Are You Sure That You Want a Culture of Excellence?

Stop! Please. Just Stop. If I hear one more leadership team say that their company’s desire is to build a “Culture of Excellence”, I might just pass out. I know that it sounds good and looks good to use words like Culture and Excellence. When used in team meetings and on PR materials, those words tend to elicit affirmative head nods and rounds of applause. After all, who doesn’t want to be associated with Excellence? It just feels right. But what if, deep down, excellence is not really what you are after?

Let’s define Excellence

Excellence is one of those words that is thrown around everyday, but many people don’t stop to truly grasp the full meaning. The root word in excellence is excel, which means to go beyond. Beyond what? (I’m so glad you asked). To go beyond what is expected. It means to exceed expectations, and exceeding expectations has NOTHING to do with meeting expectations. They don’t like each other, and are always in a fight. Like light and darkness, one is always seeking to dominate, but only one can prevail. If I order a cup of green tea, and you bring me the cup of green tea, that is not excellence. Even if you are smiling and the teapot is made of gold, that is still not excellence. That’s just a “dressed up” version of meeting expectation. It’s merely “meeting expectations” wearing a tuxedo or an elegant dress.

Now, if while serving the tea, you tell me about the region in China where the tea leaves were harvested, and how long the cup of tea should steep, and the ideal water temperature it should be, and the health benefits of green tea, THEN, we are entering the land of excellence. Nothing else will do.

Culture of what?

I  truly believe that many companies that proclaim they want a “Culture of Excellence” are really after a Culture of Consistency. A Culture of Consistency is when everyone does what they are supposed to do all the time. Consistently meeting expectations is the target , and there is nothing wrong with that. It takes hard work, discipline, systems and processes to create a Culture of Consistency. It’s not easy to do. In fact, a Culture of Consistency might be all you need to be the leader in your geographic area, market segment or industry. So, let’s not demonize the virtues of having a Culture of Consistency. There are countless, successful brands that are built on having a Culture of Consistency. Staff training becomes more streamlined and your customers know what to expect .


A Culture of Excellence is a whole ‘nother thing altogether. (Yes, I wrote ‘nother). To build a Culture of Excellence, the verbiage, training, marketing and messaging all have to revolve around one message. “We will do MORE than what you expect.” Or “Our minimum expectation is to exceed your expectations”.

If only one person or a few people are doing more, then that is not a culture. Culture means a way of life. It should be normal for your team to do more. In a Culture of Excellence, if an employee only meets expectations, that person should stand out…in a bad way. A true Culture of Excellence should reveal and repel anyone who “just wants a job”. People who are committed to only doing the bare minimum should feel uncomfortable working in a Culture of Excellence. Exceeding expectations is the only standard. Nothing else will do.

People who believe in a Culture of Excellence can’t stand working with someone who is content with meeting expectations. They would rather be short-staffed or even work by themselves. As a leader, you owe it to your staff to recruit, hire, orient and train people who already have a Culture of Excellence in their heart. Nothing else will do.

By saying that you want a Culture of Excellence but accepting a Culture of Consistency, you are only weakening your stature as a leader AND annoying those on your team who really do want a Culture of Excellence. In fact, their hearts will be broken because they believe that your company is what they’ve been waiting for their entire adult life.

So which is it? A Culture of Excellence or a Culture of Consistency? Proclaim one of them. Both are great, and either can yield success for your brand. But you have to pick one and stick with it. Otherwise, it is too confusing for both the staff and the customers.

I grew up in a company with a Culture of Excellence, and loved it. My business helps companies create a Culture of Excellence. However, the choice is yours. So…a Culture of Excellence or a Culture of Consistency?  Which will it be?

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