The Fuzzy Nature of Excellence
The Fuzzy Nature of Excellence
Zone Leader Matthew Casperson's continuing series on "laws of the enterprise," this one on consistent measurements of excellence.
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Casper’s sixth law of enterprise states that:
There is no universal unit of measurement for excellence.
I started my career in IT on a level 1 help desk. My day was mostly about resetting passwords, configuring printers, reseting email filters, and forwarding anything more complicated to level 2.
This job had a very well defined idea of what excellence looked like: calls to be completed in less than 2 minutes, and the majority to be closed at first point of contact.
As far as management was concerned, I was excellent at my job. The spreadsheet they compiled at the end of each week showed that I was indeed quickly closing most of the calls I received.
What management didn’t know was that excellence was coming at the expense of customer service. My calls were brief because a maximum call time of 2 minutes only allowed for a conversation that ran along the lines of “Problem? Yep, fixed, bye.”
In my pursuit of metrics, actual excellence was lost. This mentality has resulted in some spectacular failures that can instantly undo any incremental gains made by pushing for more sales or shorter call times.
So what is excellence? After much pondering on what excellence looks like, this is what I eventually settled on:
Excellence is the execution of the desire to be the best version of yourself.
Excellence is something excellent people never achieve.
The outcome of the pursuit of excellence is different for everyone.
The final point is critical to understanding why there is no universal unit of measurement for excellence. It is also the reason why any attempt to shoe-horn the definition of excellence into a narrow measurement does more harm than good.
Personally, excellence is taking a small amount of time every day to improve those aspects of my life that I feel are important. But that is just one interpretation of excellence. An excellent day for you might be one where you made someone smile, where you can go home and simply feel like you did a good job, or where you removed once more roadblock on the path to curing cancer.
If you took the time to ask your friends and colleagues how they define excellence, very few would have a definition that wasn’t beneficial. If you work in an environment where people are encouraged and empowered to follow their pursuit of excellence, I guarantee all those lovely metrics like sales, customer satisfaction, time to production etc will all improve.
The flip side to the pursuit of excellence is that if people genuinely don't want to be excellent, or if their definition of excellence offers your enterprise absolutely no value, then no narrow measurement of excellent was ever going to produce meaningful results anyway.
As the old saying goes, you reap what you sow. Sow excellence, you’ll reap excellence. Sow narrowly defined metrics and easily quantified outcomes, and that’s all you’ll reap.
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