Achieving Excellence

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Having the Courage to be Bad!

I recently had the privilege of attending an event where Professor Frances Frei, Senior Associate Dean of the Harvard Business School, lectured and facilitated a case study on designing service excellence. You might think that this would be a dry dull session that would be anything but fun but it was the opposite….Professor Frei, whose Ellen DeGeneres mannerisms and sense of humor combined with a dynamic teaching style, kept the attendees engaged for a full three hours.

While she focused on a number of key items required to achieve excellence, her key point was that for an organization to achieve excellence, they have to have the courage to be bad at something. That’s right, purposefully and unapologetically bad! She used three examples of very successful businesses in differing industries to make her point. The first, and the focus of her case study, was the Commerce Bank. Commerce Bank achieved huge growth and profitability in the US in a mature market by focusing on customer convenience and front line service while unapologetically offering fewer products and paying lower rates on customer deposits then it’s competitors. Southwest Airlines, unapologetically does not offer meals on flights, not because of the cost of a meal, but because of the significant impact it has on the turnaround time at airports which impacts scheduling and the number of planes required to service their routes. Walmart, unapologetically does not have floor sales staff in their stores to serve you but is the market leader known for great selection and low prices.

Having the courage to be bad at something has to do with choice, focus which not surprisingly leads to excellence. The successful organizations listed above have determined not only what is important but equally what is not important! They don’t apologize for their approach and then employ relentless discipline in implementing their approach. Do you have that same discipline in your own organization? What are you going to have the courage to be bad at in order to achieve excellence? Perhaps it’s time to rethink the strategy…..

Keith Skiffington
Chief Operating Officer
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