10 Steps Towards Excellence

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Within every individual is a desire to be excellent in that one does. Unfortunately for many, excellence remains a desire and is never acted out practically. No matter how much you can desire to be excellent, it will not come on a silver platter. It will cost you in terms of action, standing up and beginning to do those things that are building blocks for ultimate excellence. Excellence can also be referred to as distinction or pre-eminence. When you boldly take the steps I will give you below, you will soon make excellence a way of life. It will be a part of you. You will not need not need to think of being excellent but people will give you comments.

Steps to achieving excellence.

1. Plan, prepare and produce - Excellence is not a game of chance. You do not wake up and find out a surprise that you have actually been excellent. Excellence is deliberate, calculated and involves planning. It is first a choice before it becomes a habit and lifestyle. It is not how many times and how loud we tell people how "excellent" we are but rather it is in our intentionality in planning and preparation. Lack of planning and preparation always leads to us producing quantity at the expense of the much needed quality. When you plan you are able to see what it takes to produce highest quality at a low cost. At the end of the day it is no use producing an excellent product beyond the reach of the customer having put in so much money. That alone is a recipe for disaster. When you lack a plan (road-map) you fumble and experiment on any road you come across hence time is lost and money is wasted in the process. Don't leave anything to chance - plan, organize and hire excellent people who can operate in an excellent manner. An organization full of excellent people will do everything excellently. (Refer to my earlier article on 10 Pointers on Recruitment).

2. Set good standards and benchmarks - Where standards are not defined, the product is not consistent in terms of quality, durability and content. Standards should be written down and they act as guidelines so that perpetual excellence is achieved. Undocumented standards deteriorate as leadership changes and as generations go by. When you have achieved anything, compare it with similar achievements or products of your time or in times past. You will be able to see if your excellence is confined to your locality or it's a global standard. Excellence is about always raising the bar like in high jump. If you have no excellence standard or benchmark to work or aspire towards then you can easily call anything you make

3. Avoid complacency - Sometimes when you reach a certain level of excellence, the temptation to relax is very high. For many years you continue to speak about that one achievement over and over again resembling a scratched record. Complacency rests on taking excellence as an event. It is not about bouts of success or excellence. Once you achieve a certain level of excellence that should become the pedestal for the next level. Your ceiling becomes your foundation. It is is the same as dreams and visions, once you achieve your dreams, you stand on them to see beyond the current dream. Your aspirations graduate. That is how excellence grows. Yesterday's achievements are today's testimony. Yesterday's excellence is considered as today's mediocrity so that you aim higher.

4. Review and Revisit your systems internally - Every system you create will have weak points and loopholes at the beginning. Excellence comes as you review and identify those weak areas and mend them. While there is no perfect system, the goal is to strive for continual improvement. We marvel today at the precision we find in aero planes, how they are so accurate and excellent in terms of navigation and safety systems. That came as a by product of continual improvement, reviews and revision to improve efficiency, effectiveness and value from every investment made. One way to put it is always ask yourselves "How best can we produce 1000 cans of soda within a shorter period without losing safety standards and quality of product". If you can improve on your efficiencies then you are gearing your production line towards excellence. The same question should be asked in a non-manufacturing scenario.

5. Get external feedback and process it - Its easy to blow your own trumpet about how excellent your product or service is. Let the customer do the talking on how excellent your products are. When you receive feedback you are able to see how much impact you are making in the market. Do not take feedback personally. Those are statements you should stand on and sharpen your tools for better performance. An organization that is not ready to receive feedback from the market is operating dangerously. The marketing process does not end with the cheque in your bank account but with feedback from the customer on whether they indeed got value. It is the feedback you get that then becomes the enzyme for excellence. The external feedback will give you an independent eye to what you do internally. This should show you the reason organizations have internal and external auditors. External feedback can come from Accreditation bodies. Strive to have your products and services checked by external bodies for quality and durability. Organizations such International Standards Organization (ISO) guarantee that the processes and services being offered are of the highest excellence level. They assess every element of the business and certify. If you keep renewing your certification then you are showing consistency in your excellence. such certification is not merely to get you customers but you have to walk the talk. Your excellence has to be evident not just on paper.

6. Measure - You can't improve on what you can not measure. Excellence can actually be measured. If you base your life on estimates only, you will only see excellence in your dreams. As an individual, how many meetings did you attend and we marked as early this week alone? How many emails have arrived and you have already replied and started working on? How many people do you owe and have been communicating with them updating them how far you are with paying. Statistics should be your best friend. Quality should be measured just as you also count your produce. Quantity does not always mean we are excellent. In fact in times when people are under pressure to produce more at a cheaper cost they try short cuts and what comes out is an imitation of the desired excellent product. It is one thing to measure and it is another to do something about the statistics and measurements you collect otherwise it remains raw data. As an individual or business, you are measured not on your intentions but on the completions you make. Measurement also involves setting up an effective quality Control mechanism whether at individual or corporate level. Quality control becomes your checks and balances system. If you have no one measuring output against expectations you will run business on assumptions which is dangerous. Assumption is the fastest way to be out of business. Total quality management systems are necessary across the whole organization. How your floors are swept is as important as how the machines are serviced at specific times in a specific way.

7. Create excellent Habits - Excellence is a culmination of more of a habit than an event, the fact that you hit a target once does not make you an excellent marksmen. You may be a one time wonder (excellent once, shoddy work all the time). You need to be consistent in your excellence no matter what time of day so that you qualify as a man or woman of excellence. Minimize those habits that go against your standards e.g being late for meetings, yawning in meeting, starting and not finishing your projects etc What you do best, stick to it and add more. It is the habits you cultivate and allow that will shape excellence in character. Consider cultivating such building blocks of excellence to be your habits such as: Clear direct communication, punctuality for work and all meetings, always having agendas and minutes circulated in advance, sticking to the time you promised meeting attendees all the time, always dressing appropriately for all occasions to name a few.

8. Establish expectations, meet and surpass them - What does the market expect from you? You should always make products with the final consumer in mind. There is no consumer who does not want the best out of every dollar they spend. If they can buy more quality products with every dollar then they are fulfilled and feel they have done a worthwhile thing. As the producer, go the extra mile. Do what the market needs and add an extra topping. I referred to this as a +1 service. You are not just meeting the needs but you go an extra mile to surpass expectations from the market. Now that is excellent service. Repeat business and referrals will be guaranteed.

9. Communicate and over communicate the excellence expectations to the teams - No matter how much you desire to be an excellent organization and yet you have the executors of the processes in your organization who haven't bought in to the idea and value of excellence, you will not get close to attaining excellence. It is not for one man or one department but all employees need to imbibe in this value totally. One element in the chain of production where excellence is not practiced will spoil the product overall quality. You may have a food canning plant, your production line may be exquisitely accurate, excellent, 100% in terms of health matters etc. If at the end of the canning process the packaging leaves a lot to be desired, it immediately disqualifies all previous attempts and efforts. Excellence is wholesome not in portions or drips. It is what each department or business unit does that contributes to the overall excellence of the organization.

10. Decide and determine to pursue excellence no matter what - Until you make the decision, excellence will remain a pie in the open sky. It is at the point of decision that you realize that it can be done. You can never say you have arrived as you move from one level of excellence to the next. Yes, it will cost you a bit more to invest in excellence but it is worth every dollar in the end. It actually costs you more to live in mediocrity as potential business walks past you without you noticing. Excellence helps you attract new business and guarantee perpetual sales. That decision waits on you to be made. You can do all things. There is nothing you gear your mind to do that will never materialize as you put your energy into it. The world awaits your excellence story.

Rabison Shumba is a writer, businessman and philanthropist. Writer of the book The Greatness Manual which you can preview on http://greatnessmanual.wordpress.com. Founder and CEO of Infotech Solutions and Greatness Factory Trust. Rabison speaks about success, leadership, motivation and inspiration. His trust works with disadvantaged school children supporting them with school fees and general livelihood. He also helps to network artists (musicians of all genres) to facilitate information sharing and building of future celebrities. Rabison is well traveled having been to Asia, America, United Kingdom and all over Africa. He is married to Jacqueline Edwards and they have two children. They reside in Harare, Zimbabwe, Southern Africa.

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