Why is it that, for some organizations, aspiring for “excellence” leads to an inspiring environment of achievement, while for others it seems to lead to a neurotic atmosphere of fear?
I once was talking with a new team member as part of his on-boarding process, when I mentioned to him that “excellence” was one of our core values.
“Oh no,” he moaned. “Not again…”
I pressed him to explain his response.
“I just came from a team that espoused the ‘excellence value’,” he lamented, “and the culture there was so stressful; but everyone accepted it as part of the excellence value.”
The fact is, many organizations espouse this sentiment, always with the most noble of purposes. For some, this leads to a culture of empowerment, and for others it leads to a neurotic perfectionism.
The difference can be found in a healthy understanding of what the excellence value really is, and what it means. If you want to move towards a healthy view of excellence, there are three important distinctions that must be understood.
1. Understand the distinction between showmanship and excellence.
Showmanship is an often misguided attempt to mimic the sheen and polish of another organization. Showmanship is shallow and inauthentic.
Whereas the heart of excellence is reflected in a passionate desire to simply not settle for anything less than our best.
2. Understand the distinction between individual excellence and corporate excellence
Individual excellence means “do your best”. Corporate excellence means “do OUR best”.
Just because Joe did HIS best painting the front steps of the office building, if he’s just not a good painter and the job looks terrible, it reflects on the entire organization. Corporate excellence looks beyond the individual. It asks, “Have WE done OUR best?”
3. Understand the distinction between perfection and excellence
Perfection, almost by definition, is either unattainable or unsustainable. It can lead to an almost neurotic pursuit of error-free performance that can suck the joy out of your organization.
Excellence, on the other hand, creates an inspiring environment which sees teams spurring one another on.
If the excellence value has been causing your organization undue angst, don’t discard the value. Instead, take it out, brush it off, and apply these three points of clarity to how you live it out.
Your organization may achieve new heights of excellence.
And your sanity may indeed be restored in the process.