You Say You Want to be Excellent

Excellent at what, and for whom? Those are the key questions.

Too many firms pursue excellence without having first defined who they want to be excellent for, and what they need to be excellent at.

Excellence as a generic term has little meaning. It has little meaning because excellence only exists in the eye of the beholder – the customer. Firms who strive to be the best at everything end up being not particularly good at anything. Ask yourself, what is the best restaurant? For the busy mother with a gang of hungry kids to feed, a fast food outlet is ideal. For the businessman seeking quiet surroundings and a superb meal to close a deal, fine dining is preferred. The point is, there is no “best” – it is all dependent upon what the customer values and is seeking. A restaurateur who tries to be the best and satisfy all customer preferences and tastes cannot possibly win in such a game. It is the same for firms.

Operational excellence, that is, excellence in processes, only makes sense when the preferred customer has been defined. Trying to be excellent at serving every possible type of customer is a zero-sum game because it is not possible. Truly excellent firms are only good at some things – the things that really matter to their preferred customers.

There are always tradeoffs to be made in business. Before you decide to be excellent, determine who you want to be excellent for. Then find out what they truly value, and do it better than anyone else.

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