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What it means to obtain excellence in business

Achieving excellence in business is, well, excellent. But while many organisations agree that they should be striving for excellence, what does the term actually mean, and how do businesses go about achieving it within their own people and processes?

To obtain excellence, a business must run effectively and be adaptable to changing circumstances. In many cases, organisations mistakenly believe that achieving excellence is complicated, bureaucratic, and takes too many resources to achieve.

While it’s true that excellence can take a lot of work, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. If companies want to improve from the ground up, they must be very clear about what they want to achieve, and how they’re going to get there.

The principles of progress

The principles of excellence, as defined by the Business Excellence Australia framework, are suspiciously simple concepts, but ones that organisations often struggle to implement.

For example, if everyone knows what the organisation is doing, then they’ll be clear on how to achieve it. If you collect the right sort of information, and you help people make good decisions, your business will get better. If all the people who work for you are enthusiastic about what they’re doing, then they’ll better serve your customers. If you treat people you employ with respect, put them in jobs that they love doing, and let them get on with it, then your organisation will blossom very quickly.

While most business leaders would agree with these principles, implementing them into their organisation is a whole other matter. Without the right strategy and processes in place to make them happen, they’ll remain mere concepts.

Get out of the board room

So where and how can businesses begin their hunt for excellence? Often, the answer will come not from the board room, but from the places where people do the work. In a hospital, look in the laundry. In a hotel, look in the kitchen. The people doing that work will know best how to improve it.

On the other hand, if the changes come from the top with no real input from the people doing the work, there’s a strong chance that the recommended changes will be totally impractical. Staff members will get frustrated, productivity will decrease, and the result will be the complete opposite of the original intention.


Excellence is only achieved when strategies are not just implemented but followed through. Many businesses put in a lot of programs, but don’t ever check to see whether they worked or not.

In these cases, the programs are doomed to fail, because the disgruntled employees who may not believe in the changes know that if they simply wait around long enough, they’ll disappear.

It’s essential that organisations figure out how to review whether their changes worked. What are your goals? How will you measure them? What time scale should you measure them against? These are all practical questions that must be considered throughout the process, rather than simply stuck on as an afterthought.

The squeaky wheel

In many companies, ‘firefighters’ are one of the biggest barriers to true excellence. Just because somebody’s got a louder voice or complains more about change, that doesn’t mean they’re right.

They’re the kind of people who say, ‘We tried that 20 years ago, and it didn’t work’. They’re the kind of people who believe that if they hang on long enough and resist long enough, you’ll give up trying to make them change the way they work.

These people are the blockers to progress, and organisations must do their best to ensure blockers aren’t in positions of power. If they are, there’s a strong chance that your organisation could well be hampered in its march towards excellence.

Achieving business excellence

The BEA framework is a practical process for implementing nine business excellence principles into an organisation in a systematic way. If this process works, it’s reinforced. If the process doesn’t work, it’s changed.

It can be used to assess and improve any aspect of an organisation, including leadership, strategy and planning, people, information and knowledge, safety, service delivery, product quality and bottom-line results.

With excellence in mind, organisations are able to achieve stronger financial performance, focus on a sustainable future, create visionary and inspirational leadership, and drive innovation in products and services.

It’s a vision that organisations big and small should be working towards, using excellence as their guiding star.

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Rob Walley

Rob Walley

After twenty years working as an Evaluator for the Australian Business Excellence Awards and a year as the Manager of the Awards process, Rob offers his insight and expertise to organisations interested in improving the quality of their workplace. He has over twenty years of wide-ranging experience in managerial and technical roles.

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