Excellence: An Unfortunate Casualty to Other Priorities

Do you ever feel like you’re spreading yourself too thin across too many endeavors?

It’s a common occurrence among ambitious people trying to achieve excellence. There’s this notion that we can either be adequate at several things or excellent at one (maybe two). There is substance to this idea: Think of Olympic athletes—they train all day, every day striving to be the very best at what they do. Undoubtedly, this comes with many sacrifices, but no one can argue that they are not exceptional at what they do.

We live in a society where unsolicited advice is shoved at us day in and day out. This comes in the form of advertisements, social media posts, news articles, friends/family, etc. These opinions include recommendations to change this or that, be flexible, be more analytical, more inclusive, more supportive, and so on and so on. While these all seem like noble endeavors, are we spending enough time attempting to truly do them right? Are we dedicated to putting in the work necessary to ensure our efforts make a difference?

Some examples:

  • Everyone says rely on science and data. However, we frequently advocate conclusions without validating the assumptions. For instance, remote education has become increasingly popular. For the most part, however, eLearning does not properly address the need for one-on-one contact especially among children with special needs.
  • Organizational structures, procedures, and communication are being challenged because of antiquated practices. However, new approaches may not be adequately researched, tested, or measured. Nearly every retailer that is in bankruptcy or consolidating (such as Penny’s or Hertz) has been advocating new strategies and regularly changing chief executives for years, but with dismal results.
  • We quickly fall in love with innovation especially when it comes to technology and services (think Airbnb and Uber). Yet, many of these efforts lose millions of dollars and will never actually be profitable. WeWwork and Gilt are notable current examples.  

We need a shift in perspective regarding change, execution, and excellence. The following are some specific instances where organizations simply need to better understand their new environment and work to more effectively execute fundamental change:

  • Demographics are a critical factor for most businesses. The world is simply getting older and more ethnically diverse. A critical issue that affects excellence is: Do you understand your target audience? This includes all of the nuanced social characteristics that go along with it. For example, if your product is geared toward people under the age of 25 and you don’t have a website or online presence, you do not have a clear grasp on the buying habits of your demographic.
  • Organizations that don’t understand and use the digital transformation need to change, rather than just execute. Opportunities like the cloud, Google, internet, CRM systems, digital phones, apps, etc. are simply changing the processes, costs, and marketing of businesses. Amazon and other online retailers will continue to revolutionize—requiring traditional brick and mortar stores to react and adapt. Similarly, companies like Uber and Airbnb are significantly transforming their industries and will continue to do so.
  • In the current state of the world, businesses are and will continue to be subjected to radical and continuous change. In order to survive such a turbulent climate, they need to build mechanisms into their processes that can adapt quickly. As we prepare to face ongoing uncertainty and instability, we must focus on changing and simplifying processes in order to reduce risk. Therefore, strategies such as pivoting and “develop/test/measure/adapt” need to be built into our organizations.

Despite the fact that we consistently praise excellence, we frequently ignore opportunities to pursue it and actually do things better. Some simple ways to improve performance and incorporate excellence into your business practices include:

  • Review how and why you do things the way you do them. Eliminate ineffective practices from our organizations. Some practices may be outdated or just flat out not working.
  • Focus on customer service. Many companies are devoting new efforts to improve this department. However, these efforts are limited without a culture to reinforce them. Consider this: Do companies really care about their customers and get excited when a customer has a great experience? Many companies treat their customers and employees like expendable pieces of the machine. A critical element of culture is trusting employees and staff. This requires hiring and training good people, giving them the authority they need to do their jobs well, and understanding that they will make mistakes at times—mistakes that need constructive correction and not just reprimand. 
  • Consider pricing adjustments. Pricing is not a dirty word and there are numerous tools to improve results without deteriorating your brand. Packaging efforts like bundling and unbundling, quantities, timing, quality, the Internet, and service are all elements that should be part of pricing strategies. For example, Costco and Four Seasons Hotels follow quite different, but successful value strategies.
  • Analyze and analyze some more. All of the aforementioned efforts will be even more successful the more open and analytical your organization is. Businesses need to understand their environment, review their successes and failures, listen to new ideas, and be willing to accept the truth even when it’s not what you want to hear. 
  • Remember that business is about people. They are your most important assets. Hire excellent people and then listen to them and reward their behavior. A simple please, thanks, and “How are you?” go a long way. Kindness and appreciation are incredibly easy and efficacious efforts.  

When it comes to achieving excellence, remember to evaluate situations and determine the appropriate strategy. Assumptions, efforts, process, and results are greatly improved with analysis. Additionally, evaluating alternatives can also help build support for any processes that are executed.

At the end of the day, keep in mind that you’re only one person and you can’t do everything. And if you try, as mentioned earlier, you’ll probably only achieve mediocre results. So, in your pursuit of excellence, remember that we each have limited financial and human resources. Prioritize and learn to focus on the areas where you can have the greatest impact and the aspects of your business that customers really care about. Training always sounds good, but it frequently fails to achieve its goals. Instead, consider hiring people who can specialize in the areas where you may be lacking and delegate tasks in such a way that will encourage excellence across the board. Finally, when it comes to matters of safety, health, social values, and civil rights, we must incorporate these issues into our values and efforts so as to facilitate excellence and not impede it.

Related: Stress and Anxiety: The Lurking Casualties of the Coronavirus