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THE DISCIPLINES OF EXCELLENCE

THE DISCIPLINES OF EXCELLENCE

Time to read: 2 minutes

Ted, new salesman for a travel accessory company (toiletry kits, carry-on bags, and packing organizers) expanded sales in his region by persuading travel agents to sell his line of products. It was an unusual outlet and so successful that the company included sales pitches to travel agents in all other regions of the company.

Ted did what all successful leaders do: They open their minds and consider new (even outrageous) possibilities that help them succeed on their jobs, whatever those jobs might be. This same thinking applies to every level of the organization but is especially important for organization leaders.

The outrageous part helps them think outside the box. If they're in sales, they consider unusual outlets for their products or services. If they're in operations, they consider new avenues for cutting costs. If they're in customer service, they imagine new ways to satisfy customers. Their receptive approach considers all manner of possibilities.

Although leaders vary in their definitions of excellence, and how best to achieve it, most agree that excellence is a never-ending pursuit and that whatever their challenges and opportunities are today, they’ll change tomorrow. Leaders often face nine challenges:

  1. Communication. Clarity enhances achievement. People respond to leaders who unmistakably communicate organizational objectives and methods to achieve goals. Without this crucial first step, organizations falter; with it, and the steps that follow, they have the opportunity to succeed far beyond what they may have considered possible.

  2. Accountability. Operational and financial measurements and clear lines of responsibility for results are mandatory if the organization is to have the ability to keep on track with its plans. This extends from the very bottom of the organization to the top. Everybody must be held accountable for top notch performance.

  3. Engagement. People who are actively and mentally engaged with their jobs and receive the help and direction they need are convinced that their individual contributions are meaningful and they will extend their efforts to contribute to company success.

  4. Alignment. Activities connected with the company's mission and strategy assures that everybody in the organization understands the important yardsticks for company success. Alignment helps employees focus on the most important tasks at hand. Associating each employee's job with company goals motivates each to reach just a little bit higher.

  5. Direction. Along the same line, direction is what keeps strategy, planning, and execution aligned. Without it disconnects occur, and what at first seemed a clear path becomes muddled.

  6. Transition. People feel an inherent desire to “pass the torch” successfully, but often have trouble doing it. Highly effective leaders keep all members (new and old) of the organization in touch.

  7. Measurement and control. Without management guidance events can “feel” out of sync. The elements of control, both operational and financial, assure that the organization has the ability to quickly identify departures from plan and take lasting corrective actions. A plan without measurement and control is no plan at all.

  8. Frustration. Great leaders have the ability to sniff out problems before they get out of hand. Part of that comes from measurement and control; but that leaves out the adverse reaction employees experience when they do not have the means to handle their own work. Inadequate instructions are a leading cause as is the inability of managers to clear roadblocks for the people working for them.

  9. Risk Management. There's a need, often unaddressed, for determining profit variability versus the projected growth rate. In most organizations, 80 percent of the problems (costs and headaches) are associated with 20 percent of the products and services offered. Left unattended, that 20 percent can severely restrict company growth.

An excellence program is an organized approach to grow the ability of leaders to deal with an ever-changing and challenging environment. The program needs to grow with the business and enable leaders and their employees to align plans and activities to support the strategies and achieve stated goals. An excellence program will address the nine issues mentioned above.

Excellence means this: Innovate, measure, learn.

Innovate purposefully. Innovation is problem-solving, and everyone has the ability to solve problems. This discipline provides principles and measurement tools that are used to help leaders set clear goals and align daily activities to meet them. These goals should align with company priorities. Then employees will be able to use their innate creativity to meet or exceed goals.

Learning. First, step back and gain perspective on the factors that affect performance. It is achieved through a series of discovery exercises, exploring externals (competitors, industry, economics) and internals such as goal performance, stakeholder feedback, corrective measures, SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).

Measure and learn means: 1) deriving a repeatable methodology to drive leadership, 2) assigning external coaching for accountability, 3) providing a system to align the activities of team members, and 4) establishing a community of like-minded people to accelerate learning. When these elements come together, leaders will see enduring change. 

Jeff Wolf is the author of Seven Disciplines of a Leader and founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness.

A dynamic speaker and highly requested executive coach, he was named one of the country's top 100 thought leaders by the prestigious Leadership Excellence Magazine.

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