If you are loyal to her, Excellence will serve and guide you to greatness. Avoid her, cast her off, disregard her and she will desert you and leave you like a spurned lover wallowing in the abyss of mediocrity. – Ray Barreth

It has been my experience that founders of entrepreneurial companies are not short on their expectations of excellence. Each, in their own way, desire to form an excellent team and execute excellent market research, all the while designing an excellent product which results in an excellent launch and ever-increasing excellent sales.

The problem with most small companies and their founders is not the pursuit of excellence; it is coming to an understanding of what excellent really is in the first place—then applying that understanding to their businesses and personal lives.

Excellence is one of those elusive concepts we struggle to understand. Some would say excellence is in the eye of the beholder, and perhaps in some cases, it is. Each individual, organization, club, or physical entity has the right to determine what excellence is and pursue it.

But in the competitive, hardened, and non-forgiving world of business, that ideology is shown to be nefarious and short lived. In this context, it is the marketplace and customers within that clearly defines what excellence is.

Case in point: deliver a product that the marketplace deems to be excellent, and you are rewarded with sales and profits. Fail to deliver such a product, and you will crash and burn.

However slippery this concept of excellence is, there is no doubt that few companies have experienced any long-term success without it.

In the world of socially conscious business endeavors such as those Agora supports, excellence has yet another set of measures to add to its elusiveness: is the business ethically run? Are the employees well treated? Is it creating new jobs, impacting the local economy, changing the economic outlook for the surrounding community? Is it addressing societal problems? Are the products providing solutions to deficiencies in the community? Is there a noticeable, positive impact in the community attributable to the business’s existence?

In our field of business, excellence has a compounded definition: that defined by the marketplace it serves (and thus its ability to make money and stay afloat), and that defined by the social good it seeks to generate.

Key Elements of Excellence

Despite this elusiveness, I have recognized a handful of key elements that I believe are universal to excellence.  I hope you find them beneficial as you pursue excellence in your own business and personal life.

Excellence is destination driven.

Excellence starts with understanding…where do you want to go? What is the end game? Someone once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you are going nowhere.” Believe me, the town of ‘Nowhere’ is not a good destination. Excellence demands clarity and single-mindedness before she will tag along on your trip. Excellence loves to travel, but only to specific destinations, and ‘Nowhere’ is not one of them.

If you want Excellence to join your rag tag bunch of merry men, make sure you are crystal clear in what you are achieving and where you are going. How will you get there? That is another story.

Excellence undefined is not excellent at all.

One cannot create what one does not see or understand. If you don’t know what excellence looks like, you had better find out. You could start by simply begging the question, ‘what IS excellence and what does it mean for my business?” Find someone who is a practitioner of excellence and is known for it. Talk to them, follow them around, observe what they do and how their approach their tasks. Get a clear understanding of what excellence entails. Write a well-written, cohesive and inspiring Excellence Statement as part of your overall mission and strategic plan.

There are those that scoff at the idea of a written Excellence Statement. But let’s be clear and nail these cynical skeptics into the coffins they deserve. Society is changed by idealists who are gripped with such vision, mission, and passion that even if their end goal costs them their lives, the ideal will continue to live and break out into fundamental, transformative change. In a similar fashion, vision, mission and passion are the fuel to the engine of excellence. Define excellence…write it down. Incorporate that definition into the fabric of your being and your company. Let it guide you in each document, statement, meeting, and conversation that you and your team engage in.

[bctt tweet=”Society is changed by idealists who are gripped such vision and passion that the ideal breaks into transformative change. -Ray Barreth”]

Excellence is about what you do to yourself, not what the world does to you.

Jim Collins, the Peter Drucker of our day, writes,

Whether you prevail or fail, depends more on what you do to yourself than what the world does to you.

That statement reflects the latent power of excellence and the effect it has on one’s life. Excellence, ultimately, is about discipline and deliberate, conscious choices YOU make for your business and the people who share your world.

Excellence is emotive, not emotional and discriminate, not indiscriminate

Excellence may appear at first glance to be a wellspring of positive emotion, causing a “feel good” attitude to erupt in the heart of her recipient. But don’t be fooled. Excellence is a cold hearted, calculated mistress. She demands discipline and execution. She will not tolerate sloth, procrastination, or halfhearted attempts to lure her. What appears to be an invitation to romance is actually an enticement into her web of control and calculation. Don’t believe me? Look at the following list of most commonly held goals of excellence as taught in the leading business schools of our nation and ask yourself, “How will these goals be achieved without shedding copious amounts of sweat, time, money, and extreme detailed effort?”

  •  Adding value for customers
  •  Achieving balanced results
  •  Leading with vision, inspiration and integrity
  •  Managing by processes
  •  Succeeding through people
  •  Nurturing creativity and innovation
  •  Building partnerships
  • Taking responsibility for a sustainable future

The upshot of all of this is the following: living a life in the pursuit of excellence is work…hard work!
Excellence requires discipline and effort. Excellence will task your team with linear and lateral thinking and performance applications that appear to be never ending.

The Pursuit of Excellence

Almost touchable, yet just out of reach, Excellence is a noble pursuit…especially in the world of socially conscious business, where your excellence—or lack thereof—does not merely have implications for your personal success, finances, or company profits. It has direct implications on the well-being and future of the entire community your business exists to prosper.

[bctt tweet=”For social enterprises, the pursuit of excellence has direct implications on the good of the community your business exists to prosper.”]