I have set a daunting vision and targets, but no one is excited and committed in delivering them, what do I do?” said an entrepreneur leading a small business in Lahore, Pakistan.

How many times have we heard this desperate message coming from people who are passionately driven by a vision, a dream, or an innovative hypothesis? Their inability to convert their ideas into a workable product or service and their helplessness to commercialize and monetize its benefits, is extremely frustrating and debilitating.

If we assume for a minute that the visionary has confirmed the following: a) the product or service idea they have envisioned is viable; b) the concept has been tested via field surveys, personal interviews and focus groups and holds water; and c) strategies have been identified and are sound and based on market data and experiences. Then the question that begs to be answered is “Why do so many business start-ups fail?”

The primary reason for such business plans to fail is because ‘organization excellence’ is missing in that team or from that entire firm.

What many people miss out is that delivering a vision is not all about envisioning and selecting the right strategies and tactics. Factors such as human interaction, level of trust within the organization, tone at the top, inherent business savvy culture, value systems and other organizational aspects are equally important to help deliver a vision.

Always remember that a vision in isolation has no value and no likelihood of turning into reality if it is not supported by a strong conducive culture nurtured by committed and dedicated leaders. I have realized over time that in majority of cases where leaders have failed to step change the business, the reasons had more to do with ignoring the “smell of the place” rather than lack of robust strategies and plans.

What is organizational excellence?  Organizational excellence takes root when the culture of an organization displays high level of discipline, trust, collaboration and behaviour that is value driven. As Jim Collins says very eloquently in his book “Good to Great”, that in order to move from being a good company to a great company, one of the requirements is to have a culture of discipline. Try to hire and fill the organziation with self-disciplined people who are willing to go to extreme lengths in order to fulfill their responsibilities. A disciplined culture is one that is rigorous, not ruthless, with rigor starting at the top.

Discipline is necessary in everything that is happening within a company, whether it is in delivering strategies or in managing subordinates, in organizing meetings or interacting with customers, it is totally holistic. To me an ideal culture will have trust in abundance at every level of the organization and in every team and in every relationship. Each employee’s DNA will be programmed to deliver excellence and peak performance in whatever they do.

This kind of culture cannot be created overnight and has to be nurtured, protected and developed over years. Leadership has to be consistent and disciplined in their approach so that over time you can drive this into the character and DNA of each and every employee just like what Darwin meant when he coined the concept of “natural selection”; that is over time only the best and those who believe in that company’s philosophy of excellence will survive. And once that has been achieved, then the sky is the limit as no person or competition can stand in the way of such an organization.

Three concepts are vital when it comes to an organization’s ability to drive excellence. They are building trust, moving out of your comfort zone, and inculcating stretch mentality. Lets take one at a time:

Building Trust: Presence of trust within an organization and between the organization and its partners, suppliers, distributors, etc. is the foundation on which sustainable success is built. In my 30 odd years with P&G and Gillette, trust was one thing that stood the test of time and never wavered. Productivity and commitment of employees grows many folds if there is trust between them and their bosses, between the company and its consumers and customers. Remember that trust is a very valuable commodity and does not come easily. It takes years and even decades to build but can be destroyed in a matter of seconds. But once it is entrenched in a company’s culture and daily interaction that its probability of success surges considerably.

If you are a business owner, do ask yourself the following question: “What is the level of trust in my company between the various stakeholder?” Whatever level you find, work towards enhancing trust because every notch that you enhance trust, it positively impacts success of your business. Remember you may have the best insights and strategies to drive business growth, but lack of trust in the organization has a funny way of short-circuiting your business efforts.

Moving out of your Comfort Zone: Comfort zone is a psychological state where a person, a team or an organization are in a comfortable, risk-free and relaxed state. When someone is in the comfort zone, they only do activities that they are comfortable with. They do not push themselves, their mind, their bodies or their spirits to discover or test new concepts that they are unsure or uncertain about. By staying in this zone they lose out on numerous opportunities that come knocking on their door.

To succeed in your business and even in life in general, you must walk out of your comfort zone. If you want to achieve something interesting or memorable in life you must take risks, you must test new ideas and for that you have to leave your comfort zone. Same fact is true in case of a leader, if he does not challenge his and his teams comfort zone that business will never be able to grasp new opportunities and capitalize on new prospects.

Inculcating Stretch Mentality: Stretch mentality was popularized by General Electric Corporation (GE) when they referred to their business plans as stretch goals. Stretch goals refer to business goals that are not yet possible but in order to achieve them the team has to think hard, they have to think innovatively and holistically.  By setting stretch goals you make them walk out of their comfort zone and indirectly force them to come up with better and improved solutions to their challenges.

In my career at P&G and later at Gillette, I have used stretch goals to inspire and drive behavior where my teams literally delivered audacious goals on several occasions. This was made possible by creating the right atmosphere such as encouraging a ‘can do’ attitude and positive thinking. I saw fresh ideas and radical thinking emerging and a definite shift in the organization’s culture towards willingly handling difficult challenges.

The critical point to note when driving organizational excellence is that management plays a critical role by their actions, their attitude and their visible leadership. The culture at the end is an accumulation of the entire employee behaviors that ultimately brings together a distinct positive culture to life.


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