True Excellence

The companies that survive longest are the ones that work out what they uniquely can give to the world—not just growth or money but their excellence, their respect for others, or their ability to make people happy. Some call these things a soul.
—Charles Handy, “The Search for Meaning” in Leader to Leader


It’s popular to talk of achieving excellence. But, how many businesses try to achieve true excellence—that 10 on a 10 point scale? I would guess very few.

When most businesses talk about achieving excellence, what they’re really shooting for is that 8 or 9, that difference that gives them a competitive advantage they can easily see in the market.

You can see it in the way they ask questions of their customers: when trying to gauge a customer’s satisfaction, surveys have a likert scales with points like very dissatisfied, dissatisfied, neutral, satisfied, and very satisfied. But, what about trying to satisfy them completely?

It’s easy to understand why most businesses don’t try to shoot for true excellence: If they measure it, they have to try to achieve it, which is hard—getting from 9 to 10 is a lot harder than getting from 7 to 9, And, none of their competitors are trying to achieve true excellence, so the effort isn’t worth the advantage.

These companies are often more concerned with becoming bigger than better; they’re often externally-motivated more than internally-motivated; they’re often more about short-term profits than long-term health; and, they’re often afraid of failing to achieve excellence.

Realizing true excellence isn’t about short-term profits; it’s about long-term sustainability; it’s about inspiration; it’s about achieving and living your core values; and, it’s about building and being a part of an organization you can be proud of.

What will it take to get your business to 10?

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