Why, When, And How To Pursue Excellence

““Anyone who has achieved excellence in any form knows that it comes as a result of ceaseless concentration.”” – Louise Brooks

Long before In Pursuit of Excellence became a best seller, prominent businessmen touted excellence as the ultimate corporate objective. And maybe it is – for Fortune 500 companies. But most of the successful small-business owners I’’ve known have grown their companies by pursuing something else.

Of the dozen-plus guys I know who have built multi-million dollar businesses from scratch, many began with the “I can do that better” idea (which is a form of excellence, to be sure) – but none made excellence, in the abstract, a goal. More often than not, other ambitions – recognition, vindication, and cash flow –were predominant in their thinking.

So why is excellence such a bandied-about virtue? Because it takes excellence to make a BIG company work.

There is a time in every entrepreneur’s career when the motivations that initially made him successful are insufficient. For his medium- to large-sized company to survive and prosper, he must figure out how to do things well and how to get a lot of people to work hard and well. In other words, he must pursue excellence.

When you are just beginning, you must pay attention to the critical financial issues:

* making sure your basic business transaction works

* making sure your basic selling proposition is profitable

* making sure you have the cash flow you need

Get the basics right first and worry about getting everything else perfect later on. Ready. Fire. Aim.

So Why Am I About To Recommend That You Pursue Excellence?

That being said, if you expect to be proud of the successful business you will have one day, it’s not too early to make the pursuit of excellence part of your Master Plan.

Here’’s how to make sure your new business is as good as it can be, without sacrificing your critical financial objectives.

* Start by hiring extraordinary people.

* Have them trained by experts.

* Give them the best business contacts you have – and encourage them to get more on their own.

* Set high standards for them.

In the start-up operation I’’m currently working on, we interviewed all kinds of people for three positions. Some had a great deal of relevant experience. Interestingly, we selected none of those. The candidates who stood out – head and shoulders above the rest –were just one, two, and three years out of college.

What these young people lacked in experience, they made up for in other qualities. They are smart, hardworking, and driven to achieve.

This may be a secret of hiring: Experienced candidates will probably never be any better than they already are. If you are looking for improvement, you probably won’t get it.

To attract the kind of people we were looking for, we took a different approach to hiring. Instead of using the ordinary bureaucratic announcement, we used an expert copywriter to promote the job. Instead of focusing on salary and benefits, we stressed the challenge of the project, reasoning that the difficulty of the job would be a motivation in itself. I think it was.

So the first thing you need to do – if you want excellence in your start-up enterprise – is to spend a little extra time and effort to hire excellent people. But that’s not all. You also need great product ideas, great marketing skills, a great product-development system, and great management – to name a few things.

To put these things in your business, hire experts to come in and train your people. Look for people you already know, people you can trust, and pay them on a per-diem basis to give your people intense one-on-one training sessions.

You want to be sure that your inexperienced-but-excellent people know the best ways of doing everything – including the tricks and techniques of true experts.

Next, introduce your key people to key vendors and consultants in the industry so that when they have a problem they will have someone to call. Give them the ETR pep talk on the importance of networking (Message #170) and make some personal introductions if they’re a little shy.

One thing you won’t have to do if you have done a good job of hiring is pressure them to work hard. Excellent employees provide their own pressure. They just need guidance so they don’t go off on the wrong track.

You might want to hold special weekly meetings at which your young people can ask questions about anything they are at all confused about. If you can create a comfortable atmosphere – one in which inexperienced questioners aren’t made to feel stupid – you won’t have to worry about mistakes being made for lack of a simple bit of advice.

Finally, consider making excellence itself the main idea of the business: that everything you do and every way you do it should greatly exceed expectations – of your colleagues, your vendors, and your customers.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]