When Tom Peters and Bob Waterman originally penned In Search of Excellence back in 1982, they lit a spark of life in managers everywhere. Peters and Waterman concluded that there were 8 keys to excellence that were shared by the 43 "excellent" firms cited in the book:
1. A bias for action
Do it. Try it. Don't waste time studying it with multiple reports and committees.
2. Customer focus
Get close to the customer. Know your customer.
Even big companies act and think small by giving people the authority to take initiatives.
4. Productivity through people
Treat your people with respect and they will reward you with productivity.
5. Value oriented CEOs
The CEO should actively propagate corporate values throughout the organization.
6. Stick to the knitting
Do what you know well.
7. Keep things simple and lean
Complexity encourages waste and confusion.
8. Simultaneously centralized and decentralized
Have tight centralized control while also allowing maximum individual autonomy.
It has become de rigeur to weave the word "Excellence" into corporate brochures, annual reports, Powerpoint presentations, and business conversation. Just look around you and you'll see it. But I would ask you this:
Where is the Excellence that so many claim as theirs?
My observation is that Excellence has become a meaningless buzzword whose sole function is to comfort those who use it, as if "declaring 'Excellence' " makes it so. Wave the banner of Excellence...people will believe it. Sort of like
Zero Defects: The Precursor to Excellence
When I was 17 my dad asked me to drive him to work at RCA in Camden, NJ. Since he usually took the train--a 15-minute commute from our doorstep--I was surprised at the request. And the chance to legitimately show up late for high school classes stoked my altruism.
He had recently become a supervisor and was pretty excited about the new role. What he was not excited about was telling me about the union problems at the company. When I pulled up in front of his building, I noticed this: A huge banner--probably 40 feet long--with the bold statement "Zero Defects." Wow. Perfection. No mistakes. What a place to work.
As my father got out of the car and started for the steps, I saw a group of people quickly gather. They were union folks who had a gripe of some sort (I was 17 and not up on the latest IBEW union issues). The moment he broke the imaginary us-vs.-them barrier on the steps and reached for the building's door handle, the crowd pelted him with eggs. The only Zero Defect I noticed was in the accuracy of the egg tossing. From that moment on, every time I saw an RCA "Zero Defects" pen, pocket protector, or paper weight I visualized flying eggs.
The Case for Really, Really Good
You and I "get" the ideas of Excellence and Zero Defects. We also live every day with the reality of quality and customer service as they really are. So I propose that we start using real words that convey real meaning in order to bring about the kind of real-ity that we want:
1. Provide us with really, really good customer service that gets to the real problem.
2. Do it with real people who really know what they're talking about.
3. Let's talk to our employees using real information using words that convey what we really mean.
4. No matter what we do for a living, let's get really, really good at it.
If those four things happen, other people can say "excellent" job. And that would be really, really good.