I was casually discussing quality and excellence with one of my old friends. We were exchanging our ideas on these topics, when I realized that he used the words quality and excellence interchangeably. This led to some more thinking and here’s what I realized:
Quality is generally extrinsic. It is driven by external demands. We implement best practices in line with industry standards. We write our processes to get certified against a certain standard. We develop our products and services in line with the demands of our customers. When we continuously meet these demands, adhere to processes and improve upon them, we build repeatability in our success.
Excellence is always intrinsic. It is our innate desire to go out of our way to deliver a superior experience. Not because someone else demands it, but because ‘you’ want it that way. It is for your own satisfaction of having done a great job. Excellence is a ‘people’ game, and the one that pushes quality one step forward. In either cases, people are at the fulcrum.
So, how are they related?
In my view, quality is a route to excellence. People can do their best, walk that extra-mile and think of adding value once they are absolutely clear of how to do the basic things right. Processes given them a firm base on which they can build excellence. On the other hand, excellent people may fumble if they are not supported with right set of guidelines on delivering quality.
Secondly, excellence has a lot to do with people’s motivation to do a great job. It is their choice. Getting people to exercise their choice of delivering excellence is #1 leadership challenge. It starts with getting the right people and building the right culture.
Finally, just like quality, excellence is a moving target. Today’s excellent becomes tomorrow’s good enough and day-after-tomorrow’s mediocre.
Pursuing excellence is a worthy goal. Knowing the close inter-relationship between quality and excellence is important. Defining them clearly is important. Getting people to excel, driving their motivation, creating a constantly improving culture and striking balance between adherence and motivation is a big challenge leaders face.
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