do witness real standards of excellence at work, it is indeed a sight to behold. The following seem to be the 3 fundamental requirements to install both the attitude and consistent execution of excellence in your organization’s culture:

  1. Define the Standards. Excellence is an extraordinarily relevant term. What it means in your company must be clearly expressed, defined and understood by all.
  2. Communicate the Standards. Informing people of the standards is step one. Connecting the dots through ongoing communication is the critical element most companies get too lazy to do. People need to understand what it means relative to every aspect of their work. The defining lines are at best faint when companies declare standards at the outset. Leaders must formally set in motion a routine of meetings and communications (Ritz Carlton calls them Line-Up meetings) on a regular and frequent basis, where clear examples of excellence are celebrated and where examples of mediocrity are examined and improved upon.
  3. Align Reinforcement Systems. Leaders must align all the systems in the organization that can reinforce the importance of being excellent.The obvious systems are those associated with performance. (Performance Management, Compensation, Reward & Recognition, etc.) The not so obvious systems are even more important. Management Information Systems that get the right information to the right people at the right time. Management /Governance Systems that get the right people making the right decisions at the right time.
  4. The underlying success across all three steps goes back to… you guessed it, leadership. Leadership at the top must be fully committed. He or she must drive the discipline required to achieve excellence. It’s not a destination. It’s like breathing. It’s driven at every moment. If you stop, the body begins to suffocate and decay. Keep breathing, leaders, and watch the magnificent change.