Bridging the Gap: From Mediocrity to Excellence

Bridging the Gap: From Mediocrity to Excellence

You might be thinking “I don’t need to read this; my company’s performance is not mediocre.” If so, let me ask you a question, “Will you be satisfied with your company’s performance if it continues to stay exactly where it is at for the next ten years?” If you answered “yes” to that question, stop reading this paper. However, if you would like to learn ways to increase profitability and productivity at your company, keep reading.

In order to “bridge the gap” between where your company is now and where you would like it to be you must first have a goal. Why? How will you know the path to take if you don’t know where you are going? This goal should be as specific as possible. The reason it is important to be specific when setting goals is that research shows it increases our chances of reaching them. Let’s consider an example from human services; specifically, a crisis hotline. Some people who call crisis hotlines are having thoughts about suicide. It is the job of the hotline worker to assess how serious the suicide threat is and obviously, to prevent the caller from following through on these thoughts. One of the methods hotline workers use is to try to get the caller to promise to get professional help. The hotline worker may say “Promise me you will find a counselor and get help.” If the caller says, “Sure, I’ll talk to someone.” the hotline worker does not stop there. Why not? The caller has promised to get help. The problem with such a promise is that it involves a nonspecific goal and therefore, it is highly likely that the caller will not follow through. You may be thinking, “but the person promised to talk to someone, why isn’t that good enough?” It is not good enough because the lack of specificity leaves too many unanswered questions. Who will the caller seek help from? When will the caller seek help? The promise of reaching such a vague goal can easily go unfulfilled. Each day the caller can think of reasons to delay such as “I am too busy today.” or “I just don’t feel like talking to someone today.” However, if the caller makes a specific goal such as, “I promise that tomorrow I will call the local mental health clinic to make an appointment before noon.” this goal is much more specific and harder to put off indefinitely. We all know that for many goals “someday” is always another day – and it never comes. For the hotline caller, a specific goal can mean the difference between life and death.

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Specific goals can mean the difference between life and death for a business as well. They can also mean the difference between mediocrity and excellence in a company. There are infinite possibilities for the specific goals of your company. However, all business goals have a common denominator – they can only be achieved through people. In Assessing Business Excellence, Leslie J. Porter and Steve Tanner state that the involvement of people in the continuous improvement and transformation of business processes is a fundamental theme that runs through all quality improvement, process improvement and excellence approaches. By definition, this requires measurement and an understanding of how superior performance can be achieved. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, authors of the book In Search of Excellence, are in agreement. Peters and Waterman identify a number of themes in the search for business excellence. One of these themes is productivity through people. Peters and Waterman argue that in order to achieve excellence, employees must be treated as a source of quality. Excellent companies encourage and nurture an entrepreneurial spirit among all employees. The right corporate climate must exist in order to facilitate such a spirit among employees.

Q: How do you know if your company has the right climate to encourage excellence in its employees?
A: It’s simple. Ask your employees.Conducting regular employee research helps your company keep its finger on the pulse of your most valuable resource, your employees. Remember that Porter and Tanner said that by definition, measurement is required when striving for excellence. The information obtained from employees can literally act as a key that unlocks the door to excellence. Not only will employees let you know whether your company has the right climate for excellence, but they will also tell you what needs to change if it does not. If the company already has a climate conducive to excellence, your employees will tell you how to take your company even further to reach new heights.Your employees are not the only people critical in achieving corporate excellence. As Peters and Waterman point out, customers are vital as well. They state that you must stay close to the customer and learn from the people served by your business. Gopal Kanji and William Wallace agree that customers play a vital role. In an article titled “Business excellence through customer satisfaction” published in the journal Total Quality Management, they describe how their research has shown that customer satisfaction is a critical success factor for the organization. In another article published in the journal Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, Drago Dubrovski states that numerous scientific studies have confirmed the existence of a significant correlation between customer satisfaction and repeated buying, greater brand loyalty and spreading a positive opinion of the product. Learning how to satisfy customers is just as simple as learning whether you have a corporate climate conducive to excellence – you just have to ask. In this case you obviously need to ask your customers. They can tell you whether or not they are satisfied with your service or product. In addition, they can tell you the key drivers of their satisfaction even when they do not consciously know these drivers themselves!
Q: How is it possible for customers to reveal the drivers of their satisfaction even when they are not aware of these drivers themselves?
A: Through scientific research.To review, we know that people are the common denominator for meeting our business goals. It has also been established that both employees and customers have knowledge that is vital to meeting business goals for achieving excellence and only by asking them can we learn this crucial knowledge. Employing scientific research can enable us to obtain this vital information and enable companies to obtain excellence.Notice that the word “scientific” is before the word “research” in the last sentence. Not all research is scientific. In a way, most human beings conduct research. When we interact with other people or simply observe the behavior of others in public settings, we often ask ourselves questions about why people behave in certain ways. We also come up with theories to answer these questions. Although scientists also make observations and develop theories, there is a difference between scientific research and the “research” commonly conducted in social settings-scientific research is systematic. This means that scientists meticulously follow a set of procedures when gathering and analyzing data. In order to collect information from employees and customers that will be useful in predicting their behavior so that excellence can be achieved, scientific procedures must be followed. When scientific methods are utilized to obtain data, you can follow with sophisticated statistical procedures to look for relationships between attitudes that the employees and customers themselves are not even aware of.That’s not all. The use of scientific data and statistics also make benchmarking possible. A benchmark is a standard against which something can be measured or assessed. In organizational research, benchmarking involves comparing the responses of a company’s employees or customers with those of other companies within the same industry. Most companies realize that their employee and customer survey data is of limited value without benchmarking. Without a standard against which to compare each survey item, there is no way to determine whether a score is excellent, average, or poor. In an article published in Benchmarking: An International Journal, Rodney McAdam and Michael Kelly discuss the results of numerous studies on business excellence and concluded that benchmarking is necessary for the development of excellence in organizations.In order to achieve business excellence, knowledge of the importance of having specific goals and using scientific employee and customer research is not enough. This knowledge must lead to action. Peters and Waterman have determined that companies that achieve business excellence have a bias for action. In other words, they are very active with decision making and once decisions are made, “getting on with it.” So, I will leave you with one last question. What actions are you going to take to facilitate business excellence in your organization?

The National Business Research Institute (NBRI) has been helping companies conduct scientifically sound research to facilitate their efforts in achieving excellence since 1982. We offer a wide array of standardized and customized employee and customer surveys in addition to benchmarking data containing billions of survey responses. Why don’ you make a goal to contact NBRI at 800-756-6168 within the next three days to learn how they can help your company bridge the gap?

Ken West
Organizational Psychologist
National Business Research Institute
Plano, Texas