Business Theory & Practice

Excellence or Agility? Fine-Tuning Company Goals in a Rapidly Changing Business Environment

Excellence or Agility? Fine-Tuning Company Goals in a Rapidly Changing Business Environment


Since the publication of Tom Peters and John Waterman’s In Search of Excellence, excellence has been a defining goal for many aspects of small business management, from customer satisfaction to new product development to labor relations. It’s the well-understood watchword for business leaders who want their work, and their businesses, to strive to be the best they can be. But in the rapidly changing technology environment, we may need to move beyond excellence and seek agility and resilience as business values that will serve us best.

While the abstract idea of excellence is one anyone can give a thumbs up, defining excellence in a way that makes it measurable, and a metric that can have a defined goal and time line, becomes more problematic. Further, achieving excellence and maintaining excellence are two different things, and require different mind-sets.

Humans love to scale mountains, solve problems, get to the moon, reach their fundraising goals. But once a goal is defined and achieved, motivation immediately starts falling off. It is much harder to maintain a standard of excellence than to reach a standard of excellence in the first place.

And defining excellence changes in the rapidly changing business environment. What is defined as a goal that exemplifies excellence when a team begins work on a project may not stay static. A team working toward a goal, on a timeline, will react as expected if leadership changes their goal, and the definition of success, when they are half way or more toward meeting that goal.

Agility and resilience are the qualities of a company that is able to rapidly adapt to changing forces. Regulatory environments, changes in global transportation, new technology innovations that cause a rapid turnover in systems and processes in every possible field mean that the ability to adapt to change while moving forward with business goals may be the new definition of success.

How to embrace agility? The typical top-down management model is difficult to see as agile. Flat structures, with lateral communication, reporting, and responsibility, make a leadership structure that can respond quickly to a crisis. Investment in innovation through human and material resources can also pay off in the current environment.

Maybe one of the most effective ways is to change the rhetoric from working toward being the best in the business to being a business that can respond successfully to change. Consider short-term profit versus long-term investment. We can balance being the best with still being here in the long-term, doing business.

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werkLab Studios

werkLab Studios

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